If you’re among the many American golfers who have tried getting tee times since the pandemic started, you’ve probably noticed the availability of an open first tee box getting more scarce. Not only has golf proven to be an ideal social-distancing activity. But even since mandates have lifted, people who took to the game during the past two years have stuck around. And avid golfers also continue flocking to the course. That’s made remaining tee times a hot commodity. Plus, it’s driven overflow golfers to indoor golf centers.
Indoor golf – in which golfers can play renowned courses on simulator screens – have popped up in bars, restaurants, hotels, and stand-alone facilities. Take Carlsbad, Calif. – which is coined the golf equipment capital because it’s where many golf equipment manufacturers are headquartered (ever since Ely Callaway moved to town back in the early 1990s). In Carlsbad, sports bar/restaurant Draft Republic bordering I-5 features three simulators. Five minutes away, the Topgolf Swing Suite at the Park Hyatt Aviara offers two hitting bays. Nearby, the headquarters of Full Swing Golf sports several hitting bays that can be rented out for private events. A 3-iron from there, shaft maker Fujikura is outfitted with a super high-tech hitting bay for private testing. Across the street, Cobra has two as well. And roughly another mile inland within an upscale strip mall lies the KBS Experience, which is an indoor fitting center with simulators for that shaft company’s customers. And I’m sure many if not all of the other equipment companies in the city have them for internal equipment testing, as well. Not to mention various golf shops.
Thing is, it’s become increasingly difficult to book simulator (often called “sim”) time in perpetually sunny-and-warm Carlsbad, let alone at public facilities all across the country – largely a by-product of real outdoor tee-times being scooped up. Private clubs are often adding them as amenities for members who can play during inclement weather, as well. As are businesses for their employees. And wealthier people for their homes. Demand has gained traction, according to experts.
“There’s no doubt indoor golf has become huge,” says Trevor Faust, president of Ace Indoor Golf, a Toledo, Ohio-based builder, designer and installer of golf simulator hardware and technology. “Twenty years ago, I would not have entirely trusted full indoor training all winter long. Whereas nowadays, I feel comfortable practicing inside. With today’s better technologies, you can practice all winter long and see tangible results once summer rolls around. That’s why more indoor golf centers are having tremendous success. If I get fitted for a driver, I’m gonna want to use some type of technology to verify the fitting, and that technology’s what’s allowing indoor golf to be more commonly accepted. Indoor screen golf has had tremendous success in Asia, and it’s been seeing more success recently here in North America.”
X-Golf America is one of several indoor golf chains across America. It currently has 57 indoor golf locations and another 34 coming soon in the U.S. and Canada. Each site typically has seven hitting bays, a bar and food service – kind of like a mini-bowling alley for golf. And they’ve collectively seen an uptick in business this past year. “We’re seeing more newcomers come in,” says Ryan D’Arcy, president and CEO of the chain that’s based in Manhattan Beach, Calif. “But one trend we’re definitely seeing is people coming back to golf. They’ve put their clubs in storage for the past seven years, got busy, and now they’re returning.” Each round typically takes maybe an hour per person to play. A foursome will obviously take longer. But X-Golf charges between $35 and $55 per hour, per group – there’s peak and off-peak pricing. Weeknight leagues are packed, say officials. “Mornings are generally older crowds,” says D’Arcy. “As the day progresses, the demographics consistently shift to a younger client. We even adjust the music play and volume, based on who’s there. It becomes a different environment at night than in the morning.”
Is indoor golf a replacement for real outdoor golf? Not at all. There’s no walking hills, carrying a bag, breathing in fresh air, or seeing the real flight of your shots. But it still offers many of the social aspects – and the ability to get your swings in. And in many cases, avid golfers can see their swing speed and ball velocity numbers in real-time as they take shots – and work on various parts of their game. Regardless of how you want to enjoy your time in a sim, it’s much more viable than the real thing when it’s raining, snowing or dark outside. Or when you just can’t score a tee time.