Golf simulators are all the rage right now in the golf industry. Even though “sims” have been around for close to three decades, it is just recent that clubs in northern climates are now adding them to their facilities.

Technology has greatly improved with the accuracy of golf simulators as well as the graphics displayed through HD projectors. Leading launch monitor companies such as Foresight Sports and TrackMan have also entered the market during the past few years. Some of this technology can also be found in TopGolf’sTopTracer” technology. TopTracer is now featured on weekly PGA TOUR’s television broadcasts.

Why Have Golf Simulators at Your Club?

The benefits of having golf simulators:

  • Increase membership satisfaction
    • Members are looking for additional activities at your club
    • Keeps membership engaged with your club over the winter
    • Members are looking to work on their game
    • Time to play a round is slightly shorter than traditional golf
  • Stay competitive with other clubs
    • Other clubs are getting simulators
    • New members are looking for additional activities
  • Increase revenue
    • Revenue from simulators use
    • Potential revenue from food & beverage
  • Maintain staff over winter months
    • Keep teaching professionals employed year round
    • Allows you to keep kitchen staff and servers 365 days a year

The cons of having golf simulators:

  • Physical space
    • The higher end setups require a fairly large footprint with high ceilings
  • Eventually, the technology becomes outdated
  • Expense
    • Quality systems are not cheap. If you don’t have quality, will members want to use it?
  • Not all members will use them
    • Many members venture to warmer climates over the winter to play golf
    • Some golfers like to take a break from golfing
    • Simulator golf is not real golf

I am at a private golf club in Canada where our golf courses are only open for the better part of seven months (April-October) in a year. The rest of the year, low temperatures are usually below freezing, and snow is frequently present. Our facility is a golf club that lacks the amenities that several year round country clubs have to offer their memberships. But what our club has, is a clubhouse that is under utilized over 120 days a year.

If your golf club is similar to this, and you have some vacant areas that could house simulators, you might want to consider bringing some in to your clubhouse as well.

What Simulator Should You Choose? –What System I Chose.

The key factors I looked at when determining what simulators to get, and if we should get them at all:

  • Accuracy
    • Total distance, carry, spin rate, launch angles, club face angles. All of these are important to how realistic the experience will be for a golfer.
  • Graphics
    • Golf course selection (quality and quantity). Who doesn’t want to play Pebble Beach or St. Andrews?
    • How realistic does it look on the screen?
  • Price
    • Does it fit into my club’s budget?
    • Should I purchase, lease, or rent?
    • Do you get what you pay for?
    • Can I convince my Board to get them?
  • Availability
    • How long until simulators are delivered and installed?
  • Physical Size Needed
    • How high of a ceiling do we need?
    • What distance does the golfer need to be from the screen?
    • How wide of a screen do we need?
  • Versatility
    • Can the simulator be used as a launch monitor outside?
    • Can we use the projectors for televising major sporting events?
    • Can the simulator be taken down and erected with ease?
    • Do we need an expert installer to set it up/take down?
    • How much space do I need to store the simulator during the regular golf season?

There is a large selection of manufacturers of golf simulators. What system is best for us? I started by talking to staff and members at various golf clubs as well as some contacts who work at stand alone golf simulator facilities and lounges. I also went and played some simulator golf at a few of these businesses. What I found was all over the map. Almost everyone was happy with their system, and I am sure some members at my club would be happy with anything. But as a premiere private club, I did not want to sacrifice quality.

I thought it would be prudent to rent the simulators for a year prior to making a significant purchase. But I soon realized that only a couple of companies offered renting new simulator systems, and the ones that did were on the lower end. If we wanted quality, we needed to lease units for a few years, or purchase them outright.

After receiving proposals and pricing from eight different vendors (HD Golf, Golf In, TrackMan4, Foresight Sports, Full Swing, SkyTrak, Uneekor, abouGolf), I narrowed it down to four brands, and then three. Primarily based on accuracy, functionality, realism, and versatility. Then finally I narrowed my decision down to Foresight Sports and TrackMan4, as both systems can be used on the driving range as launch monitors. Both cost approximately $45/50k per unit all in.

Presenting My Business Case to the Board of Directors

As I mentioned, I had a business model for the simulators based on hours of research. This included hours of operation, hourly revenue per unit, food & beverage sales. Expenses were for the purchase or lease of the simulators, hourly wages, and F&B costs. My presentation was based on getting three simulators and conservatively estimated 60% of the time slots available being filled. In my gut I felt that the board would approve getting simulators, but that they might reduce it to from three simulators down to two. As it turned out, at the end of my presentation, one of the board members asked “How many simulators can we fit in the area of the clubhouse that you are suggesting”? I said, “Well, the answer to that is four”, and so the board voted and approved getting four golf simulators.

After receiving approval for the simulators purchase/lease, I had to narrow down our decision to one. After more consultation on-site with the reps from both Foresight and TrackMan, we decided to go with Foresight GCHawk.

The price of the GCHawk package was slightly less than the TrackMan4 system, but what really pushed the needle to Foresight for us was the fact that the local dealer also built and installed custom enclosures, where as TrackMan did not have a custom option, and installation would have to be done by us alone, or have someone flown in to do it. I liked the idea of having someone local that could work with us on getting the best enclosure possible in a room with variable roof lines.

Another benefit; Foresight Sports is able to make a simulator version of one or both of our golf courses within a couple of years. As fun as it is to play virtual golf courses around the world that they may never actually get to play in person, I think our members will love to see the opportunity to play a round or two on their home course in the middle of winter.

The Right Choice For You?

If you have the physical space at your facility, especially if you are located in a northern state or Canada, the benefits of adding golf simulators to your club are substantial.

Ideally having at least two units will enable you to have leagues, lessons, corporate events, and hourly rentals. Even with moderate usage charging a nominal but competitive fee, the revenue should easily cover the costs. Additional revenue can come from beverage and food sales.

Most importantly, you will be adding another amenity for your membership to enjoy. Your club can become a twelve month operation, remaining competitive with other clubs in your area, and attractive to prospective members.