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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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Talking New Level Golf with founder Eric Burch

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“If you want to make a small fortune, start with a big fortune”

It’s a phrase I’ve heard many times before, not just with the golf industry but in other industries that are, let’s call them — leisure or sports-focused. It’s an uphill climb to enter any market, but golf might be on another level. There are the big players that are worth BILLIONS, and spend millions of dollars in research and development, along with equal amounts marketing, to make sure that every golfer is aware of their new club technologies. They also have well-oiled systems of distribution.

But in this new world of brand-agnostic fitting centers, boutique brands, social media, and the ability to reach your target demographic like never before there are a LOT of new companies creating high performance, high quality, well-engineered products. But when it comes to forged irons for golfers of all abilities, industry veteran Eric Burch’s New Level Golf stands on its own.

If you don’t know Eric Burch, and you’ve gone through a custom fitting recently, then you are at least partially aware of some of the breakthroughs he’s helped create in the golf industry, including the Club Conex system. His newest endeavor New Level Golf was only started in 2017, but in that short time, it has made some very big strides including distribution in over 150 brand agnostic club fitting facilities and now some professional golfers signed to the roster (including PGA Tour winner Ken Duke).

So how do you go from designing club fitting components to designing forged irons and starting a company that has products on the Golf Digest Hot List? I got the chance to talk to Eric about New Level Golf, his background and how after his years in the golf industry he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

RB: Based on your history in the golf industry you seem to be a real problem solver with a “Be your own boss” mentality, is that how you would describe your self?

EB: I’ve been in business for myself since my early 20s. Other than a few short stints for other golf companies, I have primarily been my own boss involved with golf. I would consider myself a problem solver. Not necessarily by design, but mainly due to starting companies that have always been undercapitalized which forces your hand to learn a variety of tasks to help the business move forward.
Although I’ve received notoriety as a club fitter/retailer, Club Conex, and now New Level. I’ve been fortunate to have won the professional Clubmaker’s Top Shop Award (2004), Golf Digest Top 100 Club Fitters (2016),  & have products I’ve designed be on the Golf Digest Hot List (2019).

RB: What was the first product & club head you ever designed, and how does the workflow go now with New Level?

EB: The first golf products were, of course, the Club Conex prototypes and those were generated from hand-rendered sketches. I still believe, given what I did with Club Conex and the universal system I designed, I hardly get the credit I deserve. I bought a milling machine without really knowing how to use it and over the course of 6-7 months taught myself how to use it and started creating prototypes. Those prototypes eventually became the Uni-Fit system.

The first clubs I ever designed were putters dating back to the mid 2000s, but in terms of New Level, I know what I am trying to accomplish in design as well as fitting into player categories that comes from my years working at my own shop and fitting golfers from professionals to higher handicaps. Since product is made overseas, the engineers I work with at our factory have done a very good job of helping bring my concepts and designs to fruition. I really enjoy doing the designs and creating something that will one day be in someone’s golf bag.  The only current issue with the success we’re seeing now is if the company continues to push forward we will at some point be forced to bring on an industrial design engineer to further help with product development, but that would be in 2021 as most of our products for next year are in development, or have already been developed.

RB: On that note, how long from having an initial concept to that first set of irons or at least a prototype head in hand?

EB: This is heavily dependant on the complexity of the design. The 4995 HB took almost 9 months to get it where we wanted, whereas the 902 took just about four months. Typically we can get a first article sample of a playable sample in less than 60 days.

RB: When you consider the logistics and tooling involved, that’s quite an impressive turnaround time. From a design perspective, what do you think is the most misunderstood part of creating an iron head and the manufacturing process that you face?

EB: This is a hot topic with me since most people just don’t understand the depth of the manufacturing process. A lot of people think of the term open model (a factory’s in house design produced to create a starting point for some companies), they think we are just stamping our name on a head that is already been refined and finished by someone else which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Like with many aspects of club designs some of the tooling we use are openly available, but for example the raw forged blank head is on average 407 grams on a 6 iron that needs to be designed into a profile that weighs just 262 grams. So as you can imagine a club head overweight by more that 35 percent, it’s far from being a finished product. We call all the shots when it comes to every pertinent parameter and specifications of our design. The only thing incorporated into using this process and something we can’t change is the offset of the club. All other facets of the design are facilitated by my directive and incorporated into the final design.

I chose this method of manufacturing for New Level because it allows a far more flexible range of experimentation before a final design is consummated and brought to market. As a new company starting out it would have been near impossible to use a process similar to other OEMs that create a final tool for each and every design solely based on scale. We had several designs that were not used because they didn’t make the cut when it comes to performance and if we had gone the other route we would have had hundreds of thousands of dollars in tooling alone from products that never saw the light of day.

