I used to be in the golf technology business--simulators and stuff to measure balls and clubs and weight transfer. That was “back in the day” when the movers in the golf industry still used slide rules and rotary dial phones--in the early 2000’s. Needless to say, golf and technology didn’t mix well.
I remember a big pow-wow with the movers of a major golf organization, back in the abacus days--the 1990’s. They called me in to discuss some tech matters related to a golf museum they were steering. One of the big movers in the room got up and came over to where I was sitting at the conference table--about a three minute walk from his seat at the end. He dropped a copy of the local rag in front of me and on the front page was an article about the museum.
“Bill”, he said, “Do you see that article on the front page?”
“Do you see that part where I was quoted as saying that the museum would have unique interactive displays?”
“What’s an interactive display?”
A call from another one of the big movers came to me less than a year later. They were looking for some financial involvement from a big tech company and knew I had done business with them and wanted to know if I could help get to the right guy.
“Bill”, he said, “Do you think you can help me with [big tech company]?”
“I don’t know, what have you done so far?”
“We were told we had gotten hooked up with the right guy. We flew out to meet him and waited for over a half hour. Then this guy in a golf shirt and jeans came out and took us into a small office. He indulged us for a while and then sent us away and nothing happened.”
“Who did you meet with?”
“I can’t remember. I think it was something like Ballman, maybe.”
“I can’t help you”.
Things have changed. The golf world is using Texas Instruments calculators and touch tone phones. Some of the more progressive movers in golf even have flip phones.
I once said, to blank stares, that one day every TOUR pro would use tracking technology on the practice tee at events. That seemed ludicrous to my audience, but that is exactly what’s happening today. Yet the use of the technology is far from where it can be. Most of the guys are using expensive radar units to simply tell them how far they hit it.
For whatever reason that makes me think of Jed Clampett dining on the pool table in the “fancy eatin’ room”, and using the cue sticks as “pot-passers” (a reference purposefully chosen to reach the subconscious back-channels of old white guys--the “stewards” of the game of golf).
In the old days we dealt closely with a well-known golf club OEM. They used radar at their test range--only to measure carry distance of shots. I asked them why they used radar--it was so expensive--to merely get carry distance. They told me that otherwise they’d have to send a guy out onto the range to do it and radar never called in sick.
So here we are a hundred years later (in tech time) and golf has taken one or two more baby steps with technology. Crazy Bryson DeChambeau (I’ve adopted the Presidential method of adding colorful descriptors to everyone’s name) is shaking things up with some innovative tech thinking. Good for him. There is so much more he can do, but compared to the average meathead he’s a stunning genius.
And for sure I’ll get in trouble for my use of the term meathead. I remember getting an unhappy email from a big name--a very bright academic--in the world of teaching pros, because in an article, “The Dawn of the Launch Monitor”, I alluded to the average club pro’s aptitude with technology as being--let’s just say--not at a high level.
In my defense, in the same article I admitted to having no clue how to set the time on my own VCR (if you don’t remember those, ask any club pro--okay now I’m in real trouble).
Enough about the past. As our country’s greatest inventor--Charles Kettering (the other guy was just a publicity hound)--said, “I only think about the future because that’s where I’m going to live.”
To put it in youthful terms (I’m very old), “Me and my boys are getting back into golf”. Since our last foray we’ve not seen much innovation on the tech side. The tech is there--but the execution is not.
We intend on changing things.
Let's talk about simulators. And by that, I mean indoor golf simulators.
Silly me, when I started AboutGolf in 2002 I didn't love the term "simulator". Webster's Dictionary defined "simulate" as "fake". Just looking it up online the first definition is "to give or assume the appearance or effect of often with the intent to deceive: IMITATE".
So I initially called our product an "indoor golf environment". There was no intent to deceive, fake, or imitate. The concept was you use real balls, clubs, shoes and gloves; you hit real shots that you watch virtually on a projected image; the shots are as accurate as technology allows. There's nothing fake about a golf simulator--or at least it's not intended. Everyone in the sim business is trying to do the best they can at making the best product.
