10 Tips to GO LOW INDOORS embraCe and exploit virtual golf differences
by brian borichevsky
ROK Golf - Founder & CEO (Outdoor Index 9.9 / Indoor Index +3 / Trackman Virtual Rounds Played = 100+)
ROK (verb): To excel at a task or challenge; to maximize performance and output.
Don't just play golf... ROK Golf! You may have heard or seen as part of our branding.
But how does someone ROK Virtual Golf?
I am glad you asked as this article is aimed at giving you the formula to do exactly that!
To excel in any contest, you must understand the arena in which the contest will be conducted.
The outdoor golf game is played on an outdoor course and thereby is governed by that construct which includes trees, rocks, long grass, short grass, thick grass, hard ground, soft ground, mud, sand, water, hills, wind, weather and so on.
When playing outdoors, the golfer must deal with these factors as it relates to golf, strategy, the golf swing and the specific golf shot they are about to attempt.
A bush may be hindering your back swing or follow through.
A tree may be in your line and force you to play around it.
Long grass may wrap around the hosel of your club.
You risk losing golf balls and taking severe penalties in deep rough or long grass.
You start the round at 45 degrees and 15 mph winds which change to 70 degrees and calm at the turn making your 7-iron carry 12 yards further because you are warm and your club head speed went up 5 mph.
Variability makes outdoor golf fun and challenging... and also makes it a very different animalthan virtual golf. So how does one master the indoor game?
Understand the construct, avoid the differences that create risk and exploit the differences that give you an advantage.
Virtual Golf Tip #1 - Understand the Tools and USE THEM
The Difference: The indoor world has tools that do not exist in the outdoor game. Depending on the platform these tools vary but likely include a fly-over, green zoom, green grid, mini-map and on course practice. All things you don't get on the course. Each of these can be used to help you plan your shot and pick the proper club / swing.
The Adjustment: Learn the tools for the platform you are playing on and the edge they give you... and use them. Pretty simple. The mini-map can tell you exactly how far you are to trees, bunkers, hazards along with elevation. The green grid shows you if you are chipping up hill or down hill and what the break may be. When you get lazy and don't use these tools, you will not get the result you want. Use these tools to pick better clubs, lines and formulate a better strategy before you tee off!
Virtual Golf Tip #2 - Understand the Conditions
The Difference: In the real golf world, you must decide the impact of critical variables and apply those to club / shot selection and target. Wind, lie and turf conditions are the main factors outside. Inside, those factors are provided clearly and the hitting surface is always the same. Your lie will give you % power and % spin and wind is clearly displayed and stays fairly constant in most settings. If you know how much the wind impacts your shot (see Tip #7 below) it makes club selection very easy.
The Adjustment: Every shot take care to note the lie and wind, don't get lazy. The wind tends have more impact than you think, and ignoring it leads to a flurry of missed greens or frustration such as "I hit that further".
Virtual Golf Tip #3 - Trees are WORSE in Virtual Golf... Avoid Them!
The Difference: In virtual golf trees are much more dangerous than in real golf. Why? In real golf you can see the trees and have a good understanding if you can get around / through the obstruction or not. In virtual golf, you can see a representation of a tree but you don't know if it is "exactly" where it shows on the screen. Many times you will hit a good "safe" punch that will violently ricochet and get you deeper in trouble or think you hit the perfect bender around a tree only to have it hit and fall short. Unfortunately there is no real cure for this in the virtual golf world. The gaming engines will never handle this perfectly. But embrace that flaw, don't fight it! The game can't make the trees hollow, so they must have a "density" and randomize a reaction when you hit one. This lack of predictability makes trees dangerous and thereby it will always be a increased risk in the virtual world. So how do we deal with that?
The Adjustment: Applying simple logic... avoid the trees! Trees in virtual golf can be a one or two shot penalty so modify your shot strategy to avoid trees by changing your target or hitting clubs you know you can get on target. When you play courses with big or thick trees (Innisbrook, Bethesda, Muirfield, Sedgefield, etc.) you must plan out your shot and try to avoid the trees. If you do get in the trees, but your hero costume aside and take your medicine.
Tip #4 - Flat Bunkers = Fairway
The Difference: In virtual golf you obviously do not have to hit out sand; something that vexes the vast majority of golfers. Pros don't mind sand at all, because they strike the ball solidly 99.9% of the time making fairway bunkers no problem (even preferred sometimes) and they would much rather to be in a perfectly raked green side bunker than rough. Note: If the majority of golfers had the same bunker conditions as the pros... we would likely not be as vexed but alas... we have to deal with the people who leave footprints and don't rake. The penalty in virtual golf for sand is usually minor but always a basic adjustment to spin and power, something easily managed if you pay attention. The penalty for fairway bunkers is almost zero making them fairways in essence.
