Golf Simulator vs Reality

Golf simulators are heaven for avid golfers. There’s no disputing that. But one thing that often gets asked is how realistic is a golf simulator. Not just when it comes to graphics, but in terms of feel, accuracy, exercise and so on. Is it a useful training tool or is little more than hitting golf balls into a padded wall? And what about hitting shots off a mat all the time? Is that detrimental to your game and your wrists? We address all of these questions in this article.

Golf Simulator Vs Reality

Differences Between Golf Simulators And Reality

Whenever you are producing a simulation there are always going to be trade-offs and while the best golf simulator setups have improved markedly over recent years there are still significant differences to the sort of golf experience you get playing indoors rather than 18 holes at a real golf course.


One reason why golf simulators are becoming more popular is they allow you the opportunity to play or practice in the comfort of your own home. No need to commute to the club or fight for a tee time! Just turn on your computer, launch monitor and projector and away you go. If you live somewhere where the climate doesn’t allow you to play in the winter then a golf sim might be the best option if you want to improve your game during those cold months of the year.

Time To Play

Another big advantage of simulator golf vs real golf is the time it will take you to play a round of golf. Depending on the pace of play you might be looking at anywhere from 3-5 hours for 18 holes plus travel time to and from the venue. Owning a golf simulator means an 18-hole round can be completed much quicker and you will avoid the commute!

You also won’t have to spend time looking for a ball and there’s need to wait for that slow group in front! 

Perfect Lie

Unless you want to ruin your carpet you’re going to want to use some sort of golf mat to hit balls from. When you play real golf you can be presented with all sorts of different lies and stances. You might find a particularly lush piece of grass or maybe one that’s bare. This can have a significant effect on the quality of strike you are able to achieve. The closest you can get in a golf simulator is to use a mat that has different types of Astroturf to simulate different situations.

On a real course, you might find knee-length rough which will limit most players to a hack out with a wedge. In virtual golf, the software will probably just reduce the distance you can hit out of that lie but nowhere near the level of reality.

As for sloping lies, well even the majority of professionals don’t have a setup that can accommodate that sort of feature in their indoor golf simulators. While I have seen a hydraulic platform used by Sky TV on some of their broadcasts no doubt this is a very expensive option. 

Scratch golf life compares SkyTrak to real life

Weather Conditions

Some of you reading this article might be fortunate to live in places where you rarely get bad weather but for most golfers mother nature often does her best to ruin your 18 holes of golf in one way or another. Cold temperatures will affect how the ball reacts and also the way your golf swing works. Many players find it difficult to produce a great swing in freezing temperatures when they’re wearing three or four layers of clothing! When you’re playing simulator golf you just set your heater to the desired temperature and away you go!

Wind and rain are two other major factors that will impact your round of golf. If you play golf for any length of time you will know how difficult it can be to maintain your swing tempo in a strong wind and how it has a tendency to make every shot more difficult. Playing in the rain makes it difficult to keep a hold of your club and will affect your ball striking too! Don’t forget that environmental factors will also affect how the golf course reacts to your shots.


Golf simulator putting is probably the least accurate part. Indeed some launch monitors won’t even track putts so your simulator software will just add one or two strokes to your score if you’re playing a round of virtual golf. If you ever played a computer golf game like PGA Tour 2K21 you’ll know how difficult it can sometimes be to judge a putt based on some lines on the screen.


Experienced golfers will learn almost subconsciously to factor in all the different things that might affect their choice of golf shot. When you’re using a simulator you lose all of the external cues since you have just a two-dimensional representation of the hole.


Like putting this is one area where simulator golf tends to fall behind reality. You don’t really want to bring in a pile of sand to hit from so your bunker shot simulator experience is just like any other chipshot.


Having your own simulator package means having access to stacks of data about all the shots you play which is much more difficult to do when playing real golf. While you could in theory carry your GCQuad around with you it probably wouldn’t be the best idea on a crowded golf course or when playing with your buddies.

Choice of Golf Course

While sim golf using current technology isn’t going to provide the most realistic golf experience you can still “play” some of the top golf courses in the world where green fees are probably out of reach for many. The likes of Pebble Beach and Augusta National are available on certain golf simulator packages.

If you use The Golf Club software then you can play more than 100,000 venues. Most simulator software packages will include many different tracks so you shouldn’t get bored.

Fresh Air And Exercise

As someone who spent his entire working life sitting at a computer keyboard getting out in the fresh air and stretching my legs is a very important part of my golf experience. This is one reason why I’ve never been a fan of buggy golf. In fact, I’ve only used the buggy when I’ve been given no other choice because they are mandatory at a particular venue.

Golf Simulator
SeRonaldinho, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Are Golf Simulators an Effective Practice Aid?

Without a doubt, golf simulators are an effective practice aid…depending on what you want to practice. If you’ve ever hit into a net, it can feel a little bit aimless at times, especially when you don’t know what your ball does past traveling a few feet. The best golf simulators are incredibly accurate and can track with pinpoint accuracy the quality of your strike, ball speed, the amount of spin imparted on the ball, the distance it travels and a whole host of other metrics that make you dizzy just thinking about them. Looking at the ball flight on the screen is never quite the same as hitting the ball on the golf course or at the driving range. 

