Our golf game is a weird circle of life…
We anxiously wait as the snow melts and the ground dries to take the first few hacks of the Spring. Then with regular playing over the course of the Summer we actually look competent out on the course, just in time for October to hit and the clubs to get shelved for another six months. Trouble is that the time next Spring arrives we’ve lost all the gains that were made last year and it’s just like starting over.
The obvious solution then? Playing year-round of course!
But for those of us who face nasty weather for half the year that wasn’t always an option, that is until the invention of the indoor golf simulator. You can listen to Frank & Mike talk about the benefits of visiting a golf simulator in episode 14 of The Golf Podcast here.
If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where there is a local golf center with simulators and indoor driving ranges/domes consider yourself blessed. Today’s commercial golf simulators really are top of the line and the spacious room allowing you to use your full swing really is priceless. Unfortunately though these simulators can be both crowded and costly as they look to cater to all of the other anxious golfers who are not so patiently awaiting the arrival of spring.
So what about the rest of us who can’t get to a simulator or don’t want to wait on line to spend $45/hour to take a few swings? The ultimate and most practical year-round golf answer then is to build your own simulator.
Building a Home Golf Simulator For Under $2,000
For under $2,000 you can legitimately build your own golf simulator in the comfort of your own garage, basement, shed, or anywhere else that has electricity and enough room to swing a club.
There are 5 main components that are needed for a quality simulator setup:
- Brains of the System: Something like the OptiShot system that creates 3-D courses and uses sensors to track the course of the ball.
- Projector: Displays the courses and swing information on a wall.
- Golf mat: Simulates the feel of the grass of a golf course and allows you to place tees.
- Net / screen: Catches the ball after it’s hit to prevent damage and/or injury from flying golf balls.
- Space: You need ample room to fully swing the club freely (obviously!).
The most expensive parts of your home golf simulator project will be buying the brains of the system and the projector—not to mention giving your wife free reign on the credit card as a gift for allowing you to set up a golf man cave! Here’s the details about putting the system together:
The hardest part about setting up your golf simulator will finding a the right space. A common area of space that many home simulators use is 10 feet wide by 15 feet long by 10 feet high. The minimum code for basement ceiling height is 7 feet and the OptiShot simulator recommends at least 8.5 feet—we recommend even more height than that if you plan on swinging your driver in the simulator. With that said, generally speaking the best spot for setting up your home golf simulator will be in the garage.
The elaborateness of your simulator setup will vary based how much room is available and how often you’ll be using the golf simulator. If you have space set aside in a garage you can actually build a 10ft x 15ft x 10ft wood frame and cover it with mesh netting. In that amount of space you can then set a computer table to the side, construct a rack for clubs, and cover the floor with a turf mat for a realistic garage 18. Framing your simulator out in this manner may push your budget over $2000 but if you’re handy with a screw gun you can probably knock the job out yourself in an afternoon.
Here’s an example of a well constructed home simulator that you can use as a template for your build:
The other option would be to build a more temporary simulator using your television and a pop-up net and screen so that it can be stored away when not in use.
Sophisticated golf simulator systems such as those found in most modern commercial simulators can cost upwards of $50k. While these systems perform amazingly they’re well over our home build budget. Here we’re recommending using the OptiShot as the “brains” of your home golf simulator because its performance is unrivaled in the $500 and under price range. The “brains” of your system is where you’ll want to spend the majority of your budget because if the simulator itself is not functioning correctly you’re left with nothing more than some balls and a net.
The OptiShot features 16 highly-calibrated sensors that can track all the clubs in your bag with measurements such as head speed, angle, swing path, distance traveled, contact, tempo, and shot shape for even fades and draws.
The OptiShot comes loaded with a number of real-life golf courses such as TPC Scottsdale and Torrey Pines which you can play with your own actual clubs. The courses can be streamed to a projector or just about any television or computer screen.
Besides being able to use your television another thing that makes the simulator living-room friendly is the option to play with foam balls or even use the system’s “no-ball” setting—this is something we highly recommend for anyone faced with serious space limitations.
The OptiShot features a practice mode with visual feedback plus you can play best ball or match play among other game types, and you can even customize the weather. The system itself requires a laptop or desktop computer to work (this will add to your total simulator budget if you don’t already own one) that can be hooked up to the TV or streamed to a projector.
