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Review: Ernest Sports ES14 Personal Launch Monitor

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If you have spent time the last few years looking through GolfWRX photos from PGA Tour events, you likely noticed more Tour pros are using professional launch monitors — such as Trackman and Flightscope — on the range on a regular basis. They’re using them as more than a fitting tool, too. The combined data they provide, which includes key metrics such as ball speed, spin rate and launch angle, present golfers with an accurate picture of how far they hit each of their clubs and what swing changes are giving them the best results.

Professional launch monitors are generally outside of the price range of most golfers. Trackman, the industry leader, ranges from $16,000-$25,000 while an entry-level Flightscope Xi starts at $2,500 and the Flightscope X2 at around $11,000.

But like so many other ways, technology has started to bridge the gap between amateur golfers and the pros, and affordable, personal launch monitors have been making their way into the bags of more golfers dedicated to improving their game.

Ernest Sports and the ES14 Launch Monitor

One of the companies leading the drive to bring professional quality launch monitor data to the masses is Ernest Sports. Based in Atlanta, Ga., Ernest Sports came onto the scene with its ES12 personal launch monitor. This past year, the company took it up a notch with the Doppler-based ES14, a $699 personal launch monitor that measures club head speed and ball speed. It also calculates spin rate, launch angle, carry and total distance. Powered by 9v batteries, it measures roughly 8-by-6 inches, making the ES14 portable enough to carry with you to the range and accurate enough to offer golfers valuable feedback.

es14-golf-monitor_grphic2

The best products and companies are built by people trying to solve a personal problem in an area they are truly passionate about. For Joe Ernest, the founder and CEO of Ernest Sports, that passion is golf. After spending countless hours on the range and course watching golfers, including himself, pull the wrong club out of the bag, he set out to build a product that would give all golfers the confidence of knowing just how far they hit each of their clubs. He wanted to use Doppler radar technology, which is the same base technology as Trackman and Flightscope, to track both the club and golf ball. And he wanted this product to be affordable enough for almost any golfer to use.

“This is the future. Very soon there won’t be anywhere you go to hit golf balls where you don’t have instant access to your numbers,”
Ernest said.

The company counts long drive, Champions Tour and LPGA players among their list of customers, but they do not pursue formal endorsement deals. For Ernest Sports, the ES14 is aimed squarely at improving the game of every day golfers.

The ES14 has two Dopplers, one that faces forward to capture the ball flight, and one that faces rearward to capture the club head. The measured inputs are club head speed and ball speed, which present an accurate smash factor. The spin rate and launch angle, as well as carry and total distance, are calculations. Even though they are not directly measured with the ES14, they are still quite accurate on solid shots.

DSC_1000

The company assembles each unit at its headquarters, allowing control of every aspect of the assembly and testing process. They walked me through the assembly of the unit I would receive for testing. I like knowing each ES14 is hand-assembled, starting with the electronics, all the way to the final polishing of the unit before packaging and shipping.

Each unit is turned on and tested to ensure everything is working as intended. The testing is completed by Jeremy Schmiedeberg, a scratch golfer who also handles sales and marketing for Ernest Sports. He hits 30-yard wedge shots, which the company has determined to be the best indicator that the unit is working properly, until he is satisfied that the unit is ready to go.

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Jeremy Schmiedeberg testing an ES14 unit at Ernest headquarters.

ES14 Accuracy

A company made up of passionate golfers is not enough if the product doesn’t deliver accurate results. For personal launch monitors, this means accurate club speed, ball speed and carry distance. Ernest Sports has worked hard to ensure that even though the ES14 is $700 and not thousands, it still generates accurate data.

The company provided me with independent third-party testing comparing the ES14 against Trackman. The testing took place outside on grass at the Country Club of the South here in Georgia.

ChartES ChartES2

The results were impressive, considering the extreme difference in price of the two launch monitors, but most importantly, they were consistent.

No launch monitor, even the most expensive ones, will capture every shot and make every calculation perfectly. But when it comes to choosing a launch monitor, you want one that will provide consistent numbers.

Stacked up against a Trackman, the ES14 consistently registered slightly higher club speed and slightly lower ball speed. Carry distance was generally reported higher on the ES14. This is due in part to the difference between the ES14 and Trackman. Trackman captures the entire ball flight, which will be impacted by external forces such as wind. The ES14 on the other hand, captures the ball flight for the first 10 yards to make the final calculations.

Most other launch monitors on the market, including those you would hit indoors at golf stores around the country, also base their distance calculations on a brief snapshot of data and not the full flight.

My Testing of the ES14

With the Trackman comparison testing completed, I focused my testing on the driving range and hit shots to specific pins measured with a laser rangefinder as well as my own GPS app designed for use on the driving range.  I also set up the ES14 in my home hitting area to test how much space the ES14 would need to capture accurate data indoors.

Getting started with the ES14 was easy. While the free smartphone app for iOS (Android is also available) could use a design refresh, it was simple to use and provided at-a-glance access to the key data. You can take part in a skills challenge where you are scored on your ability to hit shots to specific distances, which is something that makes practice a lot more interesting.