This process is called the “near net” process, and I find it to be much more in tune with today’s industry. I will take it one step further by saying regardless how good one may be at hand grinding and polishing, a human will never be as consistent and effective as a CNC machine. This entire process allows us to keep our costs reasonable and offer a…uniquely designed, full one-piece forged club for a fair price. There are a lot of other companies using this process you’d just never suspect it.

RB: As a club builder and fitter myself, I have encountered my fair share of misconceptions from golfers, what do YOU feel is the number one thing golfer misunderstand from a design perspective of their clubs?

EB: I can only speak from my experiences, but most golfers are scared of the word “forged” as it has been far too long associated with blades and hard to hit designs. I believe the average weekend warrior still views forged as a design methodology as opposed to a manufacturing process. That is a major objective for New Level to prove that forged clubs can be forgiving, can produce great ball speed, & can be used by your average mid handicap player. Our 1126, for example, is longer from heel to toe, has a shallow profile, and deep undercut – lots of forgiveness for any level of player. From a fitting perspective, I’d say that over 80 percent of players are using shafts that are too heavy, and too stiff for them.

RB:  We’ve talked a lot about the product, and now I need to know – How many retail outlets currently carry your irons and wedges. And lastly, what advantage do you believe New Level irons and wedges have over the competition?

EB: New Level products can be found at roughly 150 locations worldwide and growing almost weekly. If I had my way, we’d never sell another club off the website since I truly believe getting fit by a professional is the best way to get the right set, but saying that as the brand is growing and during the infancy stages, I am trying to get as much product in the field of play as possible to spread brand awareness. We get positive feedback on a daily basis. We have an extensive questionnaire on our site to help those that are not close to one of our retailers, and we also have a lot of people that see our clubs, like what they see and order to their known specs.

As far as our advantages go, I believe it’s pretty simple — being small allows us to pay more attention to each and every client and ensure they are getting the attention that they deserve. The mentality is always to be big enough to make money, yet no matter how we grow, act small and care about every single customer. Currently, we have the care part down very well. My belief is with any business I’ve ever been involved with is that if you do the right thing and stay focused eventually the money will take care of itself. It’s funny because I experience many of the same challenges with New Level as I did with Club Conex early on. Although I am mixed in with a ton of larger players in the golf industry, with New Level I am starting to see our awareness with golfers grow. I hope that this growth continues and we still maintain a great rapport with our customer base.

If you are interested in New Level products check out their website, or call and check with your local club fitter for availability.

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Forum Thread of the Day: “New irons from Mizuno”

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Today’s Forum Thread of the Day showcases new irons that are on the way from Mizuno. Reportedly two years away from being released, but that hasn’t stopped our members from discussing and speculating on the new irons from the Japanese manufacturers.

Here are a few posts from the thread, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.

  • halfsumo: “I told myself no new irons until the new MP line comes out. Chris Voshall on TXG’s youtube said something along the lines that the new irons are “not what you’d typically expect from Mizuno”….”
  • deep18: “The one on the left in the bottom pic kinda looks like a 919 Tour.”
  • BlackM00Nlight: “Bottom picture, iron on the right appears to have a beveled leading edge, CB design, and chrome finish.”

Entire Thread: “New irons from Mizuno”

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Callaway ERC Soft Yellow now part of “Play Yellow” campaign to benefit Children’s Miracle Hospital

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Callaway Golf has today announced its ERC Soft Yellow golf ball is part of a new program: Play Yellow.

The Play Yellow campaign is an initiative from Callaway where the company will donate $4 for every dozen ball pack sold of their ERC Soft Yellow golf balls in support of Children’s Miracle Hospital Network (from today until the end of May).

The campaign runs from April 19 to May 31, and speaking on the initiative Callaway President & CEO, Chip Brewer stated

“Callaway Golf is honored to support the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals — an outstanding organization — through this Play Yellow initiative. We’re inspired by the golf industry’s broad effort to rally around this important cause and campaign.”

As a recap, the ERC golf ball from Callaway features their Hybrid cover which is designed to create a combination of faster ball speeds for longer distance, softer feel, and higher spin for excellent control around the green. The ball contains a Graphene-infused Dual SoftFast Core which through a larger inner core seeks to maximize compression energy while minimizing driver-spin for high launch and greater distance. The balls also include Triple Track lines for improved alignment.

 

 

 

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