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(Yonhap Feature) Latest evolution in simulated golf takes golfers half way to the course

All News 09:00 April 01, 2016

By Byun Duk-kun

SEOUL, April 1 (Yonhap) -- Advances in technology have changed and continue to change the way people live their lives, as well as how they play and enjoy sports. Golf, of course, is no exception as seen in how the sport is played.

For instance, when golf was first introduced in the 18th century, no club would have been strong or flexible enough to send a ball flying 300 or more yards.

Today, many are reaching for 400 or more on a daily basis, thanks to centuries of technological developments, though admittedly much of the most notable ones occurred in the past 20 or so years.

And what better place to see the latest changes and developments in the game of golf than in South Korea, where technological advances have even changed where the game is played.

When they were first introduced in the local market in the late 1990s, golf simulators created a new place to be for many golf fans here, whose lack of time and money outweighed their love for the sport.

Screen golf changed where the game is played, with literally millions flocking to small rooms instead of prestigious golf clubs to swing their clubs.

And now, the evolution of screen golf is again changing where people go to play golf -- indoor screen golf clubs.

Unlike conventional screen golf clubs where golfers hit their balls toward a soft screen over a wall that is no more than a few meters away from them, indoor or course screen golf clubs are built on indoor driving ranges, allowing golfers to see the actual flight of their balls, often up to as far as they go.

"More and more people seem to prefer indoor screen golf as it allows them to see the actual flight and trajectory of their balls," says Yoon Hee-jeong, a manager at an indoor screen golf club in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province.

"People also seem to prefer indoor screen golf over indoor driving ranges because it is much more fun to play a game while practicing at the same time," she said.

For weekend golfers, such as Kim Deok-sang from Seongnam in Gyeonggi Province, screen golf is often not a choice but the only option.

"Screen golf is better than going out to the course at least in terms of time and money required. And indoor screen golf is way better than conventional screen golf because the sheer expanse of the open space in front of you almost makes you feel like you are playing out on the course," Kim said.

The 43-year-old says he still prefers going out to the golf course whenever time and money allows "because golf really is about being out there."

"But there are times when I will voluntarily visit a screen golf club even by myself, and they are when I am about to play at a golf course that I have never played before," he said. "It allows me to practice before a game, and I find screen golf very accurate in terms of course details, sometimes down to the very location of a certain rock or a tree at an actual golf course, and that really helps prepare for a real game."

The accuracy of a simulated game may had been what kept many golfers and would-be golfers away from screen golf cafes in the early stages.

At first, those who like to consider themselves serious or real golfers treated screen golf as nothing but a video game that uses real golf clubs and balls.

Now, the latest golf simulators use two advanced sensors to detect and analyze all aspects of a swing from the club face and speed to ball spin and launch angles that enable the system to measure where the ball would have gone in real life with near perfect accuracy, according to Son Jang-soon, head of the business planning department at Golfzon Co., supposedly one of the world's largest suppliers of golf simulators with over 25,000 systems sold in 24 countries as of end-2015.

"Screen golf continues to be a great option for those who love golf but do not have the money or time to play on the course," Son said.

Golf had always been and still is considered an expensive sport in the country where a membership at a private golf club costs as much as 1 billion won (US$860,000). Also for weekend golfers, a round of golf can easily cost up to $300 per person, while it also requires hours of driving.

Such a high cost to play golf apparently helped boost the popularity of screen golf, seemingly overnight, according to Son.

He, however, claims screen golf is now helping the whole golf industry grow, including the more expensive golf course industry.

"Screen golf has become a great entry point for new golfers as it allows them to practice or just try out golf at a place that is most convenient for them and at a fraction of cost it takes to play on the course. And many of them eventually go out to play on the actual course," he said in a telephone interview with Yonhap News Agency.

The Korea Golf Association (KGA) agrees screen golf helped increase the pie for all.

In just seven short-years, the number of South Koreans who have experienced or played golf more than doubled from 2.75 million in 2007 to 6.19 million in 2014, according to an official from the KGA.

"There simply is no way that some 470-odd golf courses currently in business here can accommodate such a large number of golfers," the official said, while speaking on condition of anonymity.

Son from Golfzon says 5,800 screen golf clubs in the country can, with over 2.5 million people enjoying the game in small rooms or driving ranges equipped with golf simulators in 2015 alone.


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