Included in the box is an alignment aide to help set the unit up to capture accurate data. Because I was on the range hitting irons, I had to be aware that moving the ball too far outside a “circle” would influence the numbers. The image below shows the ideal position of the ball relative to the launch monitor. Anywhere inside this circle should produce accurate results, but positioning it directly where the alignment aide suggests will be best.

DSC_0023

As I created divots, I needed to adjust the monitor. This is not a factor when hitting off a mat or a tee, but something to keep in mind when hitting on grass. Also, with the launch monitor in front and to the side of you, there is a slight bit of nervousness in the beginning that you’re one hosel rocket away from smashing it, but I never actually came close.

On the range, I went through the entire bag, but it was more difficult to accurately laser the exact landing area with longer clubs. I spent more of my time hitting to a green with a pin at 155 yards, which is a stock 8 iron for me. I was impressed with the accuracy of the ES14 and the ability to pick up each shot. I was seeing slightly longer carry distances of around 2-to-4 yards reported, but that is the kind of accuracy I would expect and want to have in a launch monitor at this price. I did notice that offline shots had a wider variance, which is expected. If I played a very large draw or fade, the numbers reported would be somewhat less accurate than a traditional shot with a smaller amount of curve.

Indoors with the ES14

DSC_0008

The ES14 is a great companion for the driving range, where you can see the full ball flight and landing area. The results matched my expectations and previous knowledge about how far I hit different clubs. However, I also see it as an valuable tool to round out an indoor hitting bay. Instead of hitting into a net and relying only on feel and impact tape to recognize solid shots, the ES14 can provide actual data.

I set it up in my home hitting area with 8 feet of distance between the unit and my net. Once again, I hit shots with an 8 iron (as well as other clubs) and was happy to see the numbers were almost identical to those on the range. You do need to hit an actual golf ball for the ES14 to provide accurate data, and you need 8-to-10 feet of ball flight. Combined with other technology, such as a swing analyzer like Swingbyte, and slow motion video from your mobile phone, you can now have a pretty powerful indoor practice area and have the confidence you’re grooving a good swing.

Final Thoughts

The personal launch monitor space is heating up fast and Ernest Sports is just getting started. It has made great strides from the ES12 to the ES14 by including two Dopplers instead of one and delivering a wider set of accurate metrics. I believe the innovations they have on the horizon will continue to empower every day golfers.

While the ES14 will never replace or directly compete with all the advanced features of the more expensive launch monitors, the measured club head and ball speed data it captures paints an accurate picture of your true distance and will help you ultimately make better decisions on the course.

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When he is not obsessing about his golf game, Kane heads up an innovation lab responsible for driving innovative digital product development for Fortune 500 companies. He is also the co-founder of RoundShout and creator of Ranger GPS, the free iOS GPS app for the driving range. On a quest to become a scratch golfer, Kane writes about his progress (for better or worse) at kanecochran.com and contributes golf technology-focused articles on GolfWRX.com.

36 Comments

36 Comments

  1. james ryan

    Apr 18, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    I’ve had my es14 for about 2 months now. I’ve been using it 4x a week. I find that you need to hit a good shot for the data to be accurate. On the driving range the calculated and measured distances are pretty close…couple yards on medium irons. That makes me believe that the ball speed parameter is very accurate. The club speed will have an error of about +/- 4%. So the smash factor varies accordingly. This is an invaluable tool for maximizing your driver. I take 10 shots with the driver. After the 10 are taken the average club shot seems highly accurate. The errors in the club speed will cancel and average to a true club speed. So smash factor become more accurate also. This method allows me to make driver adjustments. Such as loft settings, test different shafts, I had 4 drivers to test also. Use clubface tape to hone strike location and best tee heights. After tweaking the best results for my driver I was able to increase driving distance 20yds. On 4 holes at the club i had a day last week where i had 4 of my longest drives during the round. The device allows to hone your swing for best results.

    This is just a great tool for those who are serious about your game

  2. Lasse Iversen

    Sep 1, 2016 at 5:21 am

    Yesterday I took my ES 14 and my book, golf sciense, to the driving range.
    This book contains all information about club speed, ball speed, ballspin, launch angle and carry and total distance. I wanted to find out what was the best loft on my driver to get less spin, correct launch angle. Normaly I use 10.5 degrees on my driver, and my club speed is about 90 mph.
    Since the table in the book said, no higher lounch angle then 13,8 degrees and spin rate lower then 2021 rpm. The results was amasing, on 10.5 loft degrees the spin was much to high and distance to short. After a bucket of shots I came down 8.5 degrees loft and launch angle was 13.80 deegres, spin 2389 rpm and distance increased with 22 yds. Furthermore I exprimented how to attack the ball in different ways and as a result of this I learned how to increase club speed by 5 mph.
    So, never by a driver without get fitted.

  3. me

    Apr 1, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    The problem with these devices is that it gives us average golfers too much information that is not necessary. We don’t have great swings like the pros. If you look at our numbers on a trackman or device like this, it’s only going to discourage you to see that your shaft lean is flipped, have an outside to in swingpath, etc. etc…. And if you are smart enough to understand it all, then you are tasked with trying to fix it, which is a monumental task in and of itself. Kick it old school and go out there on the range with a few clubs and a bucket of balls. You can see pretty easily whether or not you are hitting the ball well.

  4. jp

    Apr 1, 2015 at 1:43 am

    what’s the best mat to buy for home practice?

