Doc Wordinger lives and works in central Manchester. He has a fondness for golf, poker, fine literature, art, and film.
It's been a long day at the office, and you want nothing more than to hit a few golf balls and unwind. But it's dark outside and blowing a gale. Driving 20 miles to the range doesn't sound appealing. What you need is somewhere to practice your swing and have fun, whenever you feel like it, without the weather or lack of daylight getting in the way.
Your Own Indoor Golf Studio and Range
Have you thought about creating a personal indoor golf studio and driving range? A place where you can hit golf balls to your heart's content, perfect your swing, or enjoy eighteen holes with your friends over a beer. Believe it or not, you can now do this from the comfort of your own home.
For less than $700, you can create an indoor golf practice facility with the following items:
- An Indoor Golf Simulator
- A Practice Mat
- A Practice Net
- An Indoor Putting Green
Over the course of this article, I'll show you exactly how to do it. All you need is some space, a few hundred dollars, a laptop, and—of course—a love for the game. Some clubs would be handy, too, but since you've come this far, I'll assume you already have a set.
Watch Out for the Ceiling!
One indoor golf manufacturer recommends minimum space requirements of 10' x 10' x 8.5' (ceiling) for an average-sized golfer. Another manufacturer suggests that 9.5' ceilings are closer to the mark. Only you know how much space you need. Find out by gently testing your swing with the longest club in the bag.
Do I Have Enough Space to Play Golf Indoors?
This is the first question that any aspiring home golfer should ask themselves.
All of the recommended products in this article are portable and can be easily packed away after you've finished playing. But you'll still need room to swing a club. Otherwise, what's the point?
How to Test It
- The easiest way to assess whether you have ample space for your practice studio is to mentally map out where you will place the hitting net and mat.
- Then, take your driver and make a very slow practice swing, checking at regular intervals to ensure that the clubhead is not destined to collide with a wall, ceiling or piece of furniture.
- Gradually build up the speed of your practice swings until you are swinging at just short of full throttle. The driver is the longest club in the bag, so if you have enough to room to swing it freely, you can be certain that there will also be enough room for the rest of your clubs.
- If you can't quite swing the driver or 3-wood unobstructed, don't panic. There might still be enough room for the shorter irons. You'll just have to save Big Bertha for the driving range and golf course.
The makers of the Optishot golf simulator recommend that a golfer of average height should use a room that measures no less than 10' x 10' with a minimum ceiling height of 8.5'.
The simulator will require a laptop or personal computer, so make sure that you also have enough space for a small table to perch it on.
Using Practice Balls
If you find that, psychologically, swinging full speed and smashing real golf balls at 100mph in a confined space makes you a little uncomfortable, there is always the option to use lightweight practice balls.
How Does a Golf Simulator Work?
To find out more about the technology used in home simulators check out the video below. This is an infomercial for Optishot—one of the suggested products in this article.
Indoor Golf Simulator
Have you ever played golf at an indoor center, sports bar, or club-fitting studio with one of those $50,000 simulators and wall-sized hitting screens? If you have, you'll know how realistic they are in measuring your swing speed, ball flight, trajectory, and spin ratio. You get to see the distance and shape of your actual golf shot (270 yards with a hint of draw . . . if you're lucky!) replicated in an indoor virtual environment.
What Is a Golf Simulator?
If you don't already know what a golf simulator is, let me fill you in. These clever devices allow you to play golf indoors by monitoring your swing or ball flight using powerful sensors. These sensors feed information back to a computer which quickly calculates the shape and distance of your shot before projecting onto a virtual golf course on a screen. In the big indoor centers and teaching studios, the screen is often a wall-sized projected image right in front of you.
Professionals and teachers know how useful simulators are for practice and training sessions. But just as importantly, they are a lot of fun, too. Whether you're putting in a serious practice session or just having fun with friends, simulators are a great value for the money. Unfortunately, very few of us have $10,000 to $50,000 to spend on installing a state-of-the-art machine in our games room, garage, or basement.
Affordable Options for Home
Thankfully, you don't need to come up with $50k. There are now several products on the market that are both affordable and easy to assemble. Granted, they don't quite match the level of accuracy and realism that you'll get from one of the $50k machines, but they are still an incredibly powerful training tool and are fun to boot. When you're not using the simulator to straighten out your slice, you can enjoy eighteen holes round a virtual Pebble Beach with friends and family.
I've picked out what I think is the best best portable indoor golf simulator within our price range: The Optishot Infrared Golf Simulator.
