RISE OF THE MACHINES

02 Apr 2024

Screen golf is proving a hit among Singaporeans. TIM PINNEGAR reports.

Golf, a sport synonymous with lush greens, fairways, and pristine landscapes, has undergone a transformation in recent years. Traditional golf courses, and driving ranges, are being complemented by the rise of golf simulators.

Seven golf coaches are available at the 14 individual golf bays at GolfX.

The inception of golf simulators dates back several decades, initially serving as rudimentary tools for basic swing analysis. However, with advancements in technology, simulators have undergone a remarkable transformation. Modern iterations feature high-definition graphics, precise ball tracking sensors, and immersive environments that mimic real golf courses worldwide. Can’t get a tee time at Pebble Beach, you can still play all 18 holes in Singapore.

These technological marvels have led to an unprecedented surge in their usage both globally and in Singapore. Korea has over six thousand centres with at least one simulator. While much smaller, Singapore has many single simulator locations, a fortunate few even have one in their homes. The most significant growth recently has been from indoor venues with multiple simulators that offer the opportunity to hone your swing and, in many cases, do so while taking advantage of food and beverage options.

GolfX is conveniently located at Great World City Shopping Centre.

GolfX at Great World City offers 14 individual golf bays each with a simulator, two private rooms and seven golf coaches. As such it tends to cater to those who want to improve their game or are just starting out. A 50-minute session with a golf coach will cost around $90 to $110.

“During the pandemic, I played a lot of golf as there were very few other things we were allowed to do at that time,” Sid Kim, GolfX founder explains. “To practice, most of us would go to Marina Bay or Champions. Since golf was booming, we’d often wait for 30 mins to an hour just to get a free bay. Then we would be drenched in sweat within the first 10 minutes and mindlessly hit balls without any real sort of feedback. Since most of us were Koreans or Korean- Americans, we were used to having a plethora of indoor golf centres – usually one on every corner. We thought Singapore would be a great place for a similar indoor facility since there was a great demand for golf, and very limited venues to practice”.

The bar at Par Tee.

For those who desire a more social aspect to their range sessions, many of the recent simulator venues now include food and beverage options to accompany your practice. Corporates looking to host client and employee gatherings have also turned their attention to such activities.

In addition to four individual bays, coaches and club fitting, Par Tee at Science Park Drive also offers six private rooms, each with a simulator, and an extensive food and drinks menu. A single bay at Par Tee for one hour without a coach costs $38++. If you really want to splurge, the largest private room that can accommodate 20 people is yours for $138++ per hour, food and drinks are extra.

Par Tee at Science Park offers six private rooms.

Young Oh, CEO of Hidden Castle Golf Club at Havelock Road aims to provide an array of services and an environment akin to that of a traditional country club. “We feature retail outlets, diverse food and beverage options, golf coaches and a distinctive membership structure,” he adds.

The customer base of all these venues is wide- ranging. Hidden Castle’s Oh reveals that business comes from individuals as young as 10 to those in their 90s. “The majority of our members consist of young professional families with children, typically in their early 30s to mid-40s,” he says. “Older players often participate in lessons with our coaches, while younger golfers are more inclined to engage in rounds of nine and 18 holes”.

Indoor golf ranges like Hidden Castle lets golfers practise in a comfortably cool environment.

So, what has led to this boom in golf simulator usage and especially the multi simulator locations in Singapore?

A major contributing factor has been the reduction in the number of golf courses and driving ranges in Singapore, with more to be lost in the coming years. Finding a range to practice at has become harder and for those who wish to take a further step the price to join one of the remaining golf clubs has soared. The closure of driving ranges has led both new and experienced players to go indoors for their practice sessions.

Hidden Castle’s staff includes a dedicated food and beverage team.

Novices find them particularly appealing as they provide a less intimidating environment to learn the game. The ability to practice in a controlled setting helps beginners hone their skills without the pressure of a real course, fostering confidence and improving their gameplay. For the experienced player access to the sizeable amount of data that a simulator churns out will give you plenty to work on. Time efficiency also plays a pivotal role in the popularity of these simulators. A typical round of golf can span four to five hours, deterring many individuals. Simulators, however, allow players to complete a round in a fraction of the time. Lastly hitting balls in an air-conditioned environment, out of the sun and rain, has an attraction for many.

Simulators also offer the opportunity to play many of the world’s great courses or design your own round from the most iconic golf holes.

Five Iron Golf at Cecil Street has seven individual bays where one can play over 200 courses. Located in the CBD and opening at 7am it does appeal to the keen golfer who many want to sharpen their game before work.

Trackman- enabled games like virtual mini-golf and Bullseye add to the fun at Five Iron Golf.

Five Iron also offers several golf-themed games on their simulators that cater to those who are just curious to see what golf is like. “The general perception of golf simulators is that they are only for the avid golfer to practice their swing or play on golf courses”, observes Yuka Kasahara, Co- Founder of Five Iron Golf. “However, many simulator offerings now include arcade style games that can be enjoyed by players of all skill levels. Trackman simulators offer a wide range of games including virtual mini-golf and bullseye that are great fun even for those that have never held a golf club before. Think of it as an entertainment activity similar to bowling or playing pool, you don’t need to be an expert to enjoy it and have fun.”

Despite many advantages, golf simulator venues face challenges. High initial costs, maintenance expenses, and the need for adequate space pose barriers. Additionally, while simulators offer a realistic experience, they do lack the sensory elements of a true golf course, such as natural terrain and weather conditions, which some purists argue are irreplaceable.

“Most Singaporeans were, and still are, not used to playing or practicing golf indoors, so it took a while to educate people and set a new paradigm,” commented Sid Kim. “It took us over two years to prove that indoor golf was not only effective but could be even more beneficial than outdoor practice facilities”.

Seven individual bays at Five Iron Golf lets those working in the CBD get a session in before, or after, work.

Looking ahead, the future of golf simulators seems promising. Continued technological advancements may address existing limitations, make simulators more affordable, compact, and realistic. Integrating virtual reality and augmented reality could further enhance the immersive experience. Look out for competitions using simulators featuring top players. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy aim to have 24 PGA pros signed up for their league to start in 2025. Dean Ju, owner of Par Tee, is optimistic about the future. “It’s a good complement to golfers and potential golfers to be,” says Ju. “Indoor golf meets the demand for a unique and weatherproof entertainment experience while creating a home for golfers without a club membership”.

The increased utilization of golf simulators marks a major shift in Singapore golf. While they cannot replicate the authenticity of traditional courses entirely, golf simulators offer affordability, convenience, and training opportunities that complement the sport’s traditional roots. As technology continues to evolve, the integration of simulators into golf seems inevitable. With many venues in Singapore, each offering a diverse range of services and prices, now is as a time as any to give it a go.

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