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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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What GolfWRXers are saying about the best “5-woods under $125”

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In our forums, our members have been discussing 5-woods, with WRXer ‘gary3aces’ looking for a 5-wood for between $100 and $125. He’s looking to replace his current “M2 5 wood with something a little easier to hit”, and our members have been discussing the best options in our forum.

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.

  • C6 Snowboarder: “Take a look at a used Callaway Heavenwood in the Epic Flash model = pretty Friggen sweet. It is Heaven!”
  • Golf64: “Bang for the buck, hard to beat Cobra, but find Ping one of the easiest to hit off the deck. Since you are limited in the funds dept., maybe an older model Ping 5W would do the trick?!”
  • tilasan1: “G400 7 wood turned down or just use it as is.”
  • jbandalo: “Fusion fairways. Highly underrated, cheap, easy to hit and go for miles.”
  • RyanBarathWRX: “PING G fairway would be hard to beat and easily in price range:
  • Nelson.br.1515: “Another vote for the Callaway Big Bertha Fusion. Great stick!”

Entire Thread: Best 5-woods under $125″

 

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What GolfWRXers are saying about “blending Ping i500 irons with Blueprints”

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In our forums, WRXer ‘ballywho27’ has asked for thoughts on combining his current Ping i500 irons with the brand’s Blueprint irons. ‘Ballywho27’ is considering going “i500 in 3-4 iron and blueprint 5-W” and has asked for fellow member’s thoughts on the idea – who have been sharing their takes in our forum.

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.

  • jblough99: “I had a combo set for a minute, 3-5 I500 and 6-PW Blueprint. I could not get used to the transition, HUGE difference in looks at address. If I had it to do over I would just go 4-PW Blueprint and maybe a 3 I500 with graphite shaft as a driving, iron.”
  • animalgolfs: “iBlade{5i} – BP{6i-pw}. That’s my combo.”
  • Chunky: “I have i500 4-5 and Blueprints 6-PW. As mentioned above, there is a significantly different look at address. More importantly for me, the i500s are 1/2 to 1 club longer than the BPs (they fly much higher, too). Make sure you account for that added i500 distance when blending lofts or you’ll have a large gap.”
  • howeber: “I’ve done that exact set — 3 and 4 i500 and 5-PW Blueprint. It’s perfect for me since the 3 and 4 are more like a traditional 2 and 3.5. 4 is usually the longest iron I carry, so I like a little extra oomph out of it. At the end of the day though, when I finally tested them vs my MP4s, the Blueprints performed identically, while the i500 launched a little higher (same specs same shafts). Mizzys are still in the bag.”

Entire Thread: “Blending Ping i500 irons with Blueprints”

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GolfWRX Vault: Avoid these 5 club building disasters

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It’s never too late to go back to basics, especially when it comes to club building.

Even with modern new club release cycles the do’s and don’ts of building clubs haven’t changed much in the last few decades except for clubs with adapter sleeves and greater amounts of multi-materials incorporated into the design.

With that in mind its time to revisit an article from the GolfWRX Vault from June 2016.

——————

I’ve been fitting and building golf clubs for more than 15 years, and in that time I’ve seen a lot of really poor workmanship—stuff that would make most GolfWRXers cringe. But like anyone who ever did anything new, I didn’t start being naturally good at putting together clubs. It took a lot of time, ruined components, and trial and error to get where I am today.

I believe my attention to detail now stems from the fact that my dad was a machinist by trade, and anytime we ever worked on something together his attitude was to take your time and do it right the first time. My dad’s approach always had an impact on me, because I feel that if you do something right — even when it takes a bit longer — the job is not only more satisfying but also makes things work better and last longer.

The goal with this article is to help WRXers avoid the most common mistakes and assumptions in club building that lead to broken or ruined clubs, as well as real danger.

Over-prepping a graphite shaft

The shaft on the left has been prepped properly. The one of the right, which has noticeable taper, shows signs that layers of graphite have been removed.

This happens far more than it should, and can ruin an expensive new shaft purchase. To prepare a shaft properly for installation, you only need to remove enough of the paint to make sure that the epoxy adheres to the graphite. This is also true for the inside of the hosel.

Be careful to remove residual epoxy, dirt or rust (common with forged carbon steel club heads that have been sitting around for a while), or some type or solvent like the one used to put on grips, as it can cause of bond to break down very quickly. A proper reaming tool, a wire brush and some compressed air (either a small can or a large air compressor) can make cleaning simple, and prevent a golf club from falling apart.

UPDATE: Over prepping specifically applies to shafts that are designed to go into parallel heads and is especially important for 335 shafts with less material at the tip going into drivers and fairway woods. For information on how to properly taper a shaft to go into a tapered head, check out the video below:

Overheating a Shaft When Pulling it

This is what happens to a graphite shaft when overheated.

This is what happens to a graphite shaft when overheated, and the resin holding the graphite sheets together breaks down. It’s not always as noticeable, but if the shaft starts to fray it means the bonds have been compromised and it’s more likely to fail. 

Overheating a shaft when pulling it is another common mistake that can result in ruining a golf shaft. It also highly increases the chance of breakage. There are quite a few methods I’ve learned over the years to remove a shaft from a club head, from heat guns to large propane torches, but personally I find that using a small butane torch with a regulator for graphite offers the best results. It allows a club builder to easily control and focus the heat only where it’s needed. Bigger torches are fine for iron heads, as long as you don’t damage any plastic badges in the cavity or materials in slots around the head.

