Several new indoor golf simulators have opened in the Treasure Valley in the past year, with two dedicated facilities that allow golfers to rent a simulator to play around or do some indoor driving.
IdaPro Golf opened its doors in downtown Boise in July, while Golf 365 opened in southeast Boise in December. Big Al’s has a golf simulator nestled on the second floor of its large family entertainment center.
Steve Van Horn, the general manager at IdaPro, said the simulators are a good substitute for the real thing when going to the links is difficult or uncomfortable.
“If you want to be able to maintain your golf swing, it’s nice to have someplace to come in out of 20 degrees and chilly winds,” he said.
Golf 365 owner Bill Moseley said simulators are a growing niche.
“We won’t be the last two indoor golf companies you’ll see open in the Treasure Valley,” Moseley said.
The simulators use sensors located below and behind a golf ball on a tee. As a golf club passes over the sensors and hits the ball, the sensors determine the path and speed of the club, angle of the club face, speed and contact information. That data then gets shown on the screen in front of the player, as well as the projected path of the struck ball.
Both IdaPro and Golf 365 can also reproduce famous golf courses. IdaPro has 94 courses to choose from, including the August National Golf Club, and Golf 365 has 26.
“There are probably about 20 courses on there that are private, so you would have to know somebody who knows somebody (to play),” said Van Horn. Van Horn cautions IdaPro customers about playing Augusta, site of The Masters Tournament, due to its difficulty with narrow fairways to drive balls onto.
“TV doesn’t do it justice. That course is incredibly tight,” he said.
IdaPro’s system lets people use real golf balls on the virtual courses, while Golf 365 has special indoor balls. Both owners tout the advantage of their setup. Van Horn said players prefer to hit a real ball, while Moseley said the indoor ball is safer and means players don’t have to worry about balls ricocheting off the screen.
Van Horn said the system can help golfers work on their swing more quickly than a trip to a driving range.
“It gives you instant feedback, so you can see what you did wrong and right, to reinforce the right and correct the wrong,” he said.
“What makes ours unique is that it’s simple and easy to use, but it gives you very easy-to-read data about your impact information that allows you to better your golf swing,” Moseley said.
Moseley said indoor simulators have taken hold in Boise in part because of technological innovations. His three simulators, which he calls simulator bays, come from a Michigan company called Dancin’ Dogg Golf, while IdaPro’s system comes from a Dutch company called ProTee. Van Horn said each of his three simulators, which he calls cages, cost $35,000. Moseley said the developing technology also suits many golfers, who have more comfort and familiarity with video games than golfers in the past.
“What we’re seeing is there’s an emerging market for indoor golf. It’s based on some of the things that we like about video games,” he said.
Indoor golfing is more popular when it’s cold outside. Both Moseley and Van Horn said business is tapering off now that it’s spring, but both were full during the winter. He said he decided to start his golf simulator business after becoming frustrated about how the winter layoff affected his game.
“If you feel like you’ve got a decent game at the end of the fall,” he said,” then you throw your clubs in the garage and wait for spring to come around again, and you’re terrible again.”
IdaPro offers some lessons using its computerized simulator. Moseley with Golf 365, though, offers personalized lessons. He has 20 years of experiences as a golf professional, working at Hunter’s Point Golf Court until it closed in 2012. He said lessons are a big draw for some customers.
Golf pros at golf courses say the simulators can be useful. Some even use the simulators themselves.
“It’s a compliment to the game that maintains a certain level of excitement and helps satisfy the sheer ‘bottled up energy’ that golfers tend to have,” said T.J. Gomez, PGA Director of Golf at Shadow Valley Golf Course in Eagle.
“It’s a great way to go out and swing if you don’t want to freeze,” said Chris Byrne, assistant golf professional at Lakeview Golf Club in Meridian, who has used the simulator at Big Al’s. Byrne said simulator systems can be helpful in showing what clubs to use, though he doesn’t pay too much attention to what shows up on the screen.
The indoor simulators do have to put, for people playing through a replicated course. Michael Gaston, director of golf at Indian Lakes Golf Course in Boise, said putting on a flat surface is different from putting on a real green that has breaks and other variations.
Moseley is trying to establish formal relationships with golf courses in the valley so that a season pass could be used at a course or a simulator.
“We’re looking for common ground on ways to cross-promote the facilities,” he said.