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Visual Sports Systems: Can a $40,000 golf simulator be worth it?

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Golf simulators are nothing new. In fact, basic sports simulation systems have been around since the early 1970s. That said, modern versions hardly resemble their 40-year old counterparts — and if recent trends continue, you may be more likely to have one of these in your basement than you think.

Based in Toronto, Ontario, engineering firm Visual Sports Systems (VSS) started in 2000 by creating a simulator specific to hockey for the Hall of Fame (also located in Toronto). Over the past 15 years, Visual Sports has blossomed into one of the premier high-end interactive sports simulator companies in the market. Even as the game has witnessed a sharp decrease in participation, VSS continues to grow and expand. 2014 marked the company’s best year, posting a record 30 percent increase in sales over the previous year.

Although current platforms allow for 13 different games (hockey, baseball, soccer, etc.) on either VS (Versatile Solutions) or ES (Elite Series) platforms, it is chiefly golf simulation that drives its interest. Golf is the magnet that pulls in corporations and homeowners alike.

Commercial clients (think: cruise ships, stadium events like the Super Bowl and retail golf centers) typically purchase a VS system — costing $30,000 to $35,000 — which offers the same technology and gaming platforms as the ES, but is better suited for a quicker, turn-key set-up, install and relocation.

In fact, if you were at the Super Bowl this year, you may have seen two of Visual Sports simulators sponsored by Tommy Bahama and Chevrolet. 

If you’re looking to augment your garage or deck out your man-cave, the ES (Elite System) series will blow your mind and set you back about $45,000. Primarily, the difference between the ES and VS is that the ES system is custom built and installed to fit a particular room or area in your house. If this sounds appealing, plan on a space about 10-feet high, 14-feet wide and about 20-feet deep. Also, plan on getting a lot more than a screen that shows you about how far your shot went. 

VS Elite Simulator-In Home

For about 45K, you could augment your man cave with a VS system.

Using four ultra-high speed cameras for each technology, both the ES and VS systems accurately measure both ball and swing data utilizing proprietary V-Track and Swing-Track technology. V-track records ball data at 2000 FPS (frames per second), or 30 times faster than HD Video. Like high-end launch monitors, V-Track measures spin, launch angle, velocity (ball speed), ball flight and other pertinent data.

V-Track Ball Flight Camera1

V-Track ball flight camera

Swing-Track technology records images at a rate of 600 FPS so the player can see exactly what their swing is doing and how it impacts ball flight. For instructors, allowing a player to see ball flight, launch data and swing information at the same time, is “something very unique to this product,” according to Chris Lee, marketing director for Visual Sports Systems. It’s like having a “launch monitor and frame-by-frame swing sequence at the same time.”

SwingTrack_Club-Analysis

Screen shot of Swing-Track club analysis

So maybe you can’t stomach a $40,000 toy for the man cave just yet, but “give it 5-to-7 years,” Lee says. Like other technologies “prices have already started to come down and as demand increases, economies of scale takes over a bit.”

What that means exactly, no one can predict. However, if companies can produce the same quality product for 20 percent of the current cost, simulators will be competing against hot tubs instead of kitchen remodels and that, according to Lee, is “exceptionally realistic.”

Even at $40,000, Visual Sports provides significant value. Or put another way, if you spend $40,000 on a system, you’re going to get $40,000 worth of technology. Unlike some competitors, Visual Sports doesn’t have a large advertising budget and is very careful not to pass unnecessary costs onto the customer. 

As costs continue to decline, Lee’s optimism is grounded not only in sales projections but in what he knows to be true about golf. From the casual player seeking entertainment, to the teaching pro looking to offer something unique, to the condominium complexes wanting to revamp the traditional recreation center — there’s no shortage of people looking to make tee time anytime.