So you get all the calculations and measurements and since you can track the flight of the ball on the simulator, you know what it was going to do had the screen not been in the way. This is a great way to help you groove your swing and work on your inconsistencies and imperfections. You aren’t burdened by time or the number of golf balls you have and can focus on making quality shot after shot. And when it comes to yardages, you can really dial them in by trying different shots.

There are, however, limitations when it comes to using simulators as a practice tool. Firstly, you strike off a mat every time. This does not give you an accurate feeling of what it will be like to hit off the turf. And if you only have one type of mat, it means you will only hit shots from a perfect, flat lie instead of on slopes, thicker rough and so on. There’s also the absence of weather conditions. There’s no worry about having to play in the wind or rain or anything like that. This does limit your experience to learn how to shape shots under different conditions.

Finally, there is an obvious difference between practicing on a golf simulator and practicing at a golf club. The focus. The intensity and focus you bring when you play golf are different from what you have on the range. And if the range receives less intense focus when you are actually there in person, then naturally a golf simulator will make you even less focused.

Are Golf Simulators Worth the Cost?

This comes down to your own personal finances and situation. If you are in a position where you can set up a golf simulator in your home then without a doubt we think it’s worth it. Golf simulators can provide hours upon hours of entertainment and help sharpen and hone your game. You can bring friends over and have competitions and can kit out your golf simulator space with an aesthetic to suit you. Golf simulators really can be a golfer’s paradise.

At the low end you could spend as little as $1000 on a launch monitor, hitting mat and netting to get yourself an effective indoor golf setup. If you have a bigger budget then the sky’s the limit! Many players have the SkyTrak system although these days the Garmin R10 might well be a better option if you have room for a radar-based monitor.

Do the Pros Use Golf Simulators?

Yes, all the top pros will use a golf simulator of some kind, either by owning or having access to one. This allows them to practice their game no matter what the weather or conditions. Perhaps the most used among professionals in TrackMan. Tiger Woods uses Full Swing while many YouTube golfers have made GCQuad their launch monitor of choice hooked up to a projector when they are home.

Can I Have an Outdoor Golf Simulator?

Definitely! There is nothing stopping you from having an outdoor simulator as long as you have the space and the money. There are other obstacles such as weather (if you live in a wet country you could end up destroying your equipment) and practicality. As such, with a lot of outdoor simulators, we see people using a net rather than a screen and instead of projecting an image using a projector, they use a monitor or television instead. This makes it more portable and simple while enjoying all the benefits of a golf simulator.

Using A Golf Simulator
Dick Johnson, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

How to Increase the Immersion and Realism in Your Golf Simulator

When using a golf simulator you want the most immersive and realistic experience possible to enhance your overall enjoyment. There are a number of things you can do to enhance immersion and realism and while it won’t be 100% like the real thing, there is a notable difference. Here is a list of things you can do to achieve this:

  • Fill your screen with the correct aspect ratio
  • Ensure you have a central aim point
  • Get a mat that accurately reflects your good and bad shots
  • A blackout curtain to cut out distractions
  • Ensure images are clear and crisp
  • Use software with various weather conditions such as wind and rain
  • Use a mat with multiple lies – fairway, light rough, thick rough

Following these tips will help you to feel a lot more connected and immersed in the simulator.

Hitting Off a Mat All the Time

If you are using a golf simulator, then you will be hitting off artificial turf. They are great for allowing you to practice on a consistent lie and work on swing changes as you try to groove in your new swing. There are, however, downsides to them as well. Thinner, harder mats increase the chance of injury to yourself and damage to your clubs. Balls tend to fly a little further off mats and be more forgiving when it comes to certain mishits like fat shots.

The good news is that mats have improved in quality over the years and can now give a more accurate representation of your ball striking while also being kinder on your body and clubs.

Pros and Cons of Simulators and Real Golf

There are definitely pros and cons of playing both simulated and real golf. While nothing will ever replace getting out in the fresh air and playing a real course, simulators are the next best thing and come with their own specific range of benefits. Here is a quick summary of the pros and cons of real golf and simulator golf.

Pros of Simulators

  • Faster rounds
  • Don’t need to leave home
  • Can play regardless of the weather
  • Can play the world’s best courses
  • Get detailed metrics for every shot
  • Great for practice

Cons of Simulators

  • Bunker play is not the same (none existent actually)
  • Don’t get a variety of shots and conditions
  • Less exercise
  • Putting isn’t as realistic
  • Cost and time of initial setup and software

Pros of Real Golf

  • Exercise
  • Socializing this
  • Fresh air
  • Stress reliever
  • Increases focus

Cons of Real Golf

  • Rounds can be very slow
  • Conditions can be very challenging – wind, rain, snow etc.
  • Can be expensive

Golf Simulator vs Reality: Summary

There are many advantages to having your own simulator if you have the space and can afford to put one together particularly if you aren’t a fan of winter golf!

You should be able to improve your golf overall and lower your handicap so why not take the plunge and get yourself a golf sim.

Similar Posts