  5. jedidiahs mom

    Mar 30, 2015 at 11:24 am

    Kane…you didn’t do too well at wrestlemania last night…what happened? your brother sure took care of bray wyatt though

  6. Will

    Mar 30, 2015 at 9:09 am

    Bottom line is that those numbers are just not accurate enough to be of any use. If I want to mess around with a new driver or shaft but it is giving me numbers that are up to 10 yards off than its not going to justify a $70 price tag let alone $700. I appreciate the fact that this company is trying to make a reasonably priced launch monitor but its just not there yet.

    • Jeremy

      Mar 30, 2015 at 2:26 pm

      I’m with you. I’m excited for the future, but not quite sold on the present state of the inexpensive options.

  7. ParHunter

    Mar 30, 2015 at 5:44 am

    Strange, there was a review of the SkyTrak, ES14, ES12 and VoiceCaddie SC100 the other week on a different website (MGS) and they came to a completely different result for the ES14 and 12. Basically that they can’t recommend them.

    • AlexH.

      Mar 31, 2015 at 11:33 am

      If you read further you will also notice that WRX published data provided to them by Ernest Sports. Kind of tough to trust those kind of numbers.

      • Kane Cochran

        Apr 1, 2015 at 10:27 am

        Hey Alex – Just to clarify, the numbers were provided by Ernest Sports. However, the testing was actually completed by an independent 3rd party directly against their own TM. One of the things I checked out in the data was variation and spread. Some of the numbers frankly do not paint the best picture when stacked directly against TM, which is a good indication the numbers as a whole were undoctored. But it is another reason I wanted to actually test the unit against lasered and GPS-tracked landing areas for myself to help provide a more complete picture.

  8. MHendon

    Mar 30, 2015 at 1:17 am

    I guess I’m just old school but I don’t see the value in a launch monitor when hitting outside. I can clearly see my ball flight and tell if I’m getting the results I want. On the other hand when weather or time of day doesn’t allow for hitting balls outside I think they are great. If I ever win the lottery I’m gonna have one installed in my man cave.

  9. Alex

    Mar 29, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    So, if the ES14 only measures ball and club speed, and calculates everything else, why buy it over the ES12?

    Seems like it looks really cool, more like the Flightscope, but doesn’t really provide a ton more than what you’d get with the smaller, less expensive ES12.

    Until a unit can measure spin and launch and offer a more comprehensive look at impact, I don’t really see much benefit over a basic unit like a swing speed radar of the ES12.

    • Greg

      Mar 31, 2015 at 10:42 am

      I think the ES12 only has one camera, and only measures the ball speed, and calculates the rest. ES 14 has 2 cameras ( one for the ball, one for the clubhead), giving ball speed and clubhead speed. That’s the reason for the cost difference I think.

      • Alex

        Apr 1, 2015 at 1:20 am

        Ah, okay.

        But still. $700 for two numbers and some calculations seems like a bad deal, to me.

        I’m glad we’re going towards an affordable range option, but I want to see what else comes in the next few years.

      • Kane Cochran

        Apr 1, 2015 at 10:29 am

        That is correct, Greg. The ES14 has 2 Dopplers, front facing and rear facing, to capture the clubhead and ball separately. The ES12 simply has one. The additional calculated data is another reason for the price difference between the two units.

  10. Jon

    Mar 29, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    Love the way screenshots comparing ES14 and trackman numbers were thrown in there….the numbers are way off from trackman. If 2 degrees of launch difference? Thats huge. Almost 1000 rpm of spin with the 6 iron? Also huge. 10 yards of carry with the driver? All this screenshots did was DISprove the ES14.

    • Alex

      Mar 29, 2015 at 5:05 pm

      To be fair, the unit isn’t getting less accurate, it’s just that as you increase ball speed you also increase the accuracy gap. So obviously driver is going to be pretty far off if a 6i is a couple yards too.

    • Sydney

      Mar 30, 2015 at 5:22 pm

      But he said distance on trackman is affected by conditions (wind etc) and therefore the difference

      • Alex

        Apr 1, 2015 at 1:21 am

        Depends on the setting. You can eliminate that on TM by using the normalize function. Let’s be honest…even range balls can cause some variation.

  11. Cal

    Mar 29, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    Oh hey imagine that no support for android devices……………………………………………………….

  12. other paul

    Mar 29, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    I am surprised it took so long to see a review of this device. Hasn’t it been out for more then a year? I am often wrong (my wife would agree). It was good to see numbers side by side with trackman. I would have liked to have seen how the numbers changed specifically with the offline shots. If they were out a lot and only straight shots were accurate then anyone who hits a fade or draw as a stock shot could ignore this thing.

    • Kane Cochran

      Mar 29, 2015 at 3:31 pm

      Nope, you can tell your wife you’re right this time! The ES14 was released last year.

      I hit a draw (not a large one) as a stock shot and found the numbers quite accurate when measured with laser and GPS on the range, not stacked against Trackman. Where I saw a wider gap between reported distances and actual distances were when those draws became hooks and fades became slices. Severe curve or obvious mishits didn’t register as accurate.

  13. Damien Warner

    Mar 29, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    Does it monitor club path and face position at impact?

