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

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  1. @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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

  7. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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?

    • 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.

      • 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.

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