Golf Simulator 101: It’s Surprisingly Easy!

Welcome to Indoor Golf Launch Simulation 101! 

Playing indoor golf is one of the best ways to spend a rainy day, or really any day. With endless practice opportunities and the ability to play essentially any course in the world, it’s easy to see why these setups are so desirable for golfers.

The problem is that each golf simulator seems to measure something different in a different way and with a different setup. This makes it hard to compare apples to apples and really find where the best value lies. It can be so overwhelming that many golfers declare - this is TOO expensive for me and TOO much work, I’m heading to the range!

But the truth is a golf simulator setup can actually be really easy to understand and surprisingly affordable to set up. I made this guide to try and disseminate all of the confusing and biased information out there into something simple. I hope that by the time you get done reading this post you’ll have a basic understanding and greater confidence and excitement to get a golf simulator for yourself!



Golf launch monitor vs Golf Simulator

It is important to note the difference between a golf launch monitor and a golf simulator. A golf launch monitor is a computing device that “watches” you hit a golf ball and then measures and displays ball and/or club data. You can then use this data to find areas of improvement or see how improvements in equipment or technique affect those numbers. A Golf Simulator, on the other hand, is a golf launch monitor with the added ability to use software to “simulate” your shot on a screen (either a tablet, computer, tv, or projector).

E6 TruGolf Simulation

In other words, when you think of a golf launch monitor, think of charts of data, and when you think of a golf simulator, think of a golf video game simulating your shot flying through the air.

It is important to note - if you’re trying to create a golf simulation setup in your house you should be certain to buy a golf launch monitor WITH SIMULATION abilities. I’ve seen other posts recommend the FlightScope Mevo for golf simulation which makes me cringe. The FlightScope Mevo is an excellent product, but it has no simulation abilities!! It’s successor, the FlightScope Mevo Plus IS a simulator as I will discuss below.

To avoid confusion, for the rest of the article I will use the term “golf simulator” to mean a golf launch monitor with simulation capabilities.


Golf Simulator versus Golf Simulator Setup

Another confusing part of the golf simulator industry is the difference between a golf simulator and a golf simulator setup. This has even tripped me up as I will discuss below regarding the TruGolf Vista.

A golf simulator is the computing device that we discussed above. A golf simulator setup is the complete system needed to play virtual golf indoors and includes things like a hitting mat, golf net, impact screen, and so on. We will discuss this more below.

TruGolf Vista 12 Base

Golf Simulator Cost

Golf simulator setups can cost less than $500 as I’ll show you below. However, there are also simulator setups that cost six figures! I would say if you want to have at least five solid options of golf simulator setups to choose from, your budget should be between $5,000-$12,000. Within this price range you will absolutely be able to find a simulator setup that will pack a punch and bring lots of fun and entertainment.


How to build a golf simulator at home

Golf simulator setups range from bare bones to obnoxious luxury. If you want to build a golf simulator at home it can be surprisingly easy, especially with the help of this guide. There are a few basic components that you need to pick out for yourself that we’ll go over now, but once you have them together you’ll be ready to go! Don’t forget, you can also save a lot of time and effort using simulator “bundles” that already have everything put together for you. I reviewed what I found to be the best bundles in this article. However, if you want to do it on your own I respect that! 

Here are the basic components of an indoor golf simulator setup:

A golf simulator + software

The physical hardware device as discussed above plus simulation software. Most golf simulators come with some software included, with more available a la carte. The more high end golf simulators tend to require you to purchase additional software whereas surprisingly some of the more affordable golf simulators come with a complete software package included, such as this one.

Impact screen and side nets

The impact screen has a double duty as both the screen for your projector to project onto, and the screen to catch your ball off the tee. This means when you choose an impact screen, you need to be sure it can both handle repetitive impacts AND provide a flush and non-reflective background for your projector to project beautiful golf simulations onto. The side nets should offer some sort of net return where the golf ball rolls back to you and not out the door.

TruGolf Vista

Projector

If you are using an impact screen you will want a projector to be able to project the simulation. Projectors can either be mounted on the ceiling above you, or some golf simulator setups have the projector on the ground in front of you. There are other options such as propping the projector on a shelf behind you, however I do not recommend this because the shadows can really be a pain. The great thing about projectos is that they can be used for movie night! If you’re having trouble convincing your spouse to let you get a golf simulator, that might help tip the argument in your favor!

Golf Practice Net

If you want a more budget-friendly and less permanent golf simulator setup, you can hit your golf ball into a golf practice net and have the simulation pulled up on a TV screen in the room. You can also use a laptop or tablet to show your simulation but this is considerably less fun.

Computer

Between the golf simulator and the projector or TV, you need a middle man. Luckily most laptops work just fine. With most golf simulators, the data is transmitted wirelessly to your computer, which is then connected to your projector or TV via an HDMI cable. It is important to note that not all laptops are compatible with all golf simulators. Be sure to triple check this before you buy a golf simulator!

Golf Hitting Mat

You will need both a golf hitting mat where you stand and a landing pad turf to catch your golf ball rebound off the impact screen (sometimes these are connected as one). The hitting mat is not something to be overlooked! I know these setups are already expensive, so why spend more on a piece of fake grass, however, time and time again it has been proven that the accuracy of the golf simulator reading can be affected by both the golf ball you use and the quality of the hitting mat. If you’re going to do this, I highly recommend you do it right. Paying more up front for a high quality hitting mat will certainly lead to less frustration with your golf simulator accuracy, and will pay off in the long run for better durability and feel under your feet.

Golf Hitting Mat

The Bottom Line

Overall it is very important to make sure that all of the above pieces fit together. If your golf hitting mat is too narrow or your impact screen too wide you’ll be quickly frustrated.

