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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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Whats in the Bag

Shane Lowry’s winning WITB: 2019 Open Championship

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Driver: Srixon Z 585 (9.5 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana D+ 70X (45.25″, tipped .75″, D3 swing weight)

3-wood: TaylorMade M4 (15 degrees)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD DI-8X

Irons: Srixon Z U85 (2 [18 degrees], 3 [20 degrees bent to 21]), Srixon Z 585 (4 [23 degrees], 5 [26 degrees]), Srixon Z 785 (6-PW)
Shafts: Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro White TX Hybrid (2), KBS Tour 130X (3-PW)

Wedges: Cleveland RTX 4 (50 [bent to 51, 35.75″, D5], 58 degrees [35.25″, D7.5)
Shafts: KBS Tour Wedge X

Putter: Odyssey Stroke Lab Exo 2-Ball (Lowry’s putter has an all-black finish, and he switched into it earlier this year at the RBC; 34″)
Grip: SuperStroke Traxion Pistol GT 1.0 (custom shamrock)

Ball: Srixon Z-Star XV Pure White

Grips: Golf Pride Tour Velvet 58R (logo down)

Image c/o Srixon (obviously, Lowry does not have all wedges pictured in play)

Additional Shane Lowry WITB notes, via Johnny Wunder

2019 Open Champion Shane Lowry, compared to Tommy Fleetwood, is on the other side of the spectrum in regards to brand loyalty. He is Cleveland/Srixon in 12 clubs including the ball with the only two exceptions being the TaylorMade M4 3-wood and his Odyssey Putter. In this case, that makes sense, those clubs seem to be a challenge to swap, especially the 3-wood, and Cleveland/Srixon isn’t really known for putters on the PGA Tour.

I got some interesting intel on his driver Switch from the TaylorMade M2 into the Srixon Z585.

According to Rodney McDonald, VP of Tour Operations for Cleveland/Srixon, Shane is a dedicated staff member that is always willing to get all Cleveland/Srixon in the bag.

On Lowry switching into the Z585 Driver McDonald had this to say

“The switch was very easy. Even though he had won early in the year with another driver, he was not driving it good at all. He is very loyal to our team and our products that he came to us to find a new driver. He instantly loved the look of the Z 585 and once we started testing the numbers were exactly what he was looking for. His main comment about the driver is how his misses are minimal and he can hit all the shots he wants to.”

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Equipment

Tommy Fleetwood’s bag is as awesome as he is (Tommy Fleetwood WITB)

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I’m obsessed with this guy. If there was a movie about his life, Aaron Taylor Johnson would play him…can we make that happen?

His bag has taken over for my past obsession with Charles Howell III, David Toms, and Rocco Mediate. I’m drawn to players that tweak a bit, it keeps it fun for me on Getty Images at 3 a.m.

Much like a Bernhard Langer, there is no telling what OEM sticks will land in Fleetwood’s bag. It’s awesome and a sign of the non-contract “eat what you kill” mentality shared by some of the biggest names out there (BK and Patrick Reed to name a couple).

Tommy has messed around quite a bit in the past two years with his bag and the fun part is, he’s not afraid to shake it up.

Here is a partial list of clubs that were previously in the bag since ’17 leading up to his current setup

  • TaylorMade M3 driver (Mitsubishi Kuro Kage 70X shaft)
  • Titleist 917 D2 driver (@ 8.5 degrees) (Mitsubishi Kuro Kage 70X shaft)
  • Nike Vapor Fly 3-wood (13 degrees) (UST Mamiya VTS ProForce Red 7X shaft)
  • Nike Vapor Fly 5-wood (Mitsubishi Diamana Blue 80TX shaft)
  • Titleist 917 3-wood (14 degrees) (UST Mamiya VTS ProForce Red 7X shaft)
  • Titleist TS3 3-wood (12.75 degrees) (UST Mamiya ProForce Black 7X shaft)
  • Nike VR Pro Blades
  • Callaway MD4 wedges
  • Ping G410 3-wood (14 degrees) (UST Mamiya ProForce Black 7X shaft)
  • Ping G410 7-wood (18 degrees) (Mitsubishi Diamana BF 80T shaft)
  • Odyssey 2-Ball (plumbers neck)

His grips are also a fun one, he goes Blue Golf Pride TVC in his woods, Iomic Sticky in his irons, and black Golf Pride TVC in his wedges. God, I love this guy!

