If you’re like me, the long winter months and lack of opportunities to get out and swing the sticks drive me mad. Sure, it’s nice to have a white Christmas and all that but there is only so much comfort food and I can eat, so much extended family I can handle and so time on the couch I can spend. Day after day I gaze out my living room window and think about playing golf. Of course, I scratch the itch on my indoor putting mat, hit flop shots off the carpet when my wife isn’t looking and swing my weighted club in the garage. But at the end of the day there’s no substitute for the real thing.
As I continued to stew all winter long, I harkened back to my college days when we made our own version of a golf simulator. It was pretty ingenious. At least we thought so. It was a tarp suspended from the ceiling and anchored to the floor with pillows stuffed behind it. And of course we never had to wait until the turn to get beer, the cooler next to our hitting mat was always well-stocked.
Since there’s no way I could get away with such a setup now, I started doing some research on indoor golf simulators. What I found is that there are all sorts of cool options out there and… they cost half my remaining mortgage. But with a little more digging, I found that it’s conceivable to build your own simulator for a fraction of the cost of having one installed professionally.
How to Build a Golf Simulator DIY
You might think that you need all sorts of fancy equipment and computers to build your own simulator but such is not the case. All you really need is enough space, a hitting mat, a projector, a screen or net and software that allows you to play the world’s best courses in 3-D.
There’s no getting around the fact that golf simulators take up space. At a minimum you’re going to need a space 10 feet wide by 15 feet long by 10 feet high. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have vaulted ceilings, the most likely space to put a simulator is in your garage. If you want to get especially elaborate, you might want to consider building a wood frame covered with mesh netting to house your entire setup. If you fancy working with a nail gun and table saw, you can even build a desk for your computer and a rack for your clubs. If you’re looking for something simpler, purchasing software like OptiShot allows you to hit balls into a net and watch the ball flight on your television in real time.
You’ve probably hit off cheap mats at your local driving range. These mats serve a purpose but you’re going to want something a little nicer for your indoor golf simulator. If you plan on hitting drivers or fairway woods, you’re going to need a mat that you can get a tee in to. If you want to simulate different lies like fairway and rough, finding a mat with different heights is an option as well.
Our favorite indoor mats are the:
GoSports Golf Hitting Mats
Callaway FT Launch Zone
Sklz Launch Pad
These mats are relatively inexpensive and give you better feedback then mats you find on an outdoor driving range.
Even though you can use your television or laptop for your golf simulator, having larger panorama makes for a more realistic experience. For this you’re going to need a projector. While the best ones on the market can cost thousands of dollars, something between $300 and $500 should do the job.
If you’re thinking about getting a dir- cheap projector, we highly discourage doing so. Even though there are plenty of options out there for under $100, almost all of them lack the brightness needed to see your shots and the course vividly.
Our best recommendations that won’t break the bank are the:
BenQ MS 536
Before you swipe your credit card for a projector though, make sure that is has inputs that are compatible with your computer. Most of the time an HDMI port is all you need.
The screens used for top-shelf simulators can be costly. The good news is that there are some ways to save money without risking flying golf balls breaking something in your home.
Many people opt for a simple net like the one you might have in your back yard. Brands like Rukket, Callaway, Jef World of Golf, Galileo, GoSports and Club Champ all make golf hitting nets that reliably absorb the impact of full-speed golf shots and provide a cost-efficient option to more expensive screens.
If aesthetics aren’t that important to you, using a heavy duty light-colored tarp or canvas is another option. Before you fully install it, you’ll want to test the quality of your projector’s image against the trap to make sure it is clear enough so that you can adequately see course features and the flight of your ball.
If neither of the options above work for you, you can make the cheap investment of foam golf balls. These balls are made specifically to be hit indoors and unless you hit your mom’s china with a shot, you shouldn’t have to worry about breaking anything.
If you’ve hit balls in a simulator in a commercial space, there’s a reason you pay upwards of $50 per hour. Those machines, though really cool, cost as much as $50,000 a piece. The best software for your home simulator is OptiShot which costs under $500. While this program isn’t going to give you smash factor, launch angle and spin rate numbers, you will get accurate feedback on stats like club head speed, distance, shot shape and swing path.
