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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

Jhonattan Vegas WITB 2020

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  • Equipment accurate as of 1/14/20

Driver: TaylorMade M6 (9 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Atmos Tour Spec Black 9 TX

3-wood: TaylorMade M6 Rocket 3 (14 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Atmos Tour Spec Black 9 TX

Irons: Mizuno MP-20 HMB (3), Mizuno MP-4 (4-PW)
Shafts: Project X 7.0

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM8 (52-12F, 56-14F), TaylorMade Hi-Toe (60-09 LB)
Shafts: Project X 7.0

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo DB5
Grip: Lamkin Deep-Etched Paddle

Grips: Golf Pride Tour Velvet Cord

Ball: Titleist Pro V1

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What GolfWRXers are saying about TaylorMade’s SIM fairway woods

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In our forums, WRXer Hotdocta created a thread to discuss the new SIM fairway woods and wants to hear from fellow members who have experienced them. Plenty of WRXers give their thoughts on the 2020 additions from TaylorMade, with the vast majority mightily impressed with what they have seen.

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.

  • DNice26: “I bought the 5 wood based on reports the Sim is silly long and low spin, and after my first round today, it absolutely delivered. The 5 wood isn’t too big, and I found it to flight excellently off the tee and off the fairway. It set me up today for birdies on all the par 5s. I have mine shafted with an 80X diamana blue, and it is fantastic.”
  • JoeFrigo: “The SIM is the hottest 3w I have ever hit. Had the m6 all last year and absolutely loved it. I said all last year it was the best fairway I’ve ever played….the SIM is even better. I love the profile at address, and there are times the SIM 3w gets within 1mph of my driver ball speed. I honestly went back to PGA store for playability and grabbed the 5w instead because the face is so hot. I had about 5 launch monitor sessions and 1 round on the course and was killing it, but gaps were way off now. Decided id wait and get more course time with it, but then the Coronavirus came.”
  • tyusg: “The SIM fairways are extremely hot off the face. Was hitting off the trackman at my work, and was reaching smash factors of 1.51 and 1.52. The shape of them do remind me of the M6, a little bigger, and a pretty deep face. But the V Steel tech they put back in I believe is why the smash was so high. Even on off center hits, the ball speed was pretty much all there still.”
  • Polly509109: “I have hit both SIM ti/ SIM Max. They were both very good. Tried all the Mavrik 3W offerings and SIM fit my swing better. Switched from TS3 fairway. Into the SIM ti with my old shaft from the Titleist. 82X Diamana Whiteboard. Don’t have any numbers for you, not really a launch monitor guy. But was getting 255-269 carry and 275-288 overall with the stock Diamana 75S shaft when I was fitted. 104-108 ss. Don’t know what kinda monitor.”

Entire Thread: “TaylorMade’s SIM fairway woods”

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What GolfWRXers have bought since ‘lockdown’

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In our forums, our members have been discussing their golfing purchases since lockdown began in many areas of the world. WRXer ‘lvmike’ created the thread and has purchased a Ping putter as well as a TaylorMade driver and our members have been getting involved with plenty of WRXers investing in new equipment from clubs to hitting mats and beyond.

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.

  • JoeFrigo: “Other than a mat and net, unfortunately, I haven’t bought any clubs…courses are closed here so I can’t hit anything anyways. I’m now really looking into a personal launch monitor since ill have a month at least of no range time. But the temptation is strong for more clubs! particularly putters since I can do that in my basement green.”
  • manima1: “Purchased an EXPUTT putting simulator – perfect for lock-down. Review so far is this is an excellent tool in dialing in putting distances and developing a consistent stroke at a given distance – similar to how you can dial in irons and wedges on a typical full simulator.”
  • pmang: “In the past week I’ve bought a SIM Max, a TS2 and a hot melt gun. Come to think of it I bought a Garmin clip-on GPS/Rangefinder… oh, and some Adidas golf shoes…. and I’m sure there will be more.”
  • pgetzen: “Bought a Stitch SL1 bag and two Cleveland RTX4 wedges on the Walmart deal, as well as 3 knit headcovers.”
  • 1PuttTutt: “Full basement simulator setup, including hitting mat, screen/enclosure, mevo+ launch monitor, projector, gaming laptop, etc. Unfortunately only the hitting mat has arrived so far, but I was able to set up some blankets and padding so I can hit balls in the basement. I also bought four dozen balls and a pushcart. I was thinking the pushcart was a genius idea, being that courses would limit to one person per cart, and courses would run out. But then they shut courses down before I could use it.”
  • uglande: “Two Vokey SM8 wedges and a Scotty Special Select putter. I’m wearing out my basement carpet with all of this chipping and putting, so my short game should be good to go when we’re released again to the outdoors. I also bought some sweet Titleist black leather (noir) head covers.”
  • Kye123: “Me, my dad and my little bro bought a Swingcaddie S300 and an industrial net from a fishing company… was going great until my little bro sailed a 60 straight into the conservatory two houses down, wedges are now banned.”

Entire Thread: “What have you purchased since ‘lockdown’?

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