GOLF SIMULATOR GUIDE
The Countdown to 10,000 hours
10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
That's the threshold required for world class greatness.
That's the theory popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers and oft repeated by others such as this guy. Lack of perseverance and not potential holds us back from excellence. In the Gladwell version of Faust, one gives 10,000 hours of blood, sweat and tears in exchange for greatness. The allure of this payoff proved so seductive this guy quit his job to embark on a 10,000 hour countdown with the goal of becoming a tour pro.
He might not have had he read David Epstein's Sports Gene beforehand, but it's still pretty impressive what he achieved (which ended slightly past the half-way point and sadly unfulfilled). David disputes the notion that all athletes are created equal with a select few in particular created more equal than others. As a result, David argues greatness can be achieved well short of the 10,000 hour marker and never achieved by those who exceed it.
What does it all mean for us ? We emulate these guys, and simply want to be the best golfers we can be. That's hard not living next to a golf course or lacking the space in our backyard to do this. So instead we decided to sacrifice a good chunk of square footage in our house to install a golf simulator. Goodbye family room. Read on to learn in a few minutes what we spent hours (if not days) researching before taking the plunge and some other things we only realized afterwards.
The Key Ingredient
The most critical (and likely the most expensive) component of any golf simulator is the launch monitor. Launch monitors like OptiShot retail for as little as $299 while others such as Trackman ($18,995 for Trackman 4) cost more than a new car (and one much nicer than this). Launch monitors can be broadly categorized into camera based systems and radar based systems. Camera based systems generally require the launch monitor to be placed beside the ball. A high speed camera captures images over a short distance enabling it to calculate speed and spin and use this information to project the subsequent ball flight. Some camera based systems even have built in gauges to account for temperature and pressure variations. Radar based systems generally require the launch monitor to be placed behind the ball. Radar based systems track actual ball flight over a longer distance.
Space considerations ruled out a Trackman (need a minimum room length of 18.5 feet) so we focused on a camera based system. We demoed SkyTrak ($1,995) before initially opting for Foresight Sports' GC2 ($6,500) and then upgrading to the GCQuad ($11,000 no club add-on / $15,000 with club add-on) several months afterwards. What drove our decisions and was the upgrade worth it ?
SkyTrak has two pretty big positives. The first is price. The second is that it is an open platform so can run a variety of different software packages. These options include E6Golf (which has stunning graphics), The Golf Club Simulator (which has the broadest selection of courses) and some additional ones. The downside is that the SkyTrak unit is pretty fussy about where the ball needs to be positioned. To make up for this, the SkyTrak unit emits a light indicating precisely where the ball should be placed. However in our test, we still had a number of shots which did not register. The second downside is lag. There a noticeable delay from when a ball is struck to when it is registered and displayed. There may have been updates which have improved this, but our experience (Jan 2018) more closely matched this one (vs. the demo on the company's website). Third, there is no ability to get club head data using SkyTrak (e.g. club head speed, angle of attack, ball strike location on clubface, etc.).
GC2 Short-Term Experience and Should You Go Straight for the Quad ?
It would have been a lot easier to pull the trigger on the GC2, if it were an open platform. However, the GC2 locks you into the company's FSX software. FSX is not only pretty pricey, but also requires some serious computing power. Surprisingly, despite the stringent requirements, the graphics on FSX were definitely less impressive than both E6Golf and The Glob Club Simulator. Not quite as bad when Eagle Dad had an Atari 2600 and every other kid had a Nintendo 64, but definitely a noticeable drop off. This gap has narrowed with Foresight's roll-out of FSX 2018, but there is still a gap.
We upgraded to the GCQuad after a few months. While the GCQuad may not be any more accurate than the GC2, it is still a significant upgrade. The hitting area for the GC2 is pretty small and we struggled to position the ball in the correct zone especially when hitting off a tee. There were a few shots hit with the GC2 that also failed to register (maybe 1 or 2 in a 50 ball session) which we have not experienced with the Quad.
Additionally, the GC2 by itself does not track any club head data, but requires another piece of kit (HMT) to do so. The GCQuad has additional cameras which allows for a far larger hitting area and the ability to track club head data (but note this requires an additional $4k to unlock this feature). Foresight has also released additional putting analysis in FSX which only works with the GCQuad due to its greater field of vision.
If you are not interested in club head data, it might make sense to opt for the GC2 given the price differential. Make sure you demo a GC2 (and not a GCQuad) so that you are comfortable with the smaller hitting area both hitting off the deck and with a tee. If you are interested in club head data, the price differential between GC2 + HMT vs. GCQuad is still meaningful, but would definitely recommend splurging and going for the Quad.
Other Lessons Learned
You don't necessarily need an enclosure which is going to cost some serious cash. Our room has an archery net which hangs from a rail fixed to the ceiling with a metal bar at the bottom to provide tension. There is padding in place at both the top and bottom to protect against worm burners and mishits. Curtains on each side protect against shanks. The special putting carpet across the entire room probably wasn't necessary. Any carpet with good underlay would probably absorb falling balls just as well. We also opted for a large mat (Tee Turf) which can take a real tee, but the flies off every time as the mat does not hold the tee firmly. In hindsight wish had opted for a smaller mat as takes up too much space in the room and ours is not suitable to putt on.
We still prefer playing and practicing outdoors (although the weather can sometimes change that). However, playing indoors sure beats doing nothing and the data that the GCQuad provides is invaluable. (The GCQuad is portable and you can take it to the range, but because it's not tracking actual ball flight, see limited value in doing so) If you are interested in installing your own golf simulator would suggest you focus on identifying your preferred launch monitor and software package first. These will most likely be you biggest cost components and impact whether you need another computer (which could be a significant additional cost). Unless you feel very comfortable with DIY, would recommend hiring a specialist company to install a screen / net. You can not have any exposed pieces of metal as the risk posed by a ricochet is very dangerous. In the grand scheme of things, the projector should be one of the lessor cost components, but make sure you consult with an AV specialist given the dimensions of your screen, the location of where the projector will be fixed and the brightness of the room for the best option. It maybe a lot cheaper to buy the components separately vs. buying a complete package. That's what we did. Best of luck in your own count down to 10,000 hours.