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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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Today from the Forums: “Favorite Miura iron of all time?”

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Today from the Forums, we take a look at a discussion on Miura irons. Asked by moorebaseball which Miura irons are their favorite, our members go into detail on just why they love the model they do, with a variety of the brand’s irons receiving some love.

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.

  • bvanlieu: “CB57 was a good looker when I hit them, but I like the CB1008 a tad more in the looks department and felt a smidge more forgiving to me. Never got to hit them but MC501’s seem to blend with the MBs nicely, great top line. I can’t stop hitting my CB’s this winter on range/sim just yummy. Baby Blades tend to get the vote for best looking from the many commenters I have seen. I agree they are good to look at and feel well, Miura like. I just like me some forgiveness for my low/mid cap game.”
  • speeder757: “Tournament Blade All Day Every Day.”
  • pearls24: “I don’t know about best ever, but the MB101 is awesome. Way better for me than the 501’s due to less offset. I loved everything about the 501’s except couldn’t get past the offset in the shorter irons. 101’s setup perfect behind the ball.”
  • EaglesGolf99: Baby Blades, CB•57s, CB•1008s, and CB•301s.That’s my personal Top 4. Interested to see what the TB Zero turns into in the Global Line!”
  • vmann: “I’ve played baby blades 5-p for the last year and a half. I absolutely love the look and feel. Just got the 3 and 4 iron to match. Can’t wait for the snow to clear to check them out. I haven’t played any other Miuras, so obviously, bb’s are my favorite. I highly recommend.”

Entire Thread: “Favorite Miura iron of all time?”

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Confessions of a gear junkie in Korea: My new Ballistic Golf irons

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As an avid golfer and a self-professed equipment junkie, few things in life are better than discovering a piece of shiny new golf gear that brings a smile to my face and a dent to my wallet. And in Korea, where outpacing the Joneses is a national pastime, one has to be vigilant to stay ahead of the crowd.

To onlookers, most Korean golfers might come across as posers who seem more interested in looking good than playing well. It is not unusual for a set of clubs and golf bag to exceed $10K, and the 500-plus custom golf fitting studios across the country are our playground.

The colorful world of Korean golf.

Searching for the latest and greatest

The equipment and fashion we use and wear here will probably make most golfers in the Western hemisphere question our masculinity. But as the saying goes, “When in Gangnam…”

Koreans have a word to describe this expensive affliction, called “Jang-bi-byung.: It translates into “equipment-itis.”

I’m sure that such an insatiable desire for the latest and greatest gear isn’t limited only to Koreans, but I’d wager it affects a lot more of us than in most golfing countries.

And our scope of search isn’t limited only to this side of the world either.

Ballistic Golf MB proto iron heads – bullets and ball not included.

Meet Ballistic Golf, a fledgling golf brand hailing out of Iowa. And if the initial reactions from my friends are any indication, it may well be the next “it” brand for many Korean golfers.

Love at first sight

Back in mid-December, I was scouring the internet, as usual, looking for that special something when I first came across the Ballistic Forged MB irons.

I was immediately won over by the universal language of the classic muscleback—the name and logo instantly resonated with me.

I’d like to say I did the due diligence and carefully weighed the pros and cons of owning these beauties. But the truth is, I didn’t.

Luckily, the price of the clubs was lower than initially expected, thanks to the DTC (direct-to-consumer) model, and I soon became a proud owner of a set of MB irons (5-PW) and two bad-ass looking Covert wedges (52, 56).

After arranging for the clubheads to be delivered to Korea, I reached out to chat with Kyle Carpenter, founder and CEO of Ballistic.

Here’s what he had to say about the brand

“Ballistic Golf launched in July 2019, but I’ve been focused on the idea of starting the company for quite a while. The name was chosen because one definition of ballistic is ‘of or relating to the science of the motion of projectiles in flight.’ And that fits golf so perfectly. My main goal was to design clubs that golfers could perform with, while also keeping a classic look and feel to them.

“Confidence is a major key to good play on the golf course. At Ballistic Golf, we feel that our clubs radiate that feeling right from when you open the package to when you take your first swings. Players irons require confidence and consistency to play well with them, and having irons with a sleek minimalist design and surprisingly good feel on slight mishits, gives you that confidence.

“Wage War on Par’ is our mantra. We really wanted people to have the feeling that they can go out and kick par’s ass. So we made a club that looks and feels great and build on the confidence it gives you to execute the shots you know in your mind that you can hit.”

The hard pelican case and the Ballistic Golf dog tag were a great touch!

A match made in fitting heaven

Long before they arrived, I was snooping around various fitting shops in anticipation, looking through the many options of shafts. My goal was to find shafts that would best suit my game, while at the same time, elicit oohs and aahs from those who have yet to discover the brand.