    • Kane Cochran

      Mar 29, 2015 at 3:26 pm

      Damien – No, the ES14 does not measure the club path or face position at impact. The measured inputs are club head speed and ball speed.

  14. Kane Cochran

    Mar 29, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    Hey M – Thats a good point and the main reason I wanted to spend time hitting to lasered landing areas. What I saw using a laser and GPS app designed for the range, was that on average the ES14 was reporting carry distances within a 2-4 yard radius of the lasered landing point. There is some variance since I wasn’t able to literally walk out and measure point to point. But that 2-4 was consistent. Hope that helps.

    • Philip

      Mar 29, 2015 at 2:51 pm

      I have no issues if the ES14 is off from the trackman as long as it is consistent – as I can use a laser finder to dial in my exact yardages for one or two clubs on the course and then extrapolate the readings from the ES14 and calculate my expected yardages to a pretty exact yardage. In fact, not incorporating the wind is an advantage for the ES14 to me as the wind is irrelevant to me knowing my yardages club by club. However, I am concerned about that piece of card stock required to use the ES14 – I would be lucky to use it at all during a season with dew in the morning and lots of rain. Do they have a plastic version available? Are they planing to have another version that does not require such a delicate setup for accurate readings in the future?

      • Kane Cochran

        Mar 29, 2015 at 3:34 pm

        I agree with you, Philip. It is nice to see yardages under calm conditions and then make your calculations to adjust on the course for any wind.

        The card stock has a coating and is somewhat thick. But you’re right, repeated use on wet turf would eventually start to wear down the alignment aide. That said, I found that once I set up the monitor, I simply stuck a tee in the ground to mark the ideal spot and removed the card. That removed the distraction of the card and also kept it off the ground. I don’t have any knowledge of plans to release a plastic version.

        • Philip

          Mar 29, 2015 at 5:43 pm

          Of course, too obvious for me. I could just take a small tape measure with me and measure out the distances and place tees in the ground.

          Thanks

          • Prime21

            Apr 1, 2015 at 7:48 am

            You can do that on a range filled with golfers? With that talent, you’re right, you obviously do NOT need a launch monitor!

        • Prime21

          Apr 1, 2015 at 8:31 am

          Are you kidding? It is not getting yardages under calm conditions, it is simply getting the limited 10 yd calculation that it is capable of. Is wind cutting up a golf ball from impact to 10 yards? Maybe if you’re hitting some type of wedge. More importantly, if you are outside and hitting directly into a 10 mph wind, it WILL knock your ball down and it IS important to know how that wind effects each club. Where do you & Philip live that has 0 wind? Philip hits a ball that the ES 14 tells him went 140 yards. He lasers his ball on the range, and gets 130 yards. As a player he could use this information to determine exactly how far each of his clubs travels or how much it curves under the current conditions. He could do this down wind, in a left to right wind, or in a right to left wind, and actually improve! Or, he may be able to learn how to take spin off his ball or use spin to fight against the wind which would mean he had more control of his golf ball. Knowing what your golf ball is going to do in any situation is the definition of playing better golf, is it not? If you cannot track the entire flight of the ball from start to finish, you are getting an innacurate #’s, period. Would you want a driver that was carrying 280 or 284 yards? What if you had to carry a hazard at 280, are you trusting your monitor now? How about spinning at 2600 or 3000 rpm’s? If cheap means less accurate then the product is simply not good. If a differential of 3-4 yards or 400-500 rpm’s of spin is acceptable, you probably shouldn’t have a launch monitor to begin with.

          • Joshua

            Jun 10, 2015 at 10:55 pm

            No Launch Monitor Tracks the golf ball all the way to the ground, not even Trackman. I believe there is a lot of misconception in the market at what a launch monitor does. Both camera and radar based units rely on a lot of calculations.

          • Geekaya

            Jul 9, 2015 at 4:05 am

            @prime21, I do not understand your long post. Do you want a device that has some kind of a built in kestrel meter that acually flights beside the golfball in the air to correctly calculate the carry so that you get exact numbers that match any condition. Or are you happy with the way the es14 gives you numbers that reflect calm conditions?
            Am I being silly?
            I got one of those es14s. As long as I hit them pure, ballspeed and ss are spot on so smashfactor and the carry numbers would be easy to calculate correctly. ????

          • Geekaya

            Jul 9, 2015 at 4:09 am

            @prime21, I do not understand your long post. Do you want a device that has some kind of a built in kestrel meter that acually flights beside the golfball in the air to correctly calculate the carry so that you get exact numbers that match any condition. Or are you happy with the way the es14 gives you numbers that reflect calm conditions?
            Am I being silly?
            I got one of those es14s. As long as I hit them pure, ballspeed and ss are spot on so smashfactor and the carry numbers would be easy to calculate correctly. ????

  15. u radioactive

    Mar 29, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    The almost 1000rpm difference on th 6 iron is a little worrisome…

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Accessory Reviews

Review: Golf Simulator Software for SkyTrak

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SkyTrak is a personal launch monitor packed with impressive features and accuracy. It sells for $1995, and is aimed at golfers looking for a high-quality, personal launch monitor and golf simulator. I’ve recently hit more than 1,000 golf balls on SkyTrak and tested it head-to-head against Trackman to find out if it truly is as good as it sounds.

Spoiler alert: It is. You can read the full review here.

