Can golf simulators help your golf trip?

Golf simulators are reasonably common property in golf these days. For the lucky few, a home golf simulator can serve as both a training and entertainment tool. For the masses, there are normally simulator facilities available in most major cities. The likes of Top Golf and other interactive ranges also lend on technology to give golfers a more data-packed experience and may also allow you to play well-known courses from the comfort of your booth.

The interesting question that my buddies and I were having the other day was whether using simulators or data-driven ranges could help you prepare for a golf trip, especially one to a course where you can play a bucket list course digitally before playing it in real life?

The answers from our group were exciting in that we had golfers saying that playing a whole digitally could absolutely help them with course strategy and performance, through to others strongly suggesting a simulator would hurt them, in that they may get some false confidence from the generally perfect lies, conditions and lack of consequence from hitting a bad shot.

For clarity, reasons let me first be clear that we all agreed that a simulator, in general, can help you prepare for golf and golf trips. Hitting balls and seeing feedback on your results is never a bad thing, and as long as you know what you are working on, a simulator should help you with consistency, muscle memory, and learning how each club works for you. Furthermore, if you are experimenting with new equipment, a simulator is a great place to work out the kinks.

However, we also all agreed that simulator golf, in general, comes with a few warnings and caveats that must be understood and respected. You will never get conditions as easy as a simulator in real life. Flat lies, no real rough or inferior lies, consistent wind, perfect knowledge of yardages, and the list goes on. It is straightforward to get into a groove hitting balls and not really work on your weaknesses or challenge yourself to play different shots. Equally, it is straightforward to almost completely forget your bad shots on a simulator, creating false confidence.

These basic assumptions aside, the fascinating conversation that followed was whether playing Pebble Beach on a simulator would benefit the detriment to a golfer who was playing Pebble Beach in real life the week after. Personally, I sided with the “it can’t hurt” school of thought, but there were some exciting pros and cons given that are worth sharing.

Pros

  1. Some of the awe factor of holes could be limited if you had already been able to rehearse and develop your game plan and strategy for a given hole or opportunity. From hitting new shots you may not typically try on course in real life through to understanding where you may wish to drive the ball to give you a shot at a par 5 in real life.
  1. You would also know the spots in advance you wanted to savour and enjoy in real life. Outside of pure performance there are spots on a famous golf course that everyone knows. The 17th at Sawgrass, the 12th at Augusta or the short 7th at Pebble Beach for example. Knowing these spots in advance may allow you to fully embrace the opportunity you have when you set foot on these in real life. After all the experience in these locations is more important than the result.
  1. Ability to squeeze in more practice in non standard golfing hours. Not all your group can prepare for your trip with 36 holes a day mid week.
  1. If you are lucky enough to be able to play a simulator with the group you are also going on your trip with it can be a fun way to create banter and excitement in the build up.

Cons

  1. You only get one chance at a first impression. In conflict to the #1 pro , some of our group preferred to soak up the hole for the first time in person. Thus not overthinking the process before they even got to sample the course. I can personally understand this view in that excitement about playing a course can easily spill over into nervous tension in regards to stuffing up the one shot you get.
  1. As per the general feedback on simulators, some of our group felt a range could provide false confidence or even incorrect feedback or advice unless a simulator was not calibrated very well. Instead of approaching every shot in real life with an open text book, in theory knowing the course in a digital sense may mean you cut corners in real life.
  1. Looking after your body could be an issue. If you are not used to hitting hundreds of balls a day attacking a simulator to do this 2 weeks before your trip may be a negative. You need to build into this extra practice over time

Summary

This is a subjective topic, but my view is that playing famous courses is never bad, whether digitally or in real life. I love the build-up to a golf trip as much as the trip itself, so becoming familiar with holes or challenges ahead of me is part of that journey.

Whichever way your personal views lean on this issue, you are 100% fine with what you choose pre-trip. If you like to feel prepared, simulators may offer the best way to do this with limited time up your sleeve. Equally, if you feel hours in the simulator will lead you to feel a bit over golf in general before your real trip even starting – stay well clear.

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