The OptiShot also allows you to play a variety of world-famous courses, customize weather conditions and play different formats against your friends.
So What Is Total Cost?
If you want to build a simple bare bones simulator that gives you the sensation that you’re playing a real round of golf, your cost breakdown should look something like the following.
Hitting Mat: $60
Hitting Net: $40
If you have a little more room in your budget, you can purchase some of the items listed above with some extra features or you can opt for some cool add-ons to enhance your experience.
One option is buying an Ipad and installing swing analysis software like V-1, SwingTIP or SwingSmart. These types of programs allow you to take video of your swing and then slow it down, draw lines and see side-by-side images of your swing and the swings of the Pros from different angles. Some programs even come with pre-loaded instructional tips or allow you to pay for a subscription for customized professional instruction.
Another option is to build an enclosure for your simulator that keeps ambient light out and light from your projector in. This involves the cost of materials like lumber and some sort of covering. Coverings can be anything from mesh netting to shower curtains, basically, anything to keep errant shots from flying out of the enclosure and causing damage.
The options to customize your simulator are limitless. Feel free to get as creative as you want and as your budget allows.
Getting the Most Out of Your Golf Simulator
Now that you’re up and running it’s time to put your golf simulator to use. The first thing that probably comes to mind is practicing during when the weather prevents you from going outside. Whether you’re working on swing mechanics or dialing in distances with your short irons, being able to see your ball flight and numbers indoors is what you put this simulator together for you know.
Play Where the Pros Play
Maybe you just want to play some of the most famous courses in the world that you probably won’t have the chance to play in real life. For me that was Augusta National, the most exclusive club in the world where ex-presidents are even denied access. After dumping one in the water left of the green on Hole 11 and making bogey, I birdied the iconic par 3 12th across Ray’s Creek and parred the par 5 13th. I played Amen Corner in even par! How cool is that? Your golf simulator software comes pre-loaded with iconic courses and for a small price you have the option to download others and keep them for life.
Practice With a Buddy
Maybe you and a buddy have a shared goal for your golf games. Whether it’s breaking 90 for the first time or learning to hit a draw instead of a slice, golf simulators come with a practice mode where you can just beat balls on a driving range. You’ll receive feedback on every shot and be able to measure each other’s progress the entire time.
It’s important to practice like you play too. A great way to do this is by keeping your practice competitive with simple games. You have the freedom to get as creative with this as you want. One of my favorite games is KP’s. The rules to this game are pretty straight forward. You and your partner agree on a target and each hit 10 shots measuring who is closest on each shot and the most player with the most KP’s after all the shots are hit is the winner.
Guy or Gal Time
Every guy or gal dreams of having their own version of the ultimate man or woman cave and for avid golfers, having a simulator and a big flat screen is at the top of the list. For me, college football Saturdays are like religion. Most Saturdays during the season will find me throwing a spread for a few of my friends where we have all the important games on and squeeze in 36 holes while giving each other a hard time. Whatever the occasion may be, having a golf simulator only enhances the experience for everyone.
Start a League
One of the most fun things you can do with your golf simulator is start a league that gets together on a regular basis to compete. You can structure the league however you choose but ensuring that teams are evenly matched is key to making sure everyone has a good time. In my league, we have four-person teams all consisting of an A, B, C and D player. We play a different format every week and teams are awarded points for where they finish. But again, you’re free to set this up however you want. Lastly, make sure there is something to play for at the end of the season. It doesn’t have to anything outrageous, but having a prize for the winning team motivates everyone to show up and stay interested all season long.
The cold dark months of winter are miserable for serious golfers. The big names aren’t playing on television and your chances to get out to play yourself are limited at best. For a relatively small investment however, you can build your own golf simulator and have a lot of fun with your friends all while working on your game. The best part is when the golf season finally comes around, you’ll be miles ahead of your buddies that haven’t touch a club in months.