In writing my SkyTrak review, I felt that I could better serve the GolfWRX Community and the greater golf world with an additional SkyTrak review that focused specifically on SkyTrak’s golf simulation partners. This… is that review.

Golf Simulation Partners

Out of the box, SkyTrak comes with an impressive driving range app, which golfers looking to hone and refine their swing will really appreciate. But one of the ways SkyTrak differentiates itself from other launch monitors, especially lower-priced ones, is by integrating with five leading golf simulation software packages.

This is where SkyTrak starts to widen its appeal. Serious golfers will enjoy playing a full round, but you can also get casual golfers involved. My wife and kids will enjoy playing a round of golf, and I won’t have to worry about holding up the group behind me. As my kids get older, having a simulator at home will be invaluable, allowing them practice at any time… assuming they want to play golf, of course.

SkyTrak Simulation Partners

Data Provided to Each Software

SkyTrak provides each simulation partner with the exact same, five directly measured data points which include: ball speed, launch angle, backspin, side spin and side angle. Each software applies their own ball flight model. For that reason, I did see differences in the ball flight and data displayed.

WGT (World Golf Tour)

Almost every golfer with a mobile phone or a Facebook profile has played or heard of WGT (World Golf Tour). The same game that has been played on mobile phones for years can now be played with SkyTrak. The most obvious difference is the visuals. Their patented, photo-realistic imagery and terrain mapping has created some of the most realistic course simulation available. What’s more interesting is that WGT is included at no additional cost when you purchase the $199.95 per year SkyTrak plan. This is great news for people interested in playing full courses, but not yet ready to commit to another simulator package.

There are 10 full courses that can be played. They include St. Andrews, Chambers Bay, Bandon Dunes and others. Closest-to-the-pin challenges can be played on 18 total courses.

Ball Flight and Data

The ball flight model is very accurate and similar to what I see in the SkyTrak app. It also calculates my wedge shots correctly, which is typically a slight fade that I cannot seem to fix. Total distance is a bit strong, with some clubs flying an average of five yards farther than normal.

Course Accuracy and Visuals

It is hard to beat the photo-realistic visuals of WGT. It took me a minute to get used to them after playing rounds on the other simulators, but the courses look amazing, especially on a large projector screen. With the combination of the photos and terrain mapping, these courses are spot-on representations of their real-life counterparts.

WGT SkyTrak Partner

Depth of Included Courses and Quality of Gameplay

I wish there were more courses, but WGT is continuing to add to its roster and I value the realism of the courses it has. I would rather higher quality courses over quantity. They also have some “Best Of” bundles, like playing the Best of Bandon Par 3s, which is a lot of fun.

The gameplay is solid, although the options are limited. You don’t have a lot of fancy camera angles or the ability to view a replay of your shot. In fact, some of the starting camera angles aren’t even from the player’s point of view, which is a little weird and hard to get used to. The SkyTrak data presented has everything you would want, except carry distance. The interface is clean and easy to use.

Reliability of the Software

Although the specs say an iPad is required (and preferred if you’re not using a projector), I didn’t experience any issues connecting to either my iPad or my iPhone 6s.

Cost

Included with SkyTrak’s Play & Improve Package

Jack Nicklaus Perfect Golf

I want to love Jack Nicklaus Perfect Golf, and I almost do. The main game includes really nice, quality courses, and you can purchase add-ons such as Muirfield Village or PGA National for $5.95. Additionally, its Course Forge Software, which is the same software used by Jack Nicklaus Golf course designers, can be used by anyone to create an unlimited number of courses that you can download and play.

You can adjust almost any setting you can imagine, from camera angles that allow you to walk freely around the golf course to video and audio settings that adjust everything from the sky effects to the way the grass looks. This is critical to helping dial in the settings to maximize gameplay for your specific PC setup.

Ball Flight and Data

The ball flight was similar to what I saw on the SkyTrak range, but the distances were consistently a bit shorter. There is a good chance I could mess around with the various settings and get the numbers to match up, but out of the box, I felt like the distances were slightly shorter across the board.

Course Accuracy and Visuals

I really like the quality of the courses. There is an almost unlimited combination of settings you can use to dial in the visuals to create a very realistic experience. The real courses I downloaded look, appear and play very accurately. The textures of the tee boxes and greens are very realistic.

Jack Nicklaus Perfect Golf SkyTrak Partner

Depth of Included Courses and Quality of Gameplay

The included courses are a mix of fictional, user-created courses, and real courses with fake names. For example, you can play Florida Glades, which is actually modeled after TPC Sawgrass. I played Muirfield Village while watching coverage of the Memorial last weekend, which was fun.

With the exception of the occasionally shorter distances, the gameplay is excellent. Shots on the fairways and into the greens follow the real-life contours of the course. Just check out the video above to see what I mean.

The game really shines with the smooth camera movements and replay options. I love being able to watch each shot from the player point of view, but also angles like the spectator view. It feels just like TV and is a lot of fun to see my shots from different angles.

Reliability of the Software

This is where Jack Nicklaus Perfect Golf falls short, at least for me. During testing, I was never able to get through an entire round without the simulator connection crashing, which meant that SkyTrak was no longer connected to the simulator software. This is an issue with Perfect Golf reported by others, too. As of June 1st, the company provided an update that has solved this issue for me, and I can now get through a full round, but it is something to keep in mind.