I think it is absolutely possible to piecemeal the above components together, but it will take some extra effort and focus to be sure that everything is compatible. One company realized this was such a problem that they actually decided to make complete golf simulator setups front to back to sell as full packages. Otherwise, most other online companies will sell you bundles of all the different components they have selected and know to be compatible.

There are a few other optional accessories that we will discuss more below but you can trust the above list to be fairly inclusive.


What to look for in a golf simulator

A golf simulator is a hunk of technology, not so different from a computer or smartphone. And just like any other high tech gadget, what you pay for tends to be what you get. That doesn’t mean that you can’t find excellent technology for a reasonable price, as I discussed with this simulator, however, you also can’t expect to pay bottom dollar and then be blown away by accurate readings and true-to-life simulations. It just doesn’t work that way.

That being said, there are a few simple questions you should know the answer to before you start searching for a golf simulator:

How Important is accuracy to me?

Are you hoping to fit clubs and fine tune your swing with your golf simulator? That is absolutely possible, however, you should expect to pay more for such a device. In this case I would recommend something along the lines of the ForeSight GC2 golf simulator. 

On the other hand, if you’re more interested in being able to play some fun simulation golf and save your money for other golf improvement tools.

How important is portability to me?

Are you looking for a device that will be permanently set up in a room in your house or garage, or are you hoping to use your golf simulator also as a portable launch monitor at the driving range or out on the golf course? This will help guide your decision towards picking out the perfect golf simulator setup for you.

What kind of simulation golf do I want to play?

Are you interested in golfing the most famous courses in the world or are you more set on playing online games and tournaments? Do you need the best graphics or are you looking more for a fun time with your friends. The answers to these questions will help you navigate the different software options available with different launch monitors such as the E6 Connect

Am I an iOS or a PC kinda guy or gal?

There are iOS golf simulators out there and there are PC golf simulators out there, and there are also some that work well with both. If you have a top quality MacBook Pro at home, make sure the golf simulator you buy is compatible with it or unfortunately you’ll probably find yourself deciding between purchasing another computer or returning your golf simulator.

How much work do I want this to be?

Are you hoping to extensively research each individual component mentioned above to pick out the best of each category? Or are you willing to trust someone else to narrow down the top choices for you and save you the work.

Also, are you handy enough to install a permanent setup in your garage, or are you hoping to simply open up a practice net in your living room after the kids go to sleep. Both will work fine, it just depends on what you want!


Optional Golf Simulator Setup Accessories

Once you’ve decided to move forward with a golf simulator setup, don’t forget that there are a lot of fun add-ons to include in your room that you might initially overlook! I’ve previously listed out my top 5 finishing touches, but for now let’s go over the basics.

Seating

If you have your buddies over to play some competitive golf, you are going to want to have a place for them to sit. This can be as easy as folding chairs in the garage or as complex as movie theater seating in the basement. 

Sound

You will want to be able to hear the instructions and effects of the simulation, so be sure not to skip out on some fun surround sound. These days the most popular choice is a sound bar. And remember, if your projector and screen are doubling as your home movie theater you CANNOT skimp out on sound!

Beverages

Make sure you have some ability to keep beverages cool. Again, this can be as simple as a cooler with ice, or as high tech as a smart coffee table that includes a fridge. Maybe your man cave already has a bar, but if not, consider a portable mini bar such as a globe bar to add a little fun to the room.

Golf Club Storage

Sure you can throw your clubs on the ground, but the simple act of buying a golf rack or hook can really help to keep your place looking good

Lighting

This is more for those golfers looking to set up a golf simulator in their garage. Don’t forget that garages get dark at night. Luckily, LED lights are everywhere these days and a simple lamp installation or hey even Christmas lights if you’re feeling fancy, can make the difference between everyone going home at 7:30pm or staying for a full fun night of golfing. Neon lights are great too, just be sure to place them far away from any ball impact zones!

Climate Control

Again, for my garage folk out there. Don’t forget that garages can get really really hot, and really really cold. Depending on the climate you live in, be sure you’re ready for the elements to come. Don’t forget, one of the huge benefits of a golf simulator is to be able to play no matter what the weather is! So make sure your golf simulator room has at least some sort of climate control ready to go. 


Cheap home golf simulator

A cheap home golf simulator can be surprisingly simple to put together. Just remember, golf simulators require technology, and technology costs money. So if you go for a cheap setup, just be sure to keep your expectations reasonable, but that doesn’t mean you won’t still have a ton of fun!

Here’s my setup that costs under $500:

  • OptiShot 2 golf simulator
  • Bed sheet hung up to capture balls (should be off the wall to absorb impact)
  • Foam golf balls (2 included with OptiShot 2)
  • Your own laptop + HDMI cable to connect to your own TV

Voila! With these four pieces (and your clubs) you can absolutely have a blast playing on simulated golf courses shown on your TV. Will you feel fancy doing it? Probably not. But I can promise you will have a ton of fun.


In Conclusion

Golf simulator setups have a lot of moving parts, and that can make them pretty confusing and arduous to tackle. A true control freak like me needs to do a lot of research on all the different components before settling on the best one, which can take quite some time given all the above pieces to the puzzle.

That being said, a lot of smart companies have realized this and done the hard work for you. There are some great simulation bundles available out there where other experts already did the work putting together a package deal for you. I condensed my favorite findings into this article that you can check out if you want to learn more. 

The bottom line is that what matters most is figuring out what kind of golf simulator setup YOU want! Once you figure that out you can move forward with an indoor golf simulator setup that will bring you endless entertainment and hey even improve your game while you’re at it. I hope with this guide I’ve helped get at least one step closer to this fantastic tool that so many golfers treasure.