One of the best advances in club technology has been the invention and mass adoption of adjustable hosels. They not only help golfers adjust the loft, lie and face angle of club heads, but have also greatly decreased the need to pull shafts. So as long as a golfer is staying with the same metal wood manufacturer, they can usually test several different clubs heads with the same shaft, or vice versa — several different shafts with the same clubhead.

That being said, one of the most important tools that any hobbyist club builder should have or have access to is a high-quality shaft puller. It’s a necessary tool for anyone who wants to do repairs and helps prevent damage to a shaft while pulling it. The more linear pressure that can be applied to the clubhead, and the less heat used to break down the epoxy, the better. It makes sure both the shaft and the head are reusable in the future. For steel shafts, you can use a bit more heat, and twisting isn’t a problem. Again, with increased heat, be careful not to damage any of the badging, or permanently discolor an iron head.

Botching a Grip Installation

Using calipers and two-sided tape, you can replicate the taper of shafts to makes every grip feel exactly the same size in your set.

Using calipers and two-sided tape, you can replicate the taper of shafts to makes every grip feel exactly the same size in your set.

This one seems simple, but when really getting down to professional level detail, it is quite important. We ALL have a preference and different opinion of what feels good in a golf grip, as well as different sensitivities. For example, we all have the ability to figure out what apple is bigger, even if blindfolded because over time we all develop brain function to understand shapes and sizes. This also applies to grips. If you use the same grips on your 13 clubs, you could potentially have 4-5 different final sizes depending on how many different types of shafts you use, because many shafts have different butt diameters.

Some shafts have larger butt diameters, while others taper faster than others. That’s why it’s very important to own a quality set of vernier calipers, and know how to properly use them. It’s also the same for putters, since many putter shafts are smaller in diameter. I have lost count of how many times I’ve had people bring me, putters, where the bottom half of the grip is twisting and turning because the installer never paid attention to the interior diameter of the grip, the exterior diameter of the shaft, and how it changed from top to bottom.

Using epoxy that’s doomed to fail

An example of epoxy that although not completely set, is no longer safe for assembling clubs.

An example of epoxy that although not completely set, is no longer safe for assembling clubs.

I’m a bit of a physics nerd and garage engineer, so this is one of those topics that goes beyond just the physical aspects of club building and into the realm of chemistry.

Here comes my nerd-out moment: In the simplest of explanations for a 0.335-inch driver hosel with an insertion depth of 1.25 inches, the amount of calculated surface area the epoxy can bond between the shaft and the head using the internal dimensions of the head is 1.49 square inches. That’s not a whole lot of area when you consider the centrifugal force being applied to a driver head traveling at 100 mph, and then the forces of torque that also come into play when a shot is struck.

In a PERFECT world, almost zero torque is applied to a shaft when a shot is hit on the center of gravity (CG) of the club head, perfectly aligned with the center mass of the ball, while traveling in the intended direction. This is vectors 101 of physics. Unfortunately, almost every single shot is NOT hit like that, and this is where the epoxy bond is put under the most amount of stress. Lap shear strength of epoxy goes beyond me, but it proves that building a golf club is not just cut and glue after all.

Note: For those of you curious, the most popular epoxies are rated for 4500 psi. 

As far are actually working with epoxy, first things first. Always check to see if the epoxy has a best-before date (yep, just like milk). Also, never store epoxy in direct sunlight. If you are using epoxy from a tube in a dispensing gun, you are using what is an almost foolproof method. Plunge out the necessary amount, mix for about a minute (mix! don’t whip), and remember, the less air that gets into the epoxy the better. If air gets in and the epoxy cures with bubbles in it, then you end up with a club that will often “creak.”

For those using two parts in larger bottles, the best way to ensure proper ratios is to pay attention to the weight ratio rather than volume. This isn’t arts and crafts; it’s chemistry, so by using the weight to calculate the ratio you will get the right amount of each part every time, and help decrease the risk of failure down the road. If you have mixed a larger batch and plan on building quite a few clubs at a time, you really have to pay attention to the consistency and viscosity as time goes on. You don’t want to glue a club head with epoxy that has started to set.

Turning an Extension into a Shank

The difference between a good shaft extension (bottom) and a bad one.

The difference between a good shaft extension (bottom) and a bad one.

This is one of those subjects I don’t even like to talk about. I very much dislike using extensions when building clubs, especially clubs with graphite shafts. Going back to my “do-it-right-the-first-time” mentality, extensions are a Band-Aid fix to a problem that requires surgery. They also counter-balance the club, and by their very nature create a weak point because of the small wall thickness at the butt end of a shaft. The only clubs I don’t mind extending on a regular basis are putters since they are never put under the same level of stress as a club being swung at full speed. I also never extend a club more than 1 inch, because I have been witness to horror stories of clubs that have been overextended that not only break but rip through the grip and cut people’s hands very badly.

If you are going to extend a club, it’s important to make sure the fit is very snug and doesn’t cause the extension to lean in any direction. It’s also best to have the epoxied extension cure with the club on its side to avoid an excess epoxy from running down the shaft and breaking off and causing a rattle.

 

 

 

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