Cost

Multiple packages starting at $99.95 per year for the driving range package. It’s $199.95 per year for the simulation package, and $249.95 per year for everything including the ability to play user-created courses or compete in online tournaments.

TruGolf E6

TruGolf E6 feels and plays like the most solid of all the simulator options. Each of the 87 total courses are mapped using precise terrain and course data, and you can tell they spent a lot of time making each course feel as realistic and accurate as possible.

The app has numerous settings to control time of day, wind, lighting, camera angles and more. Course elevation is accurate, and factored into the ball flight. The base software includes a driving range with target practice, chipping area, and a putting area.

Ball Flight and Data

The ball flight, carry and total distance are almost identical to what I see in the SkyTrak app.

Course Accuracy and Visuals

The quality of each course is impressive. Fairways and greens are responsive and variable, mimicking the actual terrain of the course. The textures, shadows, and lighting are realistic. And the camera movements to follow the ball or during replays are natural. The overall graphics are not quite as good as Jack Nicklaus Perfect Golf or The Golf Club, but still very solid.

TruGolf E6 SkyTrak Partner

Depth of Included Courses and Quality of Gameplay

The main package includes 15 championship courses, including Pinehurst  No. 2, Bay Hill, Gleneagles and others. You can also buy seven other packs of courses, each for a one-time fee.

The actual gameplay is very realistic. The standard camera angles feel like I am watching a shot from my actual point of view, but I can also watch the replay from various other camera angles. Putting is realistic, even if I haven’t yet mastered putting on SkyTrak. And if you’re looking to practice a specific hole on a course, you can choose to play only that hole.

Reliability of the Software

Rock solid. Throughout my entire testing, I never had any software issues.

Cost

$299 per year in addition to the SkyTrak Game Improvement Package. Additional course packs can be purchased for $240-500 each.

The Golf Club Game

There is so much to like about The Golf Club.  The graphics are quite possibly the best of any of the simulators (up to 4K Ultra HD) and allow you to move around the course in real-time. There are 100,000+ high definition courses, you can create your own courses, and TGC has live tournaments. There is even an announcer who gives you the play-by-play.

Ball Flight and Data

Just like TruGolf E6, the ball flight model and key data points are very similar to what I see on the SkyTrak range. I have noticed some deviation, more total distance for example, but for the most part, the results are very similar and accurate.

Course Accuracy and Visuals

I can’t deny having access to 100k+ courses isn’t a strength, but it is also a weakness. You will never get bored if you own this software, but if you like playing realistic golf courses, it can be difficult to navigate. With so many “Augusta National” or “St. Andrews” courses listed, it is hard to find one to play that truly feels realistic. I selected an “Augusta National Sunday Pin Position” course and saw white-capped mountains in the distance teeing off No. 1. There certainly aren’t mountains around Augusta.

The Golf Club SkyTrak Partner

I’ll say it again, the HD visuals are outstanding, especially if your system can max out the settings.

Depth of Included Courses and Quality of Gameplay

You’ve got access to a ton of courses for free, which will be  huge for many people. The gameplay is also excellent, with realistic bounces and rolls on the fairways and greens. The rough and sand are penalizing, and putting and chipping around the green is accurate.

Reliability of the Software

I have had some minor connectivity issues with TGC. But other than that, the rest of the software has worked great.

Cost

$479/year or a one-time fee of $895.

Creative Golf 3D

Creative Golf 3D, the newest integration with SkyTrak, offers some unique twists on the traditional simulators by focusing more on entertainment than pure simulation. Sure, there is a range and you can play up to 100 courses located in Europe, but more importantly, you have access to 20 different entertainment-focused games including island targets, mini-golf, and abandoned factory demolition.

I can see playing mini-golf with my kids even before sticking them on the SkyTrak range. Fun is the real power of Creative Golf 3D, and yet another way that SkyTrak differentiates itself from other launch monitors or simulators on the market.

Ball Flight and Data

The ball flight and data matches up nicely with the SkyTrak ball flight model. I haven’t noticed any issues with distances or other data points not lining up.

Course Accuracy and Visuals

All the courses are based on real elevation and satellite data, which is evident when you play a round. While I’ve never played golf in Europe, I love watching the European Tour partly because they play courses in beautiful parts of the world. Creative Golf 3D captures that beauty by focusing only on courses throughout Europe.

creativegolf_image

The reason I would buy Creative Golf over the others is not for the course play; it’s for the entertainment options. I really enjoy hitting knock down wedges to smash windows of an abandoned building and playing mini-golf in Europe.

Depth of Included Courses and Quality of Gameplay

The base package includes five courses. You can buy add-on packages for $99 per package (one-time fee) and get access to up to 100 courses. I enjoy hitting shots with snow-capped mountains in the background and the standard camera angles and replay are smooth. The visuals are good, don’t get me wrong, but they feel a little more like a computer game than an actual simulation compared to the other software options.

Reliability of the Software

So far, so good. I haven’t experienced any issues with connectivity to this point.

Cost

$199.95 per year or a one-time fee of $499.95. I like that Creative Golf 3D offers a one-time fee. For those of us who plan to have this simulator for many years, it makes a lot of sense. You can also buy additional course packs for $99.95/one time.

