I’m showing my age and classism a little here, but after diving into the world of Golfzon golf simulators, I couldn’t help but hear Robin Leach’s voice-over echoing in my head in his trademark snobbery, gushing about champagne wishes and caviar dreams. Of course, I’m talking about Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, that 80s TV show about excess and envy. But let’s just indulge our fantasies here for a minute: if money was no object and you could have anything your little heart desired, wouldn’t you want a home-based top-of-the-line golf simulator of your very own? Yeah, me too. And a Golfzon Vision Premium would be very high up on that wish list of systems to choose from.
Backing up one step, let’s just get this out of the way: it’s GolfzOHne, not GolfZAHN, no matter how they spell it. Their logo with the multicolored vertical lines should have dedicated one to be the diacritic over the vowel to tell you it’s a loooong “O.” End rant.
With those two fussbudget items out of the way: boy! What a cool toy! Golfzon had a lavish booth (too small a word here) showing off their line of simulators. Front and center is the soon-to-be-available 20 foot wide, curved-screen (pictured below) flagship version of what is arguably already the premier leader in the simulator wars: their Vision line. While the system already captures club and ball data with its three grades of sensors (T1, T2 and naturally, T3), a feature coming soon is body motion capture. From the G Balance force plate that measures weight distribution during your swing, to a vest to track torso movement, and finally, a glove element to track hand movement through the swing and especially through the impact zone. This will give Golfzon the ability to compete with other systems that already have that technology now.
James McDonald, the National Sales Manager for Golfzon America, gave us a quick rundown of the system and the new G Balance coming from the company.
(Apologies for the sound cutting out, there was apparently some wireless interference with the mic)
Golfzon is a publicly-traded South Korean company, founded in 2000, and the dominant leader in golf simulators across Asia, with 55,000 bays installed; according to McDonald. They have only been in the US for a few years, and he says there are about 600 bays installed in North America now. So that means while there aren’t that many places you could find one to try out in your area, they are a mature company making a stable product that will be supported well as the company establishes their presence across America. In fact, Golf Digest has given it their Best Simulator award three years running, 2017 through 2019. I don’t think their 2020 pick is out yet.
Motion capture cameras are used to record; then, the system computes club path and ball flight as all launch monitors and most simulators do one way or another. (Many use Doppler radar rather than video.) Scenes are projected on a screen that doubles as the net to trap and kill the ball. A ramped deck feeds the ball back to the hitting mat for reuse. In the premium Motion Swing Plate option, that mat is an advanced, complex work station. It has three kinds of turf as seen below; standard (doubles as putting green), rough and sand (or at least a sand analog of deeper fibers). Gravity feeds the live ball back to the under-mat space where it then is served back via the motorized tee for a fully automatic ball retrieval system. Golfzon’s clever system has the entire hitting deck motorized to allow it to be tilted in all directions to capture the reality of non-level lies fully. This is great for training purposes as well as the added realism in simulated rounds playing actual courses that aren’t tabletop smooth and flat.
The simulation is enhanced by the incredible library of real-life courses captured and rendered in amazing detail to complete the immersive experience of feeling like you are truly playing one of the hundreds of famous courses from around the world that they offer.
Example of the simulator’s graphics, courtesy of Golfzon
Golf in the Far East has taken a different path than here in the West. Courses are much more expensive to build and maintain. Especially in Japan and South Korea, courses are private, expensive and far out of town. Add the highly urbanized mega-cities that put much of the interested population out of reach of real golf courses, and you have the perfect recipe for the indoor, simulated golf experience. Add in seasonal weather and daylight considerations, and you begin to see why simulated golf has a natural market in the twenty-first century. The bulk of Golfzon’s installation base is in these entertainment-style venues. Designed to be like sports bars or, dare I say, bowling alleys, or maybe just single-purpose arcades, they’re a social space for a night of fun with a broader mix of participants and activities than just the dedicated grass-sand-and-water traditional experience.