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I didn't grow up playing golf. I wasn't that lucky. But somehow the game found me and I've been smitten ever since. Like many of you, I'm a bit enthusiastic for all things golf and have a spouse which finds this "enthusiasm" borderline ridiculous. I've been told golf requires someone who strives for perfection, but realizes the futility of this approach. You have to love the journey more than the result and relish in frustration and imperfection. As a teacher and coach, I spend my days working with amazing middle school and high school student athletes teaching them to think, dream and hope. And just when they start to feel really good about themselves, I hand them a golf club!

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. T Bundus

    Apr 13, 2015 at 4:20 am

    @Thomas, I have an HD Simulator and there are actually 4 cameras and 8 stereoscopic sensors. It’s extremely accurate and doesn’t miss. The cameras are located in the top right and left of the simulator supports, as well as 2 over head. Additionally, there are 2 extra cameras for video at 450pics a second. This is far more accurate than a trackman; for numerous reasons: 1) it doesn’t move, 2) it reads spin axis, 3) spin is read via a reflective strip and not via an angle of attack calculation 4) doesn’t require you to input data i.e. human manipulation. 5) it doesn’t matter where you hit it from in the sim as long as you are somewhere in the center. There are numerous reasons why you should splash out on a real simulator if you care about accuracy. Launch angle is also there, as well as all other regular numbers you’d expect to see on a simulator and more hang time for example, club fitting and equipment comparison. These are all very usefull functions for anyone that plays golf. Choose wisely.

  2. Thomas

    Apr 10, 2015 at 1:48 am

    Key thing to look out for are 2-camera systems, they’re the most accurate (the other cameras are usually there to film your swing and allow swing analysis, but don’t actually feed the ball-flight information as far as I know. You want your ball-flight to be captured by a overhead camera and a side camera. Devices like Skytrak can’t tell where your ball lands because they’re measuring only from face on, so they are significantly off most of the time on side angle and side spin. HD golf or Aboutgolf also seem to fail, on launch angle and backspin mainly, because they only capture from above. Trackman, Sportscoach and VSS in my view have the best technology in the upscale range, it just makes sense to read the ball in 3D, I just don’t get how a “stereoscopic” camera is going to make any difference to that.

  3. Thomas

    Apr 10, 2015 at 1:36 am

    GC2 is a good tool for indoor/outdoor use, nice and flexible launch monitor which you can almost carry around with you. I haven’t tried it as a simulator is it any good at the fun bits?

  4. Thomas

    Apr 10, 2015 at 1:14 am

    I am thinking of some day getting a mancave of sorts. 40k to 80k if you go for the best products is a pretty lumpy sum of money, though, I was thinking more like 20k budget. Under 20k the stuff I’ve tried didn’t do the trick for me. At my local simulator shop we play on a Golfzon simulator, Korean stuff. It’s pretty good fun, but the courses are all Asian so no chance of playing a round at Augusta or Pebble Beach. Nice interesting courses though. As far as simulation goes, out of the 20 simulators I have tried, the Golfzon is probably average plus. It’s quite playable, reads most of your shots if you set up properly, does ok on short game but putting is an issue. Big weakness is the inability to properly read spin. Only few simulators have 3D high speed HD camera technology to properly read side and backspin. If you’re looking for the most realistic golf experience, I would go for the Trackman simulator, for 55-65k, VSS not far behind and slightly cheaper – both provide very accurate and detailed data. If you want the best data feedback for your fitting purposes, probably also Trackman. In terms of value for money and versatility, go for Sports Coach simulator, also very realistic I think prices start from about 25k and build up from there to around 70k. I would probably go for Sports Coach myself, especially because their short game modules seem to be ahead of the curve as far as I can tell, so you can actually play any shot, whereas it’s really hard to guess distances on most of the others, for the short game, and also because they have the most golf courses mapped. I personally don’t rate AboutGolf or HDGolf as much, they seem more of a rip-off to me (definitely go for Trackman if you’re going to spend 55k), but still very good product (not sure about accuracy of data). Total thumbs down to Golf Achiever which is by far the worst I have played on, can’t read a shot properly to save it’s life, not worth spending anywhere close to 20k on. Golfzon is ok, and as I understand it’s good value for money at around 20-30k (not sure about price). So that’s how far I’ve got in my market study so far… Any suggestions as to how to make do with 20k for a realistic round is welcome! I hope not to have to wait 7 years!