The Adjustment: Don't fear flat bunkers, but avoid pot bunkers like the plague (more on that later). Flat bunkers are not a problem at all in virtual golf and often better than the rough or deep rough around them. Occasionally you get a "plugged" lie when you fly a ball directly into a bunker but that is rare in fairways and manageable around the greens. Do not worry if you have flat bunkers in your target area never bring trees or hazards into play to avoid benign bunkers. The only issue with bunkers is the catching the lip which leads into our next tip...
Tip #5 - Avoid Pot Bunkers at ALL COSTS
The Difference: There isn't really one. Pot bunkers are devastating in real golf and they are devastating in virtual golf.
The Adjustment: Take advantage of the virtual golf environment to know exactly where they are so you can avoid them. In virtual golf it is easier to see the hole you are playing with the fly over and mini-map. USE THOSE TOOLS! The mini map shows exactly where the pot bunkers are so club accordingly to avoid them. To do this, you must know how far your clubs go (see Tip #7). The long fescue or bushes are far better than a pot bunker which is often a 2 shot penalty (1 when you try to get it out and fail, then the second to play out backwards like you should have done the first time). Lastly, practice your flop shots in on-course practice so you know when you can, and cannot get out of a pot bunker (it comes in handy other times as well).
Tip #6 - Don't Fear The Long Grass
The Difference: Huge. Long grass is big trouble on a real golf course. Areas with long grass have a nasty habit of making golf balls disappear (remember... no lost balls in virtual golf) and if you are lucky enough to find your ball it is very difficult to hit a shot out of the long grass as it wraps around your shaft during your swing. For these reasons, long grass is one of the most dangerous areas on a real golf course... but not in virtual golf!
The Adjustment: Long grass in virtual gives you a benign power and spin deduction. No lost balls, no "swing and a miss", no grass wrapping around your club. Therefore, play away from dangerous virtual golf areas (pot bunkers, trees, hazards, OB) and error to the side of the long grass. Sometimes, the long grass can even give you a better angle at pins or give you a landing area to get closer to the green which gives you a better chance to score. Long grass one of the major "unrealistic" aspects of indoor golf but instead of complaining about it... exploit it and go low!
Tip #7 - Know Your Numbers with On-Course Practice
The Difference: This more than any other tip, will have the greatest impact to your virtual game. When you warm up before a outdoor round you are preparing in one condition. One wind direction and one temperature. Unless you are a PGA Tour Pro or belong to a very nice country club, you are also warming up with golf balls that are NOT close to what you will play during your round. Virtual Golf On Course practice enables you to warm up in the exact conditions of your entire round... take advantage of that to get dialed-in. You can't have good numbers if you don't know your numbers! The Adjustment: Before you play a round use this process to get dialed in with on-course practice.
Write the course, settings and your clubs on the top of the form.
Load the course with the green / fairway and wind settings for your round (Trackman most wind settings vary the wind by 4-6 mph in typical settings). Set the wind to the average wind power for that setting.
Find a flat level fairway and place the ball so you have a good 220 yards or more.
Hit all you even irons, downwind and record the carry, total and club head speed (when landing on green for mid and low irons, fairway for long irons) when you make a good swing.
Hit all your wedges into the green and record carry / total / club head speed.
Go to the tee
Hit your woods downwind and record carry / total / club head speed.
Flip the wind around so you are dead into it.
Hit all your woods against the wind and record carry / total / club head speed.
Move back to fairway.
Hit all your odd irons against the wind and record the carry / total / club head speed.
Hit all your wedgesagainst the wind into the green and record carry / total / club head speed.
Why record club head speed? So next time you play this course, you have this data saved and can reference it to see. If you club head speeds are the same, you can use the sheet as is, if they are higher or lower you can make minor adjustments.
This process should take about 10 minutes.
You can get as detailed as you want in this exercise (hit some cross wind, vary tee height to maximize driver distance, practice different elevations, etc), but the concept is the same... get your numbers.
Everyone complains that the "yardages are different than when I play 'real' golf". Which is silly because every time they play outside their numbers are different whether they acknowledge that or not and no one knows exactly what the wind will do, not even pros. In virtual golf, you can know... so take advantage of that! Remember... it is not about the numbers being the same as outside, it is knowing what the numbers are wherever you are playing.
Tip #8 - Get Comfortable Chipping
The Difference: Substantial... sort of. Chipping is likely the most difficult adjustment to the indoor golf arena. However, once you figure it out, chipping inside is easy and helps your outdoor game. Most golfers have no idea how far they are hitting chips and how much "power" went into that shot whereas inside, those numbers are critical. Outside most amateurs are not using distances around the greens, they are using "feel" which is possible on the course but difficult inside. Ask yourself, how often to you shoot the flag with a chip or shot inside of 50 yards? Likely... rarely. And if you were given a test of how far you were from pins... you would not do well. The first indoor chip a new player hits usually goes 2 or 3 times further than they want... and is then usually followed by a "no way". Bad news, it is much more accurate than you think.
