Indoor Simulators: It’s Not Golf, But It’s Getting There

In a story in The Wall Street Journal, Jeff Neuman writes:

The game of golf has a lot to answer for: complex rules, white belts, high levels of frustration and profanity. But at least when you play, you’re out in the elements, interacting with the natural world.

Unless you’re not.

“The mainstream golf world doesn’t grasp the idea that there are a lot of rounds of golf being played indoors,” said Bill Bales, the founder and CEO of aboutGolf, one of several companies which design and manufacture golf simulators. “They don’t count these rounds, but they’re wearing golf shoes, using their clubs and balls, having a satisfying experience playing against each other and by themselves.”

Luke Donald is one of them. Currently ranked 10th in the Official World Golf Ranking, he lives in Chicago and put an aboutGolf simulator in his home a year ago.

That’s a pretty good endorsement, and there are other signs of success: the sims (simulators) are big in Korea and other parts of the Far East, for example. There is a residential market for those who, like Tour pro Mr. Donald, can afford the $50,000-60,000 price tag. But Mr. Bales and his fellow entrepreneurs also have their eye on driving ranges, golf shops, teaching pros, recreational centers, and the occasional bar and grill.

“I really think we can grow the game of golf beyond the circle of current golfers by creating this thing that is like the game outdoors, but you can do it at night, you can do it for an hour, you can do it without anyone behind you trying to hurry you along,” says Mr. Bales.

For those you do not have $50,000 – $60,000, other options exist. Most notably, “My Personal Golf Trainer” for the Nintendo Wii featuring individualized instruction from renowned golf instructor David Leadbetter which retails for only $99.

“My Personal Golf Trainer” takes the Wii beyond a game and transforms into a training device. Incorporating Leadbetter’s 7 Steps to a Better Golf Swing, “My Personal Golf Trainer” analyzes: grip, posture, alignment, ball position, coil, swing shape, and tempo. Offering instructional videos and drills within each of these seven basics, players can improve their swing step-by-step and then graduate from training mode to the practice range and onto a full 18-hole game where after each shot the golfer has the option to get feedback from Leadbetter and suggested drills for improvement.

“What you get from ‘My Personal Golf Trainer,’ more than anything else, is feedback,” says David Leadbetter, coach to countless PGA Tour, European PGA Tour, LPGA Tour and Champions Tour players. “One of the big problems in golf is that what we feel we do and what we actually do are two different things. With ‘My Personal Golf Trainer’ in hand, you are getting instant feedback and you know whether you are doing it right or wrong.”

Mr. Neuman’s article continues:

Golf simulators have been around since the early 1970s. They were amusement park novelties, tucked in the back of a retail shop or in a forgotten corner of a golf center. Today, the technology has improved vastly.

Full-swing simulators have to serve two distinctly different purposes: entertainment and performance. The entertainment side is on display at the indoor centers that are springing up around the country….

But it’s the performance side where things have changed the most…

Then there’s self-instruction, perhaps the biggest market of all. Only 10% of golfers take lessons, and if most golfers practice at all they must work on their own.

On the subject of practice Leadbetter continues, “Ideally, you’ll be going out and hitting a lot of balls because golf is about feel and you lose that feel unless you’re actually doing something constructively. Unfortunately, today people have a lack of time to go and practice. With “My Personal Golf Trainer”, in just a few minutes you are able to spend some quality time practicing and really making each swing, and knowing you are doing it correctly. A few minutes at home is a great way of maintaining that feel and allowing yourself to swing consistently. Because golf is all about consistency, and if you’re not playing a lot or not practicing a lot, you lose that consistency.”

Leadbetter closed by saying, “I think “My Personal Golf Trainer” is going to be very, very popular. It’s a convenience factor more than anything else really. This is very, very simple to set up and within a couple of minutes, you are ready to go. As the old saying goes: ‘practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect’ and that’s really what this golf trainer allows you to do.”