  5. MikeD

    Mar 31, 2015 at 4:03 am

    I played in an indoor league for two winters on similar $40k units. Was it fun? Yep. Did we drink a ton of beer? Yep.

    Would I ever, in any situation, purchase a simulator like this? Nope. Not ever.

    Is this a piece to put in a man-cave? Surely. Then all your golf buddies come and use it, drink YOUR beer, and feel great doing it.

    There are clearly more cost effective means to the simulator/trainer end. Will these sell? Sure. There are enough guys out there with disposable income to warrant this company being viable. Will it trickle down? Nah… I don’t see it. Not with the more “reasonable” options out there.

  6. John

    Mar 29, 2015 at 9:19 am

    For 40K I’d rather get a TrackMan system and get some serious practicing done

    • Thomas

      Apr 10, 2015 at 1:37 am

      Totally agree although it seems to me if you want the full simulator package it’s more like 55-65k I think?

  7. Birdeez

    Mar 27, 2015 at 10:44 pm

    A huge issue besides cost is space. Not many have 10ft ceilings in the basement.

    • Thomas

      Apr 10, 2015 at 1:51 am

      Ever thought of digging deeper into your basement? Do you know what is beneath?

  8. other paul

    Mar 27, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    I got to try skytrak for $2000. The straighter you hit it the more accurate it is. Also had a $2000 optional software package. If you include PC, projector and the screen and frame, $10000. But I could use it just fine for $5000. Wouldn’t use for club fitting. But it was fun like crazy.

  9. bob

    Mar 27, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    I have a foresight gc2 in the basement with The Golf Club software all in for projector and all was around 12k. Beats most of these 50k units also. There is also skytrack that is suppose to have some simulation software coming out soon and skytrack unit only costs 2k. Not sure how these big 50k simulators are going to survive with better cheaper solutions out there.

    • Kyle

      Mar 27, 2015 at 7:21 pm

      You get what you pay for. The more expensive ones will be more accurate. To some, that’s important. To others, not as much. I’d love to get a track an setup in the future if possible.

      • Brian

        Mar 28, 2015 at 10:07 am

        My $300 Optishot is better than this $45,000 ES because it’s cheaper. Is a reasoning I hear here. ??? As long as you hit I straight and square every time. Is the justification?

    • Chris

      Mar 27, 2015 at 7:57 pm

      I’d be interested to know what makes your unit better than the ES or VS systems? These high end companies are doing very well and growing – So it seems they’re competing quite well.

      • Scooter McGavin

        Mar 29, 2015 at 10:19 am

        I don’t think he’s trying to say that the GC2 is necessarily better in its performance than this system, but the Foresight system is one of the more accurate compact systems out there, which is why numerous fitters and teachers use it. I think he was trying to inquire about what you’re getting from this 45k system that you wouldn’t get from a system, that even brand new you could probably assemble for 20k (isn’t a new GC2 around 10-15k or something?). Is it just the custom room design that accounts for the much higher cost? The slow motion swing camera feature could factor in some, but I doubt the system is much more accurate than the Foresight.

  10. Josh

    Mar 27, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    Living in Michigan, the value of one of these seems much more justified this time of year. Cabin fever does cravy things to ya

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pga tour

K.J. Choi WITB 2018

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Equipment is accurate as of the 2018 Valero Texas Open (4/18/2018).

