Cory Olson, a reader in Seoul, South Korea, writes:
While I don’t have any data, I’m fairly confident that South Korea has the most golf simulators in the world. That’s understandable in a golf-crazed country where the average course outing costs over three hundred dollars (green fees plus cart plus caddie, not to mention golf-club membership fees). Simulators are ubiquitous all over the country, but especially around office buildings, where there is at least one 스크린골프 (screen golf) on every block.
There are several systems out there, but by far the most popular is made by a company called Golfzon, which is now on its third-generation simulator, called Vision (see image above). Instead of taking measurements only at the ball, this one features two overhead super-high-speed cameras to get more accurate data. (Might all be in my head, but other simulators never seem to read my sweeping, almost divot-less wing correctly—but on Vision I play much better.) Also, the system has a swing-plate with hydraulics, to adjust the lie. (I always turn it off. Just nice, flat lies for me, thank you.) There are also mats that simulate fairway, rough, and sand (somewhat). [And there’s some pretty good simulated English on the Golfzon website: “Each trees, bushes, hills, club houses and rocks are delicately represented so that golfers can feel the atmosphere of renowned golf courses without ever visiting them.”]
The cost for a round varies greatly, depending on location and time of day, but is typically between fifteen and twenty-five dollars. The busiest, most expensive times are weekday nights, because screen golf is one of the most popular forms of corporate entertainment. (South Korea is very big on required after-work socialization with colleagues.) After a first round of Korean barbecue and drinks, beers and screen golf is a common second round.
I’ve heard of, but never personally experienced, “helper players,” who can be called in to the room: young ladies with picture-perfect swings and amazingly short skirts. Seems like an all-right idea, except that they out-drive you on every hole.
Screen golf is so popular in Korea that it has its own professional tour. Most of the players are pros who teach on Golfzon simulators, or they work for a major company that sponsors them, but some are able to earn a decent living playing screen golf full time. [You can watch a video about the Korean simulator tour here. It’s in Korean, but you can probably figure out most of what they’re talking about. The video features several stars, plus simulated versions of real golf courses.]
The only real issue I have with screen golf is the greens. I’m by no means a lights-out putter, but putting is typically not a weakness. When I play on the simulators, however, all my “feel” is replaced by a very mechanical (and mathematical) approach, based on how far above or below the hole I am on the color-coded green, and the speed of the animated break lines.