Are indoor golf simulators any good?
Post by Golfshake Ambassador Andrew Pickenan
I have a confession to make.
I am a golf addict who is in dire need of a golf fix. Another admission, I have never used a simulator before.
Like many, the recent weather has decimated my plans for new year golfing. My club has correctly reduced the number of holes available to protect the course. Even visiting the driving range has been an uncomfortable affair.
So, imagine my excitement when I was asked to visit and review a Midland’s based golf simulator studio with golf range attached.
Based in Sutton in Ashefield Riverbank Golf is located between junction 28 and 29 of the M1. It is worth noting that it is tucked away off the main road so watch out for the sign as part of the complex is shared with a livery stable. The long driveway leads to a massive car park with the golf facility tucked away in the far corner.
From the outside this does not look like an imposing facility. However once inside it reveals its true secrets as a premier indoor golf facility using state-of-the-art indoor golf simulators. It allows golfers, of all standards, to play on many of the most famous golf courses in the world without travelling abroad.
From the moment we walked in we were made welcome by the resident PGA Professional Darren Moule. There are two separate computerised bays. There is also a fully stocked shop and a small licensed cafe. Outside is the usual driving range facility, which was well patronised during our visit.
I am also pleased to report that a number of junior golfers were seen visiting and having playing lessons from the staff. To me this is always a good sign.
We were encouraged to chill out, enjoy a hot drink and then play the championship golf courses with your own clubs and balls! You can also wear your usual golf gear and shoes.
I found, using our own golf balls, to be a real strong point for this type of facility as most ranges use the 70% compression ball that can withstand being left outside in all weathers rather than using the sort of balls that would be played on a course. This makes any meaningful analysis of distances difficult to assess. Not here, bring your own ball or try any of those available at the facility and then very accurately assess which suits your swing the best.
As an amateur golfer I have been lucky enough to have tried out a proper ball fitting with one of the leading brands and it is amazing how getting the right ball for you can make a difference to your golfing performance. This is a great way to test which ball works best for you.
We were spoilt for choice when asked to pick a course and elected to play Valderama, the Ryder Cup venue, in Spain because two of our group had actually played the course and it made for an easy comparison of real versus computer.
The staff log you into the machine which scores automatically for you. The Top View button displays the hole layout map, with distances given showing exact points to hazards etc.
The Riverbank Golf facility allows you to play courses such as Banff Springs, The Belfry, Bay Hill Club, Devil's Island, Firestone Country Club, Pine Hurst, Torrey Pines and many more...
The simulator combines the latest in technology with realistic graphics and superb special effects. It is as near to actually playing the courses as you can get - three infra-red ball tracking sensors provide flight characteristics so realistic that the screen will recreate the slightest draw of the golf ball to the biggest slice, right down to the subtleties of a putting stroke on the world's finest greens.
The state of the art computer tracks the ball's trajectory, calculates its velocity and plots its vector curve and spin rate with hair splitting accuracy. The result is a precise calculation of the balls flight accurately reproduced on the screen with the ball bouncing and rolling across the course - along the fairway - onto the green or into a hazard (!) depending on the quality of your shot.
The hitting mat recreates the conditions from the real course, with a different lie for the fairway grass, medium rough, heavy rough and bunker sand. Surprisingly the beige mat for use when in sand actually does require a proper sand shot to recover. There are a variety of tees and the different type of mat makes for realistic penalties when straying off the fairway line.
The 12' x 10' ultra bright screen displays a brilliant, clear view of the game with 16.7 million colours and the screen graphics so detailed they include waving flags, aeroplanes helicopters, birds, animals, other players, water reflections, improved textures and more. The sound quality is also fantastic! However we did turn off the sound effects as they can get to be a distraction from the golf.
The screen images are very life like and it took no time at all for us all to become submerged in the competition of real golf.
Woods and irons react exactly as they would in a real game and poor shots are punished as easily. It takes a little time to get used to the short game of pitches and chips as the screen sits 6 feet from the ball. The graphics are great as a grid is over layed over the ground contours to allow you to select a landing point. Very realistic.
Once on the green the putting experience is exactly the same as real golf with poor strokes being penalised. The one real difference is the fact that any shot within 6 feet of the pin is automatically given by the software.
You are required to play a full range of shots as you would a during a round. It is completely absorbing and great fun.
The computer tells you who is next to play and gives all the information a top class caddy would provide to assist with next shot selection.
It was set up to record stroke play and this information is given as you play so as the round develops you can each see how your opponents are performing.
I was very surprised to find that within an hour we were all completely absorbed in the game and the competition and we had almost forgotten that this was a simulator. I did not expect this to be the case and all of us playing had an excellent time.
All the usual wind ups and banter but no walking between the holes only sitting in a comfy chair drinking tea in the warm and dry. I could really get used to this and would thoroughly recommend the experience of an indoor golf simulator .
On completing the round we all agreed that this had been a really fun way to spend an afternoon.
We took a photograph of the scorecard and we will be circulating it as a challenge to others in our golf society to see if our scores can be beaten before our first spring fixture.
Interestingly we played as a three ball and took around 3 ¼ hours to complete the entire 18 hole course. Once you get used to the computer software this time will be shortened as there are some facilities that need to be discovered as you play.
For example, I ended up in a bank of cork trees with no idea of the location of the flag but there is a facility to click a button and have the flag come to you to show exactly the line to choose to hit the ball for a recovery shot.
I also found it a useful tool to improve my course management as it reinforced the need for a plan and decent strategy off the tee to ensure any kind of successful scoring.
So, can I recommend this facility? Oh Yes!
This is a great way to have a meaningful practice session when courses are unplayable. It is also a real laugh taking on some of the world’s most iconic golf courses without the need to fly.
Surprisingly, the scores we recorded roughly matched those we made on the actual course. Using the simulator will take a bit of getting used to but it is well worth the effort.
I intend to go again next week taking another bunch of golfing mates as it was so much fun without getting cold and wet and setting of the arthritis again.
The facility at Riverbank is open Monday to Friday 10:00 - 21:00 and Saturday & Sunday 10:00 - 20:00 at a cost of just £12.50 per hour (not per person)
For more information or to book visit www.riverbankgolf.co.uk or call 01623 514500