And, unlike when I got started and introduced radar and then machine vision (cameras), there are a bunch of companies doing a pretty darn good job of all the stuff that needs to be done to make for an accurate golf simulator--no faking done or intended. That's a great advantage for you--the consumer. Our little industry is getting more and more competitive.
Way back when just after the turn of the millennium golf sims were not all that well known, they were sold essentially only by what I call vertical brands that provided the whole product, and they were expensive--too expensive. I was one of those with AboutGolf. Today, those vertical companies still exist. Many still charge you silly prices. Some have taken a straight-arrow approach and are priced reasonably.
But we also have what I call "aggregators", folks who work with various OEMs/suppliers, who put a combination of components together--usually at a much lower price than most of the singular companies. And, there is a third sector of the golf sim economy: DIY. Today, you can go online and in an hour or less order every component you need to assemble your own simulator. If you know what you're doing in choosing the right parts (it's not easy), and can put it all together, you can end up with a great sim for a surprisingly low relative cost.
Until recently when things have started to change, the entire sim buying market was pretty darn silly. They looked (many still do) at sims like cars. Consider a $45,000-$50,000 car. For that you can get an Audi A4, a BMW 3 series, or a C-class Mercedes. They're all great cars. But, it used to be that if you looked at three $45,000 simulators, where you'd think they were an Audi, a BMW, and a Mercedes, it might actually be an Audi, a Yugo, and a Fiat. But buyers decided based on the false assumption that price determined quality and performance. It didn't then and it doesn't now. Some sim buyers at the top end have bigger wallets and egos than brains (big dollars, little sense?).
But it's getting better. More systems have reached critical mass of tracking performance. Many use the same software. All of the major companies have decent software. And the best part is that there are great aggregators out there that can ensure you get the right product--and they add only a modest margin to the sale. In my opinion, for most, it's worth the few extra bucks versus DIY. But there are very capable DIY folks out there and the industry now serves them. Pretty cool.
Clarity.Golf and I are now adding a fourth element to the industry--knowledge. And, for whatever it's worth to you, it won't cost you a dime. Our consulting is always free. So, if you're a DIY guy we'll strive to add to your knowledge so you can make the best decisions relative to component buying, design and installation, and/or your business plan. If working with an aggregator is your best choice, we'll add to your knowledge about this option, and we can recommend an aggregator. Clarity will likely be doing some aggregating as well--but our aggregator allies are our good friends and we chose these friends carefully. If a system from one of the vertical entities is best for you, we'll add to your knowledge so you can make the best deal and get the best service.
We'd love to talk to you. Email Bill Bales, Clarity.Golf Founder, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I was a kid, Zorro was my favorite hero. The lone ranger was a close second. Both wore black masks and did good things. We kids were inspired.
I'm in the golf simulator business for the second time, after a semi-hiatus. We've made it clear we see how the industry is changing--a lot. But there remain bastions of the past in the form of what I call the "verticals", those sim companies that sell you the complete package made up of mostly proprietary stuff. There really weren't any of what I call aggregators twenty years ago, and there was no DIY market other than at the lowest end. These two new approaches to getting one's simulator are fantastic for the industry, and the consumer. Along with this, more and more providers have staked out singular territory--tracking device providers, software providers, enclosure/screen providers. This is also fantastic.
Acting as an aggregator with one recent customer, I told him that in my last sim gig I'd have been looking to make a contribution margin of not less than $25,000 on his purchase. I told him I'd be geeked to clear $5-7k the way I do it now--before G&A. And, my client's total cost will reflect that difference in approach. He'll pay $20k less. That's a hard pill to swallow for rich guys because we're all inclined to think price defines quality and performance. But in the sim industry, that's simply not true.
I feel a little like Zorro--some nice people doing it the old way are probably not going to invite me to their birthday parties. But hopefully I'll have a bunch of new friends who invite me to join them for a round on their new simulator.
Bill Bales has been a force in golf simulation for over thirty years including as developer of Microsoft Golf, AboutGolf — under Bill’s control–#1 premium sim in North America — PlayData (producer of launch tracking for AboutGolf’s simulator), and Clarity.Golf.