Optishot Infrared Golf Simulator
The Optishot by Dancin'Dogg is one of the most popular portable simulators available to the home market. Despite retailing at less than $400, this clever little machine utilizes 16 optical sensors to measure your clubhead speed, clubface angle, swing-path and a range of other important data to determine the distance and direction of your shot. Pretty impressive for a tiny little box.
Hook the hitting unit up to your laptop using the 10' USB cable and instantly see your shot replicated on the screen, along with some useful stats about your swing. You're not limited to full shots either. You can pitch, chip, putt - the Optishot will analyze your swing and provide you with vital feedback after every strike of the ball, from tee to green. Use real balls, soft foam balls or no ball at all: Optishot will still track your clubhead and turn it into an onscreen virtual shot.
Invite your friends and family to join you for a full eighteen holes of golf around any of the highly realistic virtual courses included with the software (upgrade packages also available). And don't worry if you're left-handed: the Optishot is suitable for both righties and lefties.
Restrictions and Limitations
There a few things that should be made clear to anyone before they purchase this product.
- It can't be used outdoors.
- It can't measure launch angle (trajectory).
- Although it offers highly accurate feedback and shot simulation, don't expect the same level of precision that you'd get from a $50'000 machine - it just isn't possible.
- You may need to calibrate your actual on-course shot distances with the software in order to improve accuracy.
- You'll require a fairly modern laptop or computer with graphics card to enable the software to run smoothly.
Don't be put off by these few imperfections. This is a superb product that will help you to improve your game and have fun at the same time.
Whether you're hitting real golf balls or softer practice balls, you'll need a hitting net to catch your shots and prevent damage. Smashing a window or toppling an expensive vase is a sure-fire way to incur the wrath of your non-golfing spouse and have your indoor studio shut down before it's even held its first practice session or hosted an inaugural family tournament.
The speed of a golf ball can exceed 150mph. That's a lot of potential for destruction, especially if your swing isn't quite as refined as you'd like it to be. It's therefore important that you don't scrimp on a cheap net of poor quality. Golf nets retail for as little as $20 but a product in this price range won't give you much confidence. Having the conviction to swing hard and free is vital if you want to get the most out of your indoor studio and simulator.
The best net on the market is arguably the Pro Series Net Return. In terms of quality, this is as good as it gets. At $395 however, the Net Return would obliterate half our $700 budget. Still, if you're feeling flush, or want to know more, it's definitely worth looking into. One of the best selling points of the Net Return is flexibility. As a multi-sport net, you could easily dismantle it and take it outdoors so your kids can pitch baseballs or kick soccer balls against it. If ever you needed a reason to sell your golf investment to the entire family, this is it.
Recommended Budget Net
Keeping with the $700 budget, my recommended golf practice net is the Callaway Tri-Ball. Available in three different sizes (6' x 7', 7' x 8' and 9' x 10'), the Tri-Ball is an ideal net for indoor use due to its depth and design. Instead of firing the ball straight back at you after a shot like inferior nets, the Tri-Ball soaks up the ball and lets it drop harmlessly to the ground. As you can imagine, this is an essential requirement when hitting balls inside your house.
The netting is strong enough to withstand those big shots with the driver and is held in place by flexible poles, similar to those you would use on a dome-shaped tent. The 6' x 7' version retails at around $62 on Amazon and should be a sufficient size for intermediate to advanced players. Novice golfers may want to spend a little extra for the additional peace of mind that comes with the 7' x 8' net. This size retails for around $105.
A minor word of warning: Some consumers have reported difficulty erecting this net on the first attempt. Have somebody on standby when you're setting it up in case you need help. When not in use, the net can easily be stored in the nylon carrying bag provided.
For a slightly more expensive alternative to the Tri-Ball (but still only half the price of the Net Return), check out the Rukk Pop-Up. This is one of the newer products on the market and is notable for its extreme portability. It retails for around $179.
The Left-Right Divide
Have you thought about whether you want to make your home golf studio accessible to both right AND left handed players? Perhaps you're a left-handed golfer but your wife and kids are right-handed? If you're just hitting balls from the mat, this isn't a problem. Simply switch sides according to your preference. But if you're using a golf simulator, the left-right dilemma requires some creativity to overcome.
Although both lefties and righties can enjoy a game on the Optishot at the same time, you'll need to think about the logistics. Space is the biggest factor. If there's only room for a single swing, the unit will have to be moved to the left side of the room for left-handed players and vice versa. This can become tiresome, not to mention the potential hazard caused by the USB cable (which connects the unit to your laptop).
The easiest option, if you have enough room, is to buy two golf mats, cut a carefully measured chunk from the exact centre and fit the simulator unit into the hole with the cable running down the middle. This way, lefties and righties can play together without having to continuously move equipment around.