Driver: Ping G400 Max (9 degrees)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD DI-6x

Driver: Ping G400 Max (9 degrees)
Shaft: Ozik Matrix MFS M5 60X

3 Wood: Ping G400 (14.5 degrees)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD DI-7x

5 Wood: Ping G400 (17.5 degrees)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD DI-8x

Hybrid: Ping G400 (22 degrees)
Shaft: Atlus Tour H8

Irons: Ping G400 (4-PW)
Shaft: Nippon N.S. Pro Modus 3 Tour 120X

Wedges: Ping Glide 2.0 (50-12SS, 54-12SS, 58-10)
Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400

Putter: Ping Sigma G Wolverine T
Grip: Ping Pistol

Putter: Ping PLF ZB3
Grip: Super Stroke KJ

Putter: Ping Sigma Vault Anser 2
Grip: Ping Pistol

WITB Notes: We spotted Choi testing a number of clubs at the Valero Texas Open. We will update this post when we have his 14-club setup confirmed. 

Related:

Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about Choi’s clubs. 

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Accessory Reviews

I tried the great Golfboarding experiment… here’s how it went

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Corica Park Golf Course is not exactly the first place you’d expect to find one of the most experimental sports movements sweeping the nation. Sitting on a pristine swath of land along the southern rim of Alameda Island, deep in the heart of the San Francisco Bay, the course’s municipal roots and no-frills clubhouse give it an unpretentious air that seems to fit better with Sam Snead’s style of play than, say, Rickie Fowler’s.

Yet here I am, one perfectly sunny morning on a recent Saturday in December planning to try something that is about as unconventional as it gets for a 90-year-old golf course.

It’s called Golfboarding, and it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: an amalgam of golf and skateboarding, or maybe surfing. The brainchild of surfing legend Laird Hamilton — who can be assumed to have mastered, and has clearly grown bored of, all normal sports — Golfboarding is catching on at courses throughout the country, from local municipal courses like Corica Park to luxury country clubs like Cog Hill and TPC Las Colinas. Since winning Innovation Of the Year at the PGA Merchandising Show in 2014, Golfboards can now be found at 250 courses and have powered nearly a million rounds of golf already. Corica Park currently owns eight of them.

The man in pro shop gets a twinkle in his eyes when our foursome tells him we’d like to take them out. “Have you ridden them before?” he asks. When we admit that we are uninitiated, he grins and tells us we’re in for a treat.

But first, we need to sign a waiver and watch a seven-minute instructional video. A slow, lawyerly voice reads off pedantic warnings like “Stepping on the golfboard should be done slowly and carefully” and “Always hold onto the handlebars when the board is in motion.” When it cautions us to “operate the board a safe distance from all…other golfboarders,” we exchange glances, knowing that one of us will more than likely break this rule later on.

Then we venture outside, where one of the clubhouse attendants shows us the ropes. The controls are pretty simple. One switch sends it forward or in reverse, another toggles between low and high gear. To make it go, there’s a throttle on the thumb of the handle. The attendant explains that the only thing we have to worry about is our clubs banging against our knuckles.

“Don’t be afraid to really lean into the turns,” he offers. “You pretty much can’t roll it over.”

“That sounds like a challenge,” I joke. No one laughs.

On a test spin through the parking lot, the Golfboard feels strong and sturdy, even when I shift around on it. It starts and stops smoothly with only the slightest of jerks. In low gear its top speed is about 5 mph, so even at full throttle it never feels out of control.

The only challenge, as far as I can tell, is getting it to turn. For some reason, I’d expected the handlebar to offer at least some degree of steering, but it is purely for balance. The thing has the Ackerman angle of a Mack Truck, and you really do have to lean into the turns to get it to respond. For someone who is not particularly adept at either surfing or skateboarding, this comes a little unnaturally. I have to do a number of three-point turns in order to get back to where I started and make my way over to the first tee box.

We tee off and climb on. The fairway is flat and wide, and we shift into high gear as we speed off toward our balls. The engine had produced just the faintest of whirrs as it accelerated, but it is practically soundless as the board rolls along at full speed. The motor nevertheless feels surprisingly powerful under my feet (the drivetrain is literally located directly underneath the deck) as the board maintains a smooth, steady pace of 10 mph — about the same as a golf cart. I try making a couple of S curves like I’d seen in the video and realize that high-speed turning will take a little practice for me to get right, but that it doesn’t seem overly difficult.