The other relatively expensive piece of equipment you’ll spend money on is the projector. Although you technically can play through a TV most people ultimately opt for the projector to get the more realistic golf feel of a bigger panorama.
As with the simulators themselves projector prices can range up into the thousands but your ideal spend should be somewhere between $350 and $500 to maintain the realistic 3D images and renderings from the OptiShot. Here are a few models we recommend:
We strongly suggest staying away from the very inexpensive (under $100) or “mini” projectors that seem to be popping up everywhere. The reason for this being that most cheap projectors lack the brightness (measured in lumens) needed to display a good picture in anything brighter than complete darkness. Remember, the brighter you want your simulator bay the stronger you need your projector to be. After all, no one wants to swing in the dark!
No matter which projector your select it’s important to make sure that the unit contains inputs that are compatible with your laptop or desktop computer. Most new computers come with an HDMI output which will also work with just about all new projector models but we suggest confirming all connections before making your purchase.
While the projector purchase might seem expensive, the good news is that most modern projectors can also be used to display movies or even live television so your new golf simulator can double as a home theater when not in use!
Up to this point you probably have about $800-$1,000 wrapped up in the OptiShot and your projector along with another $300 if you’ve built a permanent enclosure, but luckily those represent the last of the major purchases for your home golf simulator. The rest of the items used in the simulator can be purchased at your discretion to maximize the feel of a real golf outing.
The OptiShot comes with a one inch high by approximately one foot long hitting surface where the actual ball striking occurs but it doesn’t give a realistic golf feel swinging up on a ball. For this reason, most opt purchase a golf mat to inlay the OptiShot striking surface and bring their body up to the same level as the hitting green. A quality 3 ft x 5 ft golf mat will set you back around $70. You can either cut out a spot on the mat where your OptiShot will go or you can set the OptiShot alongside the mat if you don’t want to do any alterations.
Screen / Net
People opt for the projector setup because it simulates hitting the ball right down the fairway into the screen. Because of this you’ll obviously need a durable screen to hit into or a protective net in front of it. Good projector screens that are strong enough to withstand repeated drives with a real golf ball can be quite expensive but there are a number of ways to get around this on a budget. Here are a few options:
- Place a pop-up golf net (e.g. The Haack Golf Net or The Net Return Pro) in front of a regular projector screen to absorb the impact.
- Use foam golf balls instead of real golf balls to prevent damage to your projector screen.
- If building your own enclosure you can use a heavy-duty tarp similar to the one used in the video above (just make sure it’s a light color so that your projected image will show up clearly).
Remember that if you’re using real golf balls you’ll also want to set up some netting along the sides and top of the screen to keep errant shots at bay. The total cost for your screen and net shouldn’t run you more than $200 if purchased wisely.
If you want to step your game up a bit more (and you have some room in your budget) you can also use something called an impact screen. These highly durable net/screens are made to serve the dual purpose of both stopping the impact of a golf ball and allowing for a nice clear picture from a projector.
Depending on if you were able to find some good deals on the screen and projector you may have some budget left over to really turn your space into a golf simulator heaven. For example, if you’ve built a wooden frame for the simulator you might want to cover the boards with a foam covering because shanks hit into the wood and can be unpredictable.
Some hardcore users like to up an iPad next to the hitting area and run something like SwingSmart or SwingTIP for more professional grade swing analysis. Having this nice little addition is a great way to get more of the feel of a high-end golf simulator which tracks things like swing speed, swing path, and more.
Total Cost Breakdown
Time to run the tab…
- OptiShot – $500
- Projector – $350
- Golf Mat – $70
- Golf Net / Screen – $200
- Total = $1200
Options such as building your own enclosure or upgraded mats, nets, and projectors will bring your total closer to $2000.
Don’t Forget to Be Creative
The best thing about installing a golf simulator in your home is that there’s really no wrong way to do it (as long as you aren’t teeing off into a bay window). Buy the OptiShot as your foundation and feel free to get creative from there. Heck, we’ve even seen some people use $10 white shower curtains as projection screens!
We can’t guarantee your scores will improve with the purchase of a home golf simulator, but you will certainly have fun trying!
Have you built a home golf simulator of your own? Let us know about it and perhaps even share a few pictures in the comments below. And, when you’re ready to move your game outdoors again, be sure to check out our latest article on how to build your own home driving range here.
Cover Photo by @monzteric on Instagram