After an in-depth fitting session with Jay Chung, a master club fitter with over 20 years’ experience, I had decided on Fujikura MCI graphite shafts. I was looking to try something lighter than my usual True Temper Dynamic Gold steel shafts, as I have struggled with elbow pain over the summer.

Jay Chung, master fitter at Fujikura center in Gangnam, Seoul.

During the club-making process, the first thing I noticed was how meticulous he was in preparation. After measuring every component from clubhead, to shaft, and grip, he proceeded to walk me through various factors and that can affect a club from performing at its optimum. He left nothing to chance and wrote everything down on a spec sheet that would be saved on file for my future fittings.

In the end, I was holding one of the finest-looking set of clubs I have ever owned.

The first Ballistic Golf irons in Korea—mission accomplished!

Ballistic performance

My efforts were rewarded with the appropriate amount of praise from friends and begrudging envy from the Joneses. But now it was time to put these beauties to the test.

The clean club head looks great at address, checking all the requisite boxes for a traditional muscle-back blade. Made from forged 1020 carbon steel, the heads are compact with a thin top line and sole. The progressive blade length is optimized throughout the set, and the reduced offset and classic loft make these clubs a true player’s iron.

I am by no means a superb ballstriker, but it wasn’t difficult to find the sweet spot with the new irons. Even for off-center strikes, the ball traveled farther than expected with immediate feedback. The MCI 80 stiff graphite shaft complimented the head and helped to absorb the vibrations from off-center hits.

7-irons comparison on indoor screen golf simulator

The numbers from the first simulator trials were quite comparable to my current gamer (Yonex N1MB with Matrix Ozik 70R graphite shaft), which is fitted with regular flex shafts a 1/2 inch longer.

The look and feel of any club are subjective, but the Ballistic irons felt great in my hands. At impact, it felt as if the ball stayed a fraction longer on the face, then rocket off with a soft yet firm feel and a pleasing sound.

I later compared both clubs on a TrackMan, and although I don’t have the pictures, the launch numbers and overall distance were much closer to my gamer. I attributed the improved performance to becoming more familiar with the new irons and shafts.

The Covert wedges performed as well as they looked. The cast head is made from 8620 carbon steel and framed the ball squarely at address. The sole design is designed for a variety of shot-making options around the green, and the laser-etched micro-grooves reminded me of Cleveland’s RTX-4 wedge.

The Patriot wedge has the same specs as the black Covert wedge and features a satin finish with an American flag etched on the back of the head.

Specs and price

So far, the design and presentation of the clubs were more than enough to draw the attention of everyone who saw them. The pairing of the club heads with the graphite MCI shafts continue to produce good numbers, and I can see them being in my bag for the start of the season.

The best feature aside from the eye-catching design was the price. A set of MB proto irons (4-PW) with KBS Tour steel shafts and Golf Pride Tour Velvet grips is priced at $749, and each wedge is available at $109.

When I inquired about his plans to add new club models, Kyle said he will focus only on the MB irons and the two types of wedges (RH only) for the time being; to keep things simple and traditional.

For more information, visit Ballistic.golf

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Today from the Forums: “Best sand-specific wedge?”

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Today from the Forums, we take a look at a discussion on sand-specific wedges. Alpha3 is on the hunt for a forgiving wedge for bunker play, and our members have been talking about what they have found to be the most effective wedges from the sand.

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.

  • harricli: “I play mostly desert golf with terrible sand; however, I have an old 64 degree sm5 Vokey that is about as automatic as possible out of a bunker. It goes in the bag if I’m playing anywhere that has real bunkers.”
  • nphillips0613: “Hi-Toe is great out of sand. I haven’t tried it but look into the Bigfoot hi Toe. 15° of bounce has to make it easier to get out of sand.”
  • Lepatrique: “The best place to start is a high bounce wedge. They tend to be much more forgiving from most bunkers, for most players. Low bounce wedges are great if you’re trying to nip a high shot off of a firm lie in the fairway, but tend to dig a bit in bunkers. I would recommend finding a couple high bounce wedges and seeing what you like the look/feel of best.”
  • uglande: “Depends on conditions. I like a low bounce, high loft club for firm sand (mostly what I play) and have a Vokey 62 in an M grind (8 bounce) for that. But for versatility, I would say take more bounce and keep loft high — like a 56-58 degree D grind Vokey (12 degrees bounce). That’s a great club from bunkers and plenty of bounce for full shots as well.”
  • BCULAW: “K Grind was easiest for me out of the sand. I used a little different technique with it, where, instead of splashing the ball out, I would turn the leading edge down a little almost like a chip. Ball came out fluffy and soft. Easy as pie.”

Entire Thread: “Best sand-specific wedge?”

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