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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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Mizuno announces new JPX 919 Tour Forged irons are coming August 29 (via cryptic Twitter post)

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While cryptic, it does appear Mizuno is announcing via Twitter that its new JPX 919 Tour irons are coming on 8/29/18. One would have to assume that means they will be launched on 8/29, not actually hitting retail on 8/29, but that remains to be seen.

We recently spotted a number of new irons on the USGA conforming list, including the JPX919 Tour irons pictured above, JPX919 Forged and JPX919 Hot Metal irons from Mizuno. So it’s likely that the JPX 919 Tour Forged irons won’t be alone in the JPX 919 family when they hit retail.

The JPX 919 Tour iron specifically pictured in the Tweet above seems to be the replacement for Mizuno’s JPX 900 Tour irons that Brooks Koepka used to win this year’s U.S. Open and PGA Championship. Learn more about the original JPX 900 Tour design from Mizuno’s Chris Voshal on our Gear Dive podcast.

Diving a bit deeper into the picture from Mizuno’s Tweet, it appears the JPX919 Tour irons will utilize Mizuno’s familiar Grain Flow forging, and will be made from 1025E; that’s based on the hosel stamping that says “GF Forged HD 1025E.”

Stay tuned for more info from Mizuno.

See what GolfWRX members are saying about the JPX919 Tour irons here.

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USA Stars & Stripes, European Flag Chrome Soft Truvis golf balls arrive

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Getting you in the Ryder Cup spirit a little more than a month from the competition in Paris, Callaway announced Chrome Soft European Truvis golf balls and new Chrome Soft X Truvis Stars & Stripes balls today.

The Carlsbad company is also bringing its popular Chrome Soft Truvis Stars & Stripes balls back to market.

The new European Truvis balls features a European-themed white, blue, and yellow design. Both Chrome Soft Truvis Stars & Stripes balls include a patriotic red, white, and blue pattern.

All models of these made-in-the-USA golf balls will be available at retail August 24th and will sell for $44.99.

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An Interview with T Squared putters, started by a high school golfer

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I’ve coached high school golf for over 15 years, and I thought that I had run out of “firsts.” Then, Anthony Tuber, one of our varsity six, told me that he builds putters. “Sure,” I thought. You purchase the components and assemble putters. Nice hobby to have. “No, coach, I build them from scratch. We have milling machines.” If that doesn’t catch your attention, not much will.

As a coach, you encourage your golfers from a base of experience, but I don’t have any club-making experience! The last time I played around with metal was in middle-school metal shop. In this particular case, the student is the coach, and the golfer is the teacher. I’m now the proud owner of a T Squared putter, and continue to be the proud coach of Anthony Tuber. He might be the next Bob Vokey, or Scotty Cameron, but for now, he is a varsity golfer and high school student. Oh, and he happens to make putters. Rather than write a review that might be perceived as biased, I decided to do a straightforward interview with T Squared Putters. If you want to learn more, visit the company website, or follow them on Twitter and on Instagram.

Question 1: What type of research and field testing did you do, prior to building your first putter?

Prior to making our first putter we bought a bunch of putters to see what we liked and disliked about them. Then we took those putters and tested them to figure out which roll we liked the best. The roll is determined by the weight of the putter the length and the groove pattern. After we completed the testing we drew up a design and shortly after that we had our first prototypes. We then tested those prototypes and they rolled exactly how we wanted. Time went by while we used these first putters but then we really wanted to see the competition. We went to the PGA Merchandise Show and that’s where we found out that we had a superior putter.

Question 2: Is there a style of putter that you like, that perhaps served as inspiration for some of your designs?

We bought and tested dozens of putters but two putters caught our eye and those putters are the Scotty Cameron Squareback and the Scotty Cameron Newport 2 Notchback.

Question 3: Can you tell us a bit about the materials/components that you chose for T Squared Putters?

We use American-made 303 stainless steel in all of our putters, but we also we use 6061 aircraft aluminum for the insert on the 713i.

Question 4: How do you balance your responsibilities and commitments, with your T Squared production?

During the school year academics are my number one priority. Over the summer I have been balancing my Tsquared putters work while working on the progression of my golf game. Fortunately I have a team that is very supportive of my vision for T Squared putters.

Question 5: Any chance we will see a mallet-style putter from T Squared?

Yes, we are currently testing other mallet putters to determine the most desirable features for our mallet putter. We are anticipating a prototype soon.

Question 6: Are you a better putter now that you know so much more from the design and production side of putters?

Yes, I have an entirely different perspective when I stand over every putt.

Question 7: How do you get the word out about the quality of your putters?

We have been very active on social media. The golfers that are currently using a Tsquared putter have been spreading the word. We have also been attending local golf tournaments to establish our brand.

Question 8: Do you hope to make a career of this venture, or do you envision it as a step along the path of a 21st-century businessman?

Yes, as golf is my passion I hope to take Tsquared putters to the next level. Golf will always be a part of my life whether it is professionally or recreationally.

Question 9: Finally, what question haven’t we asked, that you wish we would? Ask it and answer it, please.

I haven’t been asked how this process has affected me as a person. As a 17 year old I have a new appreciation for patience, persistence and hard work.

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