PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club



Winter Activities

6 reasons why simulator golf just doesn't scratch the itch

February 23, 2023
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Ethan Miller

Last week, I received a text from an excited friend who informed me that a new golf simulator space had just opened in the lovely little New Jersey town he lives in. Days later, he sent a video of the place, having just checked it out for the first time. The best I could do each time was offer up a pair of half-hearted “amazing” and “so cool” responses back.

An invite to the new space will follow soon, but there’s a decent chance I turn it down or make up some “I’m busy” excuse while I rewatch “The Sopranos” for the 10th time on my couch. The thing is, the simulator life just doesn’t do it for me. It doesn’t scratch my golfing itch.

To be clear, I think they are great for the game. Anything that gets the casuals all jazzed up to play in the cold winter months is a net positive. But for me, a diehard who has played thousands of rounds in my life and knows the only real juice comes outside on the real course, simulator golf ain’t it. Here are six reasons why that is.

It’s indoors

Captain Obvious checking in here. As someone who lives in the Northeast, you’d think I’d do anything to get some hacks in while going through the hell that is February in New Jersey. But for many of us, half the reason we play is to get out of the house and soak in some of that sweet Vitamin D. The fresh air, the birds chirping, the leaves on the trees blowing in the breeze. It’s a legitimate drug. Going from your house to another indoor space just doesn’t give you that same high. And I’m sorry, but playing virtual Pebble Beach has about 1/10th of the excitement level of playing actual Pebble Beach, and that’s being generous.

False hope

Again, I want to be clear, taking swings and making contact with a golf ball and interacting with the (synthetic) turf is ultimately a good thing. But I don’t want to hear that you shot 78 by hitting into a screen. I don’t care that you were bombing it 300 yards by swinging with reckless abandon because there are no real consequences (more on this in a second). I definitely do not want to hear that you “figured something out” during a work happy hour. It’s not real life. It’s good to get the body moving and to feel something, but there’s a reason Ben Hogan said you have to dig it out of the dirt. Not out of the fake grass tucked away in an apartment building somewhere in Manhattan. And no, you did not make a real hole-in-one if it came on a simulator. The fact that’s ever even a discussion is downright sickening.

No punishment

Some might say the fact there are no consequences in simulator golf is its greatest quality. I think it’s its worst. Part of the beauty of real golf is chasing your ball around. That split second of “oh sh-t, that’s headed toward the woods…GET LUCKY.” The search for your golf ball produces anxiety levels that the best Tarantino movie couldn’t even dream of producing. In a simulator, it just teleports you from tee box to next shot to next shot to green. Where’s the suspense in that? Oh, you hit it OB? Who cares, it’s not real life anyway. Go ahead and hit the mulligan button and order another beer.

Slow play much?

In real golf, if you’re playing with the right people, everybody gets to and from their shots quickly and plays ready golf. In the simulator world, playing with a foursome is a form of torture. I’m not suggesting it’s longer than a real round, which requires walking or riding to everyone’s ball and waiting on groups ahead, but what you thought would be a fast and fun exercise can often become a slog with everyone swapping in and out of the bay and debating what club they are going to hit their next fake shot with. Not to mention the fact that sometimes people just disappear when it’s their turn. Where’s Jeff? Oh, he’s in the bathroom, gotta wait. Where’s Suzy? She’s grabbing drinks for us, gotta wait. Did Bill leave? No, he’s just taking a call outside, gotta wait. This golf round you thought you were coming to play is now just a social event you’re being held hostage at.

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Erick W. Rasco

The putting and chipping stinks

This was the easy one, and yes I am aware some top-of-the-line simulators have improved in this area. But nothing can replicate a truly delicate chip off a tight lie or a slick right-to-left five-footer for a crucial par. And you certainly aren’t ever hitting anything close to a real bunker shot in the virtual world. So what you’re telling me is, arguably the hardest part of the game for amateurs—chipping and putting—doesn’t really matter on a simulator. Gotcha. Might as well have gone to a heated range and banged a bucket of 150 balls instead.

Crappy camaraderie

This kind of goes hand in hand with the slow play one. Half the time most in the group will be on their phones, getting drinks, chatting, and just not paying attention to the actual golf entirely. That’s fine. Again, it’s usually a social event. But a great day of golf usually involves three of your best pals spending some quality time together and learning about how you all handle the good, bad and ugly that real golf produces in droves. It’s about grabbing a beer afterward and recapping how the 83 you shot definitely could have been a 76 with a few better bounces. It’s about talking smack and making big putts and pulling off clutch sideways punch outs and arguing over which guy is sandbagging because he’s playing out of his mind today. There’s nothing simulator golf can do to replicate any of that, which is why I almost prefer waiting out the winter and teeing it up on that first warm day in March. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say.