The Similarity: There is some. Just like real golf you must hit "feel" shots in virtual golf when you are presented with a difficult chip such chipping up a steep face / front to an elevated green, chipping to a tight downhill pin or chipping over a ridge. Just like real golf, you must understand what the slope is where you want the ball to land and how it will react. And just like real golf, the only way to get good at this is to is practice.
The Adjustment: Stock flat chips inside are about the numbers (distance, elevation, club speed) and repeating the same swing. Basic flat chips indoors are very mechanical and formula based. Eventually you will get up and down 95% of the time on "basic" chips inside of 60' and start holing out 30% in the 15' - 25' range. Eventually, you will root for the ball to get into the fringe so you have a chance at the chip in vs. an auto 2-putt. My advice for standard chips is to use the same club (I use a 54 degree wedge) and same setup / swing to produce a consistent trajectory. Then use the screen as a guide. If you land the ball 2' in-front of the screen, how far does it roll out, if you land it at the screen, if you land it 1' up on the screen, and so on. Get dialed in for 20', 30', 40', 50' and 60'. That covers the majority of chips you will hit. Make adjustments for hitting chips up or down hill, in different stimps, etc. and you will shave tons of strokes off your score!
Tip #9 - Know Where to Miss
The Difference: None really. Elite golfers, aided by their caddie, know where to miss and where not to miss. Put in the work to know what shots in virtual golf are extremely difficult and don't put yourself in those positions.
The Adjustment: This ties into other tips above. Use the tools available (mini-map and fly-over) to plan your shots and avoid danger. Just like real golf, the more you play a course the more you will learn on where the difficult areas are and start to naturally avoid them.
Tip #10 - Good Numbers = Birdies
The Difference: Again, not much. This is one area where virtual golf can really impact your green grass game. In virtual golf if you follow the above plan you will know your numbers and very quickly realize that it is easier to get the ball in the magic 10' circle with comfortable distances than it is with uncomfortable shorter numbers. Just like real golf, 30 - 70 yard shots are very tricky for most golfers. In virtual golf, those shots are even harder. You will have tighter groups from 90 yards than 50 yards with more control. Use that and do not always bang it as close as possible.
The Adjustment: Not much except to use the tools available and the methods above to put yourself in scoring positions with scoring clubs. Spend time in the on-course practice mode and really work on your wedge game. In the indoor world, you can get tons of wedge practice in a short time... take advantage of that.
Indoor virtual golf is not the same as playing outside and understanding the differences is the key to being successful inside. To shoot a good number inside or out you must be able to execute the shots. A bad swing inside gives you a bad result. Rarely inside do you get a birdie through luck.
Inside or out, getting the ball inside that 10' circle is difficult. Since you never get to drop a 25' bomb inside, you MUST be a sharp with your scoring irons. Likewise, because you never miss a 8' putt or 3' from 40'... you should score better inside.
Take advantage of the tips above and you will start seeing a huge difference in the indoor game.
supplementing not replacing what indoor golf brings to the golf world
FOUNDER & CEO - ROK GOLF
Recently golf digest added a post on Instagram (here) highlighting the popularity of "screen golf" in S. Korea. The comments had an overarching negativity that was surprising. Paraphrasing a few:
Virtual golf is not 'real' golf.
Virtual golf cannot replace 'real' golf.
Who would ever play this over going to the course.
Stop trying to promote this futuristic stuff, leave it be.
Side Note: I couldn't help but imagine what if the attitude in the last comment was applied to... say... flight simulators which have helped thousands of pilots practice and train safely improving their overall skills so that we, the passengers, are in good hands when something goes wrong in the air. Thinking more about this comparison, there are many parallels between virtual golf and flight simulators... I will have to write a blog on that later!
Being a new business owner in the indoor golf industry I was alarmed, shocked and vexed by the animus expressed in the comments on the Golf Digest post.
I did provide my own reply, however finding a comment in the vast ocean of replies on an Instagram post is near impossible (and a flaw in the Instagram model in my opinion). So here is my comment (with a few grammatical corrections):
rokgolf: Indoor golf is not, and never will be a replacement for outdoor golf. However, indoor golf can offer opportunities outdoor golf simply cannot. At ROK Golf we have customers play 36 holes at lunch, play 4 rounds in 3 hours, experiment with fun 2 or 3-club challenges on different course setups, play St. Andrew's and Muirfield Village in the same day; all in rain or shine, night or day, hot or cold. Indoor golf also presents incredible opportunity for instructors to expand their capacity by removing weather, light and location barriers. The modern golfer has a difficult time finding 6 hours to play a full outdoor round and generally does not enjoy going out of their way to make it to a range only to hit crappy golf balls in variable conditions. Indoor golf provides a platform to play more golf, more frequently, in smaller more manageable chunks of time, with superior technology.