If you think about the fun you’ve had playing any computer or console-based golf simulation, then graduating to something like the Wii with body motions added, even if still an odd simulation of body movement and pseudo-equipment, you see the natural path to where Golfzon, and many others, have taken us. So you’ve walked away from the PC, dropped the Xbox controller, tossed out the Wii and hauled your brand new set of 2020 Callaways to your rich friend’s weekend cottage with the 30 seat media room he’s just renovated to double as his Golfzon Vision Premium simulator. Of course, as a good guest and thoughtful friend, you’ve brought a case of Bud Light and a bag of Doritos Flamin’ Hot Nachos. You’re not some kind of freeloader, after all.
Having been on the Golfzon website earlier that day, you realize he didn’t cheap-out on the entry-level version for 20k, but he’s gone all out for the full Monty, and you know he’s dropped around 70 grand. You don’t mention the soon-to-be-available wide-screen curved upgrade he could have gotten, because that’s just bad manners. The rest of the gang arrives, and things get underway. After a couple of hours getting to know the system, Elon, your host, (Elon Smith, not that other one) tells you it’s time to log in and sign up to join a tournament. This is when you find out that Golfzon runs a worldwide gaming empire where members across the globe play in formal and not-so-formal competition against all comers in hundreds of events put on every day. Your eyes go wide, and the mind boggles. You’ve joined the world of Screen Golfers. Game on.
That’s right. Golfzon calls their users “screen golfers” and those troglodytes outside “field golfers.” In South Korea, about 2.6 million field golfers play 37 million rounds a year, but 3.5 million screen golfers play 70 million rounds.
Worldwide, every year fifty million people play at least one round of simulated golf. There were 55 million Golfzon rounds played last year in 6,200 venues where those 55,000 bays are installed. There are over 350 tournaments open every day worldwide. Found in 62 countries and two (count them: 2!) separate installations in Antarctica (Antarctica!!), it’s safe to say the idea has found a market.
Like any good Korean success story, if you go big, you should go bigger. Not quite a chaebol yet,1 nevertheless, Golfzon has expanded into GPS phone apps and game management equipment including a watch, laser rangefinder and the Smart Marker. This one not only functions as a ball marker but, when pressed, works with the GPS app on your phone to call out the remaining yards to the pin: *boop*, “remaining distance, 154 yards.” Worth a look.
They recently bought the Leadbetter Golf Academies and are developing other training schools across the globe, using the Golf Driving Range version of the simulator to teach the game at all levels from first-day beginners to Tour players and the ranks of golf teachers to fill those schools.
If you’re one of those blessed people living within driving distance of Stamford, Connecticut, go check out ZSTRICT at Chelsea Piers. (Sorry, you’re gonna have to figure out how to pronounce that one on your own.) It’s a full-service venue from restaurant to pub to 10 bay Golfzon installation big enough to host 150 people at a time. Owned and operated by Golfzon, it is the model for their dreams of taking America by storm. Serving customers from singletons to full venue reservations, they have you covered. Bays are rented by the hour, regardless of the number of participants (not really, max of 6 to a bay), from senior weekday specials of $39 to prime-time weekends at $70; it’s not that bad for a great time with friends and family. Or to take on the world in those online tournaments.
So forget all that nonsense I spouted about how insanely expensive owning a simulation bay of your own is, just pray Golfzon opens a ZSTRICT or golf school near you soon!
For more information visit golfzongolf.com.
I’m a retired Boomer and lifetime golfer. I never got particularly good but have always loved the game. I’ll be an occasional contributor of mostly ‘adjacent’ content. I make observations about life from the perspective of the rear-view mirror. A voice of experience more than of expertise. Decidedly the junior staff. More color commentary than product expert. I’m amazed how far the game has come while still being essentially unchanged in a hundred years: a vehicle for challenging yourself to excel, improve and practice honorable behavior. In other words, build character. Brian’s dad — Donald Burt.