Bottom Line

If I had to choose my favorites so far, one would be Jack Nicklaus Perfect Golf for the overall high quality of courses and smooth, realistic gameplay. I also will keep Creative Golf 3D on hand for entertainment options like mini-golf to play with my kids and friends.

But the good news is all of SkyTrak’s five simulation software partners offer high-quality gameplay, realistic and accurate 3D ball flight, and the ability to play 18 holes anytime, anywhere, on some of the best courses around the world.

Further Reading: A Review of the SkyTrak Personal Launch Monitor

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Accessory Reviews

Review: SkyTrak Personal Launch Monitor

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Pros: Highly accurate data, portable, easy to use, and integrated with some of the best golf simulation software on the market.

Cons: Slight delay between contact and seeing the ball flight. Only tracks the golf ball, and not your club path.

Bottom line: Impressive features, accuracy and price make SkyTrak attractive to a whole new segment of golfers who aren’t in the market for professional launch monitors, but are looking for a high-quality, personal launch monitor and golf simulator.

Overview

If you’ve watched golf on TV in the past year or so, you’ve probably seen Hank Haney talking about SkyTrak, a personal launch monitor that provides accurate shot data and the ability to play full rounds of golf on some of the world’s best courses. To find out if SkyTrak truly is as good as it sounds, I’ve hit over a thousand golf balls, played rounds of golf on every simulation package, and tested SkyTrak head-to-head with Trackman.

SkyTrack Personal Launch Monitor

SkyTrak is a photometric launch monitor, which means it uses high speed cameras to capture a series of images of the golf ball for a few feet right after impact. Ball speed, launch angle, backspin, side spin and side angle are directly measured, and other data points such as carry and total distance are estimated. SkyTrak then creates a realistic, 3D ball flight model (more on this later), which I’ve found to be extremely accurate. It only needs a few feet to capture the images, which means you can use SkyTrak anywhere you can swing a golf club, both indoors and outdoors.

At 7-inches tall and less than 2 pounds, SkyTrak is small enough to fit in a golf bag when heading to the range. It connects wirelessly to your PC or iPad without requiring a WiFi network. And if you’re worried about hitting a hosel rocket and smashing your launch monitor, you can get a protective case.

SkyTrak

The SkyTrak app supports iOS and Windows. Sadly, Mac desktop or laptop users are out of luck. The company is currently working to officially release the SkyTrak app for Android, but a release date has not been provided. Check out the full specs here.

SkyTrak starts at $1,995, but you can often find it offered for $300 off. In addition to purchasing the launch monitor, SkyTrak has three yearly plans:

  • Basic: Limited access to the driving range app and is included at no charge. Included with purchase.
  • Game Improvement: Access to all the features of the app as well as integration with the company’s simulation partners. $99.95 per year.
  • Play & Improve: You get everything with the Play & Improve Plan, including full access to World Golf Tour simulator. 199.95 per year.

Setup and Ease of Use

One area where SkyTrak really shines is how simple and intuitive it is to use. Once the launch monitor was charged, it took me about 2 minutes from start to finish to get connected.

SkyTrak on iPad

The entire application is straightforward and simple to use. Nothing in the app seems like an afterthought. Big icons and visuals make it easy to select what you want to do, even outside with the glare of sunlight bouncing off your iPad. The data points are huge, allowing you to quickly scan the screen as you’re practicing.

The designers didn’t attempt to make the SkyTrak range “feel” like a photo-realistic simulation, and I couldn’t be happier with that decision. When I’m practicing, I want the application to be responsive and accurately display the ball flight and data. While I like that some of the other simulators have a practice area, I will primarily use the SkyTrak range.

SkyTrak Measured Data

Accuracy of the Data

Before we get too deep into the review, I’m pretty sure many of you are wondering, “Great, but is it accurate?” To answer that question, I tested SkyTrak outside on the range and head-to-head against Trackman.

SkyTrak has completed independent robot testing at Golf Laboratories, but I wanted to do my own testing against Trackman. SkyTrack is photo-based and Trackman is radar-based, so there will be variation in the data, but Trackman is the gold standard and I was curious how they stacked up. I headed to BridgeMill Golf Academy and worked with Tom Losinger, Director of Golf Instruction, who ran the head-to-head test.

Head-to-Head Testing

SkyTrak vs. Trackman Data

Before we got started, I set the wind speed, direction, humidity and temperature to the weather at the time in an attempt to normalize the data in the SkyTrak app as much as possible.

On average, SkyTrak was within about 2 percent of what Trackman reported, which I would say is really good. SkyTrak under-reported every metric except spin rate and launch angle. Spin rate is one metric likely more accurate than Trackman because it is directly captured by camera and analyzed.

SkyTrak vs. Trackman Averages

The largest deviation was total yardage, off by 6 percent, with the driver showing the biggest difference. Unfortunately, this is an area that is hard to match up the range conditions to the conditions in SkyTrak, which will impact this number. Carry distance was within 3 percent, which is more inline with my expectations. I should note that SkyTrak’s robot testing against Trackman showed significantly closer carry and total distance data.

