What winter? Area golf simulators let the game go on

Matt Cole, golf pro at Heatherwoode Golf Club in Springboro, prepares to swing at a golf simulator in his course pro shop. Cole said the simulator has been quite popular and is helpful with training and fitting golfers with the right clubs. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF

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Matt Cole, golf pro at Heatherwoode Golf Club in Springboro, prepares to swing at a golf simulator in his course pro shop. Cole said the simulator has been quite popular and is helpful with training and fitting golfers with the right clubs. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF

Winter isn’t golf-friendly in Ohio. At times this season, there were six inches of snow on the ground and wind-chill temperatures lodged in the single-digits or lower.

No worries. At several courses around the area, golfers turned to simulators to hone skills and get in a virtual nine or 18 holes.

The simulators put golfers in pro shops and in a golf frame of mind.

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“There is a demand,” said Steve Jurick, executive director of the Miami Valley Golf Association. “And from a golf business standpoint, it extends your revenue streams in parts of the year when you would not necessarily have it.”

Add to simulator fees the sales of drinks, food and equipment.

Said Jurick: “It’s a wonderful supplement.”

Matt Cole, golf professional at Springboro’s Heatherwoode Golf Club, points to his course’s ball launch monitor, a Foresight Sports GCquad.

Four high-speed cameras on the device track ball-to-club face contact, giving detailed data each time a player makes a shot.

“Added advantage: It can play as a simulator,” Cole said. “We’ve got 35 courses.”

Virtual courses, that is. The simulator system at Troy Country Club offers the virtual layouts of 30 different real-life courses, including St. Andrews, home to the British Open, said Mark Robart, golf pro at Troy Country Club.

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“It’s very, very realistic,” Robart said.

But the devices are made for more than virtual golf.

If a driver doesn’t fit a golfer properly, they won’t get everything they can out of a shot. Simulators help players tweak driver selection, with power and precision in mind, Robart said.

Simulators aren’t new, said Jurick, who has led the association since 1997. The machines go back decades.

But the technology today has advanced, with ball tracking and data aimed to helping players improve their games.

“In the old days, there would a lot of room for error,” Jurick said. “The graphics weren’t as good.”

Golf players want to “work the edges better” these days, and the technology has advanced enough to allow that, he said.

In Korea, 40 percent of golfers have their first impression of the game in a simulator, Jurick said.

And locally, their use has undeniably grown. Heatherwoode’s simulator was installed in the fall, Jurick said. Yankee Trace has opened its simulator. Sugar Valley rebuilt its clubhouse after 2014 fires, installing a pair of simulator bays in the rebuild, Jurick said.

Meadowbrook has just opened a simulator and NCR Country Club also has one, he added.

“I suspect most (courses) will have some form of that,” he said.

Jurick compared the improvement in technology to the bowling experience. There was a time when bowlers kept track of scores with pencil and paper. Today, many lanes have computers automatically tracking pin count.

“There’s technology you can use to indicate ball flight patterns for teaching,” Jurick said. “Then you have the graphics and the holes and the setting that you’re in.”

“When guys are practicing and they hit golf shots, they can see exactly what their club and the ball are doing,” Robart said. “It puts it up on the screen — it shows the ball in flight and it shows on the screen what the ball does.”

“You know what’s going on,” he added.

The demand for simulators will always exist in cold-weather locales, Jurick believes.

Robart estimated he and a colleague at Troy Country Club — along with the club itself — have invested some $33,000 total into computer hardware and software, projector, screen, turf and other equipment to create a simulator bay.

Simulators can be found for less, he noted. But he wanted quality.

“When you’re busy, and you’re running people through there for six, seven, eight hours all day long, you’ve got to have something that will hold up,” he said.

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