Indeed, within a few holes I might as well be Laird himself, “surfing the earth” from shot to shot. I am able to hold the handlebar and lean way out, getting the board to turn, if not quite sharply, then at least closer to that of a large moving van than a full-sized semi. I take the hills aggressively (although the automatic speed control on the drivetrain enables it to keep a steady pace both up and down any hills, so this isn’t exactly dangerous), and I speed throughout the course like Mario Andretti on the freeway (the company claims increased pace-of-play as one of the Golfboard’s primary benefits, but on a Saturday in the Bay Area, it is impossible avoid a five-hour round anyway.)

Gliding along, my feet a few inches above the grass, the wind in my face as the fairways unfurl below my feet, it is easy to see Golfboards as the next evolution in mankind’s mastery of wheels; the same instincts to overcome inertia that brought us bicycles, rollerblades, scooters, skateboards, and more recent inventions such as Segways, Hoverboards and Onewheels are clearly manifest in Golfboards as well. They might not offer quite the same thrill as storming down a snowy mountainside or catching a giant wave, but they are definitely more fun than your standard golf cart.

Yet, there are obvious downsides as well. The attendant’s warning notwithstanding, my knuckles are in fact battered and sore by the time we make the turn, and even though I rearrange all my clubs into the front slots of my bag, they still rap my knuckles every time I hit a bump. Speaking of which, the board’s shock absorber system leaves something to be desired, as the ride is so bumpy that near the end I start to feel as if I’ve had my insides rattled. Then there is the unforgivable fact of its missing a cup holder for my beer.

But these are mere design flaws that might easily be fixed in the next generation of Golfboards. (A knuckle shield is a must!) My larger problem with Golfboards is what they do to the game itself. When walking or riding a traditional cart, the moments in between shots are a time to plan your next shot, or to chat about your last shot, or to simply find your zen out there among the trees and the birds and the spaciousness of the course. Instead, my focus is on staying upright.

Down the stretch, I start to fade. The muscles in my core have endured a pretty serious workout, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to muster the strength for my golf swing. It is no coincidence that my game starts to unravel, and I am on the way to one of my worst rounds in recent memory.

Walking off the 18th green, our foursome agrees that the Golfboards were fun — definitely worth trying — but that we probably wouldn’t ride them again. Call me a purist, but as someone lacking Laird Hamilton’s physical gifts, I’m happy to stick to just one sport at a time.

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Equipment

Titleist AVX golf balls passed the test, are now available across the United States

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Titleist’s AVX golf balls first came to retail as an experiment in three markets — Arizona, California and Florida — from October 2017 to January 2018. AVX (which stands for “Alternative to the V and X”) are three-piece golf balls made with urethane covers, and they’re made with a softer feel for more distance than the Pro V1 and Pro V1x golf balls.

After proving their worth to consumers, Titleist’s AVX golf balls are now available across the U.S. as of April 23, and they will sell for 47.99 per dozen (the same as Pro V1 and Pro V1x golf balls) in both white and optic yellow.

According to Michael Mahoney, the Vice President of Golf Ball Marketing for Titleist, the AVX is a member of the Pro V1 family. Here’s a basic understanding of the lineup:

  • AVX: Softest, lowest trajectory, lowest spinning, less greenside spin and longest
  • Pro V1x: Firmer than the Pro V1, highest spinning and highest trajectory
  • Pro V1: Sits between the V1x and the AVX in terms of feel, spin and trajectory, and will appeal to most golfers

Different from the Pro V1 or Pro V1x, the AVX golf balls have a new GRN41 thermoset cast urethane cover to help the golf balls achieve the softer feel. Also, they have high speed, low compression cores, a new high-flex casing layer, and a new dimple design/pattern.

For in-depth tech info on the new AVX golf balls, how they performed in the test markets, and who should play the AVX golf balls, listen to our podcast below with Michael Mahoney, or click here to listen on iTunes.

See what GolfWRX Members are saying about the AVX golf balls

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