If given the opportunity to respond en mas to those who posted negative comments similar to "Virtual Golf will never replace 'real' golf" I would say
"I agree!" or "You are absolutely correct!"
I would then ask... "But, who says virtual golf is trying to be, or replace, 'real' golf?"
To the others that questioned why anyone would play virtual golf, I would simply ask "Have you tried it?"
My guess would be that those in the "why would you ever play indoor golf" camp have never practiced in a quality indoor facility and almost certainly have never played a virtual round on one of the elite indoor simulators such as Trackman's new Virtual Golf released in April 2018.
Yes, playing golf on a outdoor course is different than playing on a simulator indoors.
Yes, practicing golf outdoor on a range is different that practicing indoors on simulator.
But... being different does not make one better or worse. Each has benefits and drawbacks.
The golf community should, and will, be excited about the growth of the indoor golf industry as they gain understanding and experience with the indoor game.
When players embrace and exploit the advantages of indoor, instead of being frustrated that it is not outdoor, they will start to see why this industry is only getting bigger and more popular because indoor golf is a great way for golfers to get BETTER and HAVE FUN!
So what are some of the advantages of indoor golf?
Time - With indoor golf, 15 minutes is all you need to have a valuable session and keep the edge sharp. Experienced indoor players can play 18 holes in 30 minutes. The minimal time to play makes playing fun and valuable challenges like "play 18 holes with only 3 clubs" more practical.
Weather - It is always 70 degrees and perfect inside. No frost delay's, no 90 degree rule, no cart path only, no range being closed, no struggling to swing when you are freezing cold, no getting burnt to a crisp and almost passing out from heat stroke in a humid 100 degree August day. This also means you can play 18 and not get incredibly sweaty. 18 at lunch anyone?
Daylight - Not a problem inside. Get out of the office late... no problem. Don't worry about running out of light on 16 or figuring out how to get 18 in before lunch in the summer. Indoor golf expandes the window in which golfers can play or practice which promotes more golf!
Feedback / Data - Likely the biggest advantage inside... every swing provides you data and answers to confirm the good and highlight the bad. At ROK Golf our Trackman launch monitors provide what we like to call the "unvarnished truth" about a swing. This is the information that golfers need to improve. Metrics such as swing path, face-to-path, spin axis, spin loft, etc. along with powerful videos give you reality. It is one thing to "feel" something in your swing, it is incredibly more powerful to have those "feels" backed by data.
** Yes, you can get this feedback outside if you are fortunate enough to own launch monitor or can afford a lesson with a pro who has one... but that is the minority of golfers.
Variety - In the 'real' golf world it is very hard to play Muirfield Village in Ohio and then go right over and tee it up at St. Andrews in Scotland. Or play a course in soft wet calm conditions and then turn around and play it is hard dry windy conditions to compare. You cannot move back and forth from the range to the course or move around on the course and hit the same shot over and over at a green grass facility (the other players will not be happy as you drop 15 balls in the middle of the fairway to practice a specific shot).
Environmental Control - A scientific experiment requires a control. A baseline set of data collected in known conditions to which other data with altered variables can be compared. "How long do you hit your 7-Iron?" I purposely ask my customers. The reply is almost some yardage. "About 170" they will say. Then I will ask "Carry or total? Hitting into a hard fairway or soft green? Is that hitting to a target at the same elevation or up/down hill? Is that when it is 100 degrees or 50 degrees? Is that down wind or into the wind? Was your lie flat or on a hill?" Each condition is a variable that changes how far you will hit a ball. So do you really know? Outside, those variables change and make it impossible to know your numbers. Inside they are all constant. This allows you to truly work off of a solid baseline of data collected in a controlled environment.
Equipment / Conditions Control: Did that ball go right b/c of my swing, or the wind, or was there a chunk of mud on the ball? When you go to a typical range... what kind of golf balls do you hit? Beat up, cut almost smooth rock hard practice balls frequently covered in sand / dirt. How do they compare to your ProV1's or TP5's? How about the turf conditions on the range... are they just like the fairways on the course? If you are confined to the mats... how are they? At ROK Golf you play with your preferred balls, your clubs, in the same exact conditions enabling you to focus on the details of your swing and truly compare any changes.
We will be posting more blogs that deep dive into each of these areas and more, but this hopefully gives you the idea.