Related: The Hottest Launch Monitors of 2017

Like other photo-based launch monitors, SkyTrak only captures the ball flight. Clubhead speed is an approximation, and I’ve found it to be more inaccurate than accurate, especially with the wedges. If you need club data, you will likely need to invest in a more expensive, commercial-grade launch monitor.

3D Ball Flight Model

In addition to the actual data from Trackman, I also hit a lot of balls on the range focusing on how my real ball flight and distance match up to the 3D ball flight.

While SkyTrak is only a couple years old, the team behind SkyTrak has been refining, testing and improving their 3D ball flight model for over a decade. I can say without hesitation that it’s an impressive model. The video above shows a side-by-side video of an 8-iron on the range compared to the 3D-generated ball flight presented by SkyTrak. I landed my shot just short and right of the target.

SkyTrak Range Testing

There have been a few times during testing, mostly with my wedges, where the ball flight did not perfectly match the real flight. But the vast majority of the time, it was spot on. I even spent time intentionally hitting the dreaded, um, sh**k, which SkyTrak picked up perfectly.

What you can do with the SkyTrak app

Practice Range

I have spent the most time using the SkyTrak practice range, even using it to test eight of this season’s newest golf balls. The range is laid out with big data points and simple controls. You can adjust the target distance, set parameters such as wind, humidity and elevation, switch between the range and data views, and also see your shot history.

Basically, you have everything you need to practice effectively.

SkyTrack Driving Range

You can also choose from a number of different camera angles to view your shots live and in replay. SkyTrak recently added the ability to offset the camera angle, which is a much needed feature for people hitting into projector screens where space is limited and they aren’t able to line up in the center of the screen.

Challenges

Challenges are a lot of fun, especially with other people. You can do a closest-to-the-pin challenge, target practice, and surely a favorite of many people, a long-drive competition.

SkyTrak Target Practice

For each challenge, you have various settings, such as target distance and the number of shots for each person. All the same data points available on the range are available during the challenges.

I like the Target Practice a lot. It simulates some of the real-world pressure you might feel to hit a good shot. Instead of just a distance from the target, you get a score of 0-100, which helps to show how accurate you are with each club.

Skills Assessment

SkyTrak Skills Assessment

The Skills Assessment and Bag Mapping (see below) are two fairly new features that users are really excited about. If you’ve ever run through a Trackman Combine, the Skills Assessment will seem very familiar.

You set up the number of clubs you want to hit and the target distance. I like being able to specify the clubs and distance instead of being forced to hit to a specific yardage. I ran my father-in-law, Tony, through the skills assessment and was able to focus in on the distances specific to his game.

Setting up the assessment only takes a couple minutes. Then you’re guided through each club and all the data is stored. At the end of the assessment, you get a very detailed printout that shows your dispersion, accuracy, shot tendency and handicap for each club as well as an overall SkyTrak Handicap. This data is incredible.

SkyTrak Skills Assessment Tony

On the course, Tony’s miss is left and short. During the assessment, his miss was left and short. Not only that, his SkyTrak Handicap came out to be 22.5. Tony currently plays to a 23.

Bag Mapping

Similar to the Skills Assessment in terms of data and the final report, the Bag Mapping feature walks you through your entire bag to help you understand your carry distance, tendency, shot shape, and gapping between clubs.

This is great for any golfer, even if you think you know what your distances are with each club. But many golfers simply don’t have a good understanding of their carry distances, and this feature will help.

SkyTrak Bag Mapping

I’ve done an entire bag map, but recently ran through it again focusing only on my wedges. Lately, I’ve felt like my gaps aren’t correct and sure enough, they aren’t. Now I have the data I need, and can focus my practice, and possibly make some club changes, using the results.

The Momentary Shot Delay

One of the most frequent, negative comments I’ve read from golfers about SkyTrak is the 2-3 second, shot-to-show delay. You hit a shot and instead of instantly showing up on the screen flying down the fairway, there is a momentary delay while SkyTrak calculates the ball flight.

I’ll admit I was also disappointed at first, too, but I got over that pretty quickly. In fact, I use the brief pause to guess what the shot will do based purely on feel. Will it be short, long, push, pull, fade or draw? This weakness was easily turned into a strength, and I don’t think this reason alone should make anyone overlook SkyTrak.

Simulation Packages

Accurate data and the ability to hone your swing on a practice range in your own home is reason enough to buy a personal launch monitor, but SkyTrak also integrates with five leading simulation software partners, allowing you to play thousands of different courses around the world.

World Golf Tour(WGT), probably the most well-known mobile golf game, is included with the Play & Improve package. You can also choose from The Golf Club Game, Jack Nicklaus Perfect Golf, TruGolf E6, and Creative Golf 3D.

I’ve spent time playing and practicing with each of SkyTrak’s simulation software partners.  You can read my thoughts here.

Bottom Line

I couldn’t be more impressed with this launch monitor. The shortcomings — a momentary delay after impact before the shot registers and the lack of club data — are worthwhile tradeoffs to get access to a launch monitor and simulator for under $2,000.

Personally, I will be using SkyTrak for serious game improvement and practice, as well as for fun. I have no doubt it will have a positive impact on my golf game going forward. The accuracy of the data, simplicity of use, and the depth of simulation partners, make SkyTrak one of the best golf technology products I’ve reviewed.

Further Reading: We Review of the Golf Simulator Software for SkyTrak

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