Golfstead is reader-supported. When you buy through links on the site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. Our affiliations include, but are not limited to, the eBay Partner Network and Amazon Associates.
Quick Answer: good golf simulators are generally very accurate, but accuracy differs depending on the quality of the system and other factors. The top golf simulators are nearly identical to what you would see if you were at the range or on the golf course.
Since the emergence of the first golf simulators in the 1970s, golf simulators have improved tremendously both in terms of technology and accuracy.
A golf simulator is a high-tech system that enables you to practice golf indoors in a virtually simulated golf environment. It is a computerized golf setup designed to mimic the real game, helping you analyze your swing, understand your weaknesses, and improve your game without having to go to your local course.
But just how accurate is a simulator in taking the results of your swing, measuring the associated data, and projecting it in software? How close is the simulated ball flight to what the flight would actually be if you were at the range?
The short answer is: quite accurate. The longer answer is: it depends on the simulator system (or launch monitor) being used, as some are more accurate than others.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume that golf simulators and launch monitors are the same thing, which they pretty much are. Let’s take a more in-depth look at how accuracy differs across various types of simulators.
Types Of Golf Simulators
Golf simulators can use various technologies to track ball and club data, and they often combine two or more types. These include:
Camera-based simulators can be used indoors as well as outdoors.
These simulators capture high-speed images of the ball immediately after impact and, based on these images, derive various data parameters. This data leads to the rendering of shot shape and distance.
Camera-based systems can also capture other data such as launch angle, distance away from center, backspin, and side spin. The SkyTrak+ is a camera-based system but is also referred to as a photometric system.
Generally speaking, the more high-speed cameras there are, the more accurate the simulator will be. The SkyTrak+ is very accurate, but the stereoscopic Foresight Sports GC2 is more accurate, and the triscopic and quadroscopic GC3 and GCQuad are even more accurate.
Because camera-based simulators are affected by ambient lighting conditions, their accuracy may be degraded in certain situations outdoors, particularly in direct sunlight. Most of the higher-end systems beyond the SkyTrak don’t have this issue, however.
Infrared simulators emit light signals in order to capture the precise position of the clubhead.
Since the ball itself is not measured, you can easily use foam or plastic balls with infrared simulators. However, it’s for this reason that they tend to not be as effective, reliable and accurate as other systems when infrared technology is used alone.
The OptiShot 2 is probably the most well-known infrared simulator system on the market, but its accuracy is poor compared to more expensive systems. Foresight Sports GC systems use some infrared object tracking as well.
Radar-based simulators track the ball with the help of Doppler radar technology. These radars emit a microwave signal from the unit which bounces back from the golf ball after impact.
Since it requires seeing the ball travel post-impact, radar is ideal for outdoor use, although it can also be used indoors as long as there is sufficient free ball flight.
At the same time, because it uses microwave signals, it is not affected by ambient lighting conditions unlike with photometric and infrared systems.
Radar-based simulators can be just as accurate as camera-based systems, even though they measure data in a different way. Their main disadvantage is that the units need to sit many feet behind the clubhead; this typically makes them unable to measure certain parameters such as ball impact location or club face orientation.
The Cost Factor
One other important gauge of how accurate a golf simulator might be is the cost. Naturally, as price goes up, accuracy also tends to go up.
Entry-level systems under $1000 will typically be the least accurate. Simulators in the $1500-$3000 range will be much more accurate, while simulators in the $4000-$10000 range will approach professional-level accuracy.
Golf simulators (or launch monitors) that cost $10,000 or more will typically have the best accuracy in the industry. Two launch monitors considered to be the gold standard of accuracy are the GCQuad and FlightScope X3.
Expensive, higher-end golf simulators tend to make the biggest difference when it comes to very short shots like pitches, chips and putts. Budget systems typically have trouble measuring these shots accurately and some don’t even read putts at all.
The reality is that no golf simulator, no matter how advanced or expensive, will be able to flawlessly simulate what your ball flight would actually look like at the range. No technology is perfect, and on top of that, it’s impossible to replicate the same environmental conditions.
However, most golf simulators allow you to adjust environmental conditions in the settings such as humidity, elevation and temperature, so you can often approximate the outdoor environment you would play in and get more accurate results.
Lower-end simulators may be around 90% accurate to real life.
The best simulators, on the other hand, can closely reflect reality within 1% as long as they’re set up correctly. These systems have undergone rigorous testing and are relied upon by pro golfers, coaches and club fitters around the world.
Thanks for reading this article. Is there something else you want to know about golf simulator accuracy? Leave your questions or comments down below and we’ll do our best to address them.