A Custom-Built Golf Simulator Mat
Why You Need a Mat
The Optishot virtual golf simulator can be used by itself without additional matting. But I strongly recommend that you acquire a practice mat to use in conjunction with the simulator unit. Why? You might think that this is a non-essential purchase but there are a number of reasons why a practice hitting mat is important to your home studio.
Firstly, the Optishot unit is around 1.5 inches high. Without a mat or platform, you'd be hitting the ball from a position 1.5 inches above your feet. This might not seem like much but it will likely translate into severely topped shots when you take your game to the driving range or course. To get the most from your indoor training sessions and maximize the realism of your simulator, a quality mat is indispensable.
Another important reason for getting a mat is that you can hit shots whenever you feel like it without having to set up the simulator. Perhaps you just want to work on your pitch-shots for ten minutes before breakfast. With a mat already in place (or ready to roll into place) you're good to go.
My recommended product is the Monster Tee Golf Turf available on Amazon for $122. This might sound like a lot money for something you'll be standing on and hammering with a golf club, especially when you consider that there are hundreds of other mats available for a fraction of the price. Let me try to convince you otherwise.
- At exactly 1.5 inches, the Monster Tee Golf Turf will align you with the surface of the Optishot hitting unit so that you address the ball at the correct height.
- This is a thick, quality surface that provides realistic fairway simulation. It is a much closer reflection of real fairway turf than cheaper mats but costs much less than top of the range mats.
- The Monster Golf Turf provides feedback on the quality of your shot by aborting the club head like real turf. A cheap, hard mat rejects the clubhead, causing it to bounce back up.
- The flexible surface of the Monster Golf Turf places less strain on your body than a hard surface, greatly reducing the chance of injury.
- Want to pack your golf studio away when you've finished playing to make room for something else? No problem: this mat can be rolled up for storage.
- You can easily cut out a section of this mat so that your golf simulator unit can sit securely inside it.
- This is a durable mat that won't wear out quickly.
- No need to worry about using thick rubber tees and tee holders with the Monster Turf; it is dense enough to take a real golf tee - place it wherever you want at a height of your own choosing.
Indoor Putting Green
Putting is such a big part of the game that it would be foolish not to include an indoor mini putting green in your studio. As the old saying goes, "Drive for show, putt for dough!". Learn how to putt well and you're already halfway to being a decent golfer.
Unless you're ready to splash out megabucks on an adjustable putting surface, replicating the twists and turns of a real green just isn't possible indoors. You can, however, practice your rhythm, grooving a pendulum putting stroke that makes perfect connection with the ball each and every time. You can never practice enough six footers: start holing these babies and your handicap index will plummet.
Recommended Putting Green
A simple and cheap indoor putting green that fits the bill is the 9' SKLZ Accelerator Pro Ball Return Putting Mat. At $42 on Amazon, this will be one of your cheaper investments but don't underestimate its potential. Using guidelines to help your alignment and an elevated hole to force you to putt assertively, the SKLZ accelerator will be an important addition to your studio.
Cost of Building a Home Golf Studio
|Product Name||Estimated Range||Notes|
$368 - $399
Tri-Ball Hitting Net
$62 - $105
Price dependent on size
Monster Tee Golf Turf
$99 - $260
Price dependent on size and quantity
SKLZ Putting Mat
TOTAL: $571 - $806
As you can see from the table, a home studio created with the recommended products in this article will cost around $570 to $806. The total expense depends on whether you require the comfort of a larger net and how much matting you need. Don't forget: Having a fairly up-to-date laptop/computer with graphics card is essential to keep the golf simulator running smoothly. I haven't factored the cost of a new laptop into these estimations.
Got any comments or questions? Please leave them in the comments section below and I'll respond as soon as I can.
HP on May 17, 2016:
Can you help with calibration? i seem to get severe hooks and fades and sometimes not getting enough distance from irons like with 8 iron i am getting 70 yards whereas i hit it 150 yards on the course. I tried calibrating the clubs as explained in the software by keeping the face square, opened 10 degrees and closed 10 degrees but all that is saved without any error or compromised accuracy results but the club still does not cover half the distance it would on the course. any help will be greatly appreciated.
Doc Wordinger (author) from Manchester, UK on June 08, 2015:
Hi Chuck. If you're worried about hitting behind the ball, you can buy specially designed hitting mats that encase the Optishot unit. This means that a mistimed swing will collide with the mat rather than the unit. Another advantage of using a mat is that your feet will be level with the ball.
Chuck on May 15, 2015:
It looks like there is a row of sensors just behind where the ball sits in position for hitting on the OptiShot simulator. If a person hits behind the ball, will it damage the sensors?