Tommy Fleetwood WITB @The Open

Driver: TaylorMade M6 (9 degrees @7.5)
*has lofted up a bit, his driver has been down to 6.5 I’ve heard.
Shaft: Mitsubishi DF 70X (45 inches)

3-wood: TaylorMade M6 (15 degrees @14)
Shaft: Mitsubishi DF 70X (42.5 inches)
*was in a Ping G410 until the Scottish Open where he switched into the M6.

Irons: TaylorMade GAPR Lo (@18.75), Srixon Z785 (4-iron, 23 degrees), TaylorMade P7TW (5-9)
Shafts: GAPR: Project X 6.5 (39.5 inches), 4-iron: Project X 6.5 (38.5 inches), 5-9: Project X 6.5 (38 inches @ 5-iron, minus 1/2 inch from there) (26, 30, 34, 38, 42 degrees)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM7 (47, 52, 55, 60 degrees)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400

Wedge notes: 48.10F (bent to 47) Tour chrome finish
52.08F raw
56.10 (bent 55) raw
60.08 raw

Putter: Odyssey White Hot Pro #3
Grip: Super Stroke Mid Slim 2.0


Quick thought: I do see a specific trend when it comes to free agents, and it’s mildly telling. Keep in mind I understand that it’s not 100 percent, but the trends are there.

In woods and wedges specifically, TaylorMade seems to be a popular choice in the overall woods category for non-signed players and Vokey is hands down the wedge of choice. Makes sense in my opinion, I’m not a big “best company” guy, but I do understand the choice. Both companies make and have made extremely high-performing sticks for many years. Consistency in anything is a hard opponent to beat. When Nike bounced out of clubs Rory, BK, Casey, and a few others put Vokeys straight in, and a BK and Casey put TM woods in the bag. (Just an example for context)

Anyway, Tommy Fleetwood is four back going into the final round. I have a weird feeling if it blows he could be holding a trophy.

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Equipment

Tiger Woods opts for lead tape on his Newport 2 rather than a heavier putter: Here’s why it makes sense

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After days of speculation about which putter Tiger Woods might end up with an attempt to tame the greens at Royal Portrush, we now officially know he settled on his old faithful GSS Scotty Cameron but with a twist—some added lead tape.

The whole reason the speculation was in high gear early in the week was because of Tiger was spotted with a new custom Scotty that had the Studio Select weights in the sole to increase head weight to help with slow greens, something Tiger has talked about in the past—especially when it comes to the greens at The Open Championship.

We can even look back a few years ago when Tiger finally put a Nike putter in play, the original Method (those were nice putters) and talked about both the increased head weight and the grooves on the face to help get the ball rolling on slower greens.

The decision to stick with the old faithful with added lead tape goes beyond just a comfort level, even if the two putters look the same at address, it’s about feel and MOI around the axis.

Let me explain. Sure the putter heads weight the same, but depending on where the mass is located it will change the MOI. The putter with the Select weights vs. lead tape in the middle will have a higher MOI because there is more weight on the perimeter of the head—it’s like a blade vs. cavity back iron. Sure, two 7-irons can weigh the same but the performance will vary significantly.

For a player with such deft feel like Tiger Woods, any change like that can could cause doubt. Tweaking an already great putting stroke and on the eve of the last major of the year is not really something you want to do, which is why it isn’t surprising he stuck with his legendary Newport 2.

Lead tape in the middle allows Tiger to increase the head weight with very little change to the natural rate of rotation for hit putter and hopefully manage the slower Portrush greens better.

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