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Game Improvement: How to Build Your Own Golf Simulator

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Lining it up indoors. (MATT GAJTKA/PGN)

JENISON, Mich. — While our family spent almost our entire summer right here in Pittsburgh, we did manage to get away for bookend vacations to my wife Jillian’s native West Michigan to help break up the COVID-19 Madness.

Fitting, then, in a summer when Pittsburgh Golf Now was born, that I essentially started it and ended it in one of the best states for golf in the U.S.

But if you asked me where I hit the most shots on those twin trips up north, my answer would be Todd Blouw’s garage.

Todd is my brother-in-law, one of the most pleasant people to be around that I’ve encountered in my life. And I don’t just say that because he has constructed a fully-functioning golf simulator in the far-left stall of his three-car garage … but it doesn’t exactly hurt his cause, either.

In the proud Dutch tradition of hunting for bargains, Todd managed to put this setup together at right around $3,000. Yeah, it’s a serious investment, but that number surprised me in its modesty. It really is amazing how accessible some of this technology is.

Of course, the pièce de résistance in this case is the launch monitor.

Todd went through a licensed SkyTrak dealer from Texas called Gung Ho Golf to acquire the all-important all-seeing eye. Via Gung Ho, Todd got the intel that SkyTrak monitors tend to go on sale two or three times per year, dropping its price from $2,000 to $1,700.

That $300 discount is a nice start, with nearly all the same features of SkyTrak’s new competitor in the affordable consumer launch monitor business, Mevo+.

The biggest drawback for me is that SkyTrak merely estimates the user’s clubhead and ‘smash factor’ impact efficiency, but getting accurate ball speed and spin measurements is enough to evaluate (and improve) the state of your swing. Along with SkyTrak’s included driving-range application, you have the necessary tools at your disposal.

From there, the process rolls downhill. From my experience swinging at Todd’s place — compared to my own backyard ‘training facility’ — investing in a good mat is right up there in terms of priority. From the looks of things, a reasonably heavy-duty mat can go for as little as a couple hundred bucks.

In terms of the space you need, the garage has an 11-foot ceiling, but you might be able to get away with a little lower. The surface area is about 15-by-15 feet; again, there’s some wiggle room here. Your mileage may vary depending on how many people you want to accommodate and whether this is a TopGolf-like party room or just a place to get some swings in.

Throw in a reliable net and projection screen and we’re working our way toward that $3,000 mark. My brother-in-law picked up a lightly-used projector to cap off the hardware ensemble last winter, setting himself up for a roaring start to the 2020 golf season.

As soon as courses opened, that is. Remember, he lives in Michigan, so it’s not like he was playing in February or early March. What a year to have a backup option.

(Note: You don’t actually need to get a projector or a screen, since you could just watch your ball flight on the laptop you connect to the launch monitor. It’s not nearly as fun that way, but that’s another method to shave some dollars off the expenditure.)

Along those lines, I’ve talked to multiple top-level players this year about how they’ve developed their games and it seems like all of them have access to a launch monitor of some sort, if not a full-on indoor simulator setup. It’s no secret that it’s tough to get enough quality reps in this part of the country, so you’d better make the most of them.

While I haven’t quite gotten to the point where I can start thinking about buying a SkyTrak or something like it, I feel like every one shot hit on a simulator is worth two or three on your typical practice range. Knowing the ballistic data like speed and spin is everything, because that’s the true measure of swing performance.

You might think you’re hitting the ball better, but if the numbers don’t agree, then you’re just fooling yourself. More pertinently, you’re also delaying your route to improvement.

If there’s something I’ve taken away from the early days of Pittsburgh Golf Now, it’s that you’ve got to expose your game to the light in order to patch up those weaknesses. It can be painful, but at least that knowledge can direct your paths.

And when that process of discovery includes ‘playing’ some of the world’s best courses — so far at Todd’s place I’ve navigated St Andrews, Augusta National and Winged Foot on his The Golf Club 2019 software — then there’s even less of an excuse to not seek out your launch data.

The truth will not only set you free, but it’s also a lot of fun to find.

A 15-year veteran of sports media, Matt Gajtka (GITE-kah) is the founding editor of PGN. Matt is a lifelong golfer with a passion for all aspects of the sport, from technique to courses to competition. His experience ranges from reporting on Pittsburgh's major-league beats, to broadcasting a variety of sports, to public relations, multimedia production and social media.

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