Many golf simulators are available. They range from basic models you can use in your home to large-scale units you’ll rarely find outside of indoor golf practice facilities. Some golfers use simulators for fun, perhaps to play a virtual round on a classic course, while others employ them as serious tools to help improve their games.
The first golf simulators were used by retailers to allow customers to try out different clubs and get an idea of whether each club fit the golfer’s game. The devices then evolved into entertainment and training tools.
The typical simulator includes a sensor that observes the player striking a real golf ball into a screen. The sensor data is fed into a computer that instantly analyzes the ball’s launch angle, spin and velocity, then projects a virtual ball onto the screen’s virtual golf course. More sophisticated systems may also analyze each shot’s accuracy, height, carry distance and speed, as well as the player’s angle of attack. Video replay is available on some systems.
Smaller golf simulators that can be used inside a home can be as small as 10 feet wide by 16 feet deep, according to the website Golf Simulators for Sale. Larger simulators, designed primarily for driving ranges or golf instruction facilities, can reach 25 feet wide by 22 feet deep. Golf facilities may also purchase custom-built simulators. Players generally hit the ball off of the same type of mat used at outdoor driving ranges.
Users may purchase 3D representations of real golf courses, allowing them to play virtual rounds on courses they’d likely never be able to tackle in real life. For example, High Definition Golf offers simulations of well-known courses such as Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. The aboutGolf company’s selections include TPC Sawgrass -- home of PLAYERS Championship -- as well as St. Andrews in Scotland. ProTee United’s collection includes Oakmont Country Club and Scotland's Royal Troon.
Simulators designed for use in the home have come down in price since the technology first hit the market. As of 2012, leading systems sell for $200 to $600. However, users must typically hook up their systems to a computer, which must be compatible with the simulator’s software. As of 2012, the leading systems all run on Windows operating systems. Additionally, users must have a space in which they can take a full swing with a golf club.