Whack! You’ve driven a stunning shot down the fairway on the first hole at the legendary Pebble Beach golf course in California – scene of many PGA tournaments contested by golfing greats.
But this is virtual golf, and in reality you are in the pleasant, modern surroundings of Global Golf off Hewlett’s Road in Mount Maunganui, where you can play on some of the world’s most famous courses, including St Andrews and Carnoustie in Scotland. It’s all done with the aid of a clever computer programme that accurately simulates no less than 80 courses with the aid of GPS, high-definition photographic images.
The venture is a fresh, exciting addition to Tauranga’s indoor entertainment scene, which has lacked choice. The golf simulator is the only one its kind in the Bay of Plenty, and only one of two in New Zealand. Global Golf, pleasingly, caters to both right and left handers with a rack of quality clubs to choose from before you amble into one of four state of the art booths, equipped with a screen on the back wall (there’s a ‘real’ putting green as well).
Demonstrating the driving range mode, Graeme Hills, who’s played the game since his teens, uses a driver to belt an impressive 240 metre shot – the ball travelling at 160 kms per hour, and the club swinging at 120 kms. The computer tells you all this right after your shot. In fact, the computer serves up all sorts of data - from your swing speed, swing plane, to the angle of attack on the ball. And all this information is worked out in the blink of an eye, he says.
This driving range game mode we are using is great to self-analyse your game, and find fault within your swing, with all the 'analytical feedback.' But if your eyes glaze over at the thought of all this data, don’t be put off. I can attest that it’s nicely different fun to follow your ball as it hurtles through the air over the greens, and land (sort of) on course, to be told how far it is to the green.
Graeme Hills confirms that Global Golf has had as much appeal to non-golfers, as the serious players. He reckons that customers, in the couple of months they’ve been operating have been have been a 50:50 mix. It’s a fairly egalitarian game in New Zealand, he explains, much more so than the elitist sport it is in Europe or possibly even the United States.'Everybody at some stage will go and have a thrash even if it’s only once a year. Pop down to Otumoetai and pay $20 to have your game – golf here is “affordable and accessible.'
Feedback from the first customers has been pleasing, says Graeme, everybody really positive. And no wonder when 'you can come down and have a hit, and not be frustrated by scratching around the bushes looking for your ball, because the computer will always find it for you.'
Graeme Hills runs the venture with wife Sharleen, the pair each working a morning or afternoon shift, so that they share looking after pre-schoolers. They hit on the idea for the virtual golf centre during a 15 month stint in the U.K. Attending a golf show, they saw the simulators and thought 'yeah, we can sling a few of these together in a bar format,' says Graeme. They found three or four operating in London, 'so I had a squizz at those first.'
The pair selected their computer software from Sports-Coach Systems in England, a company that’s been running since 1992 with a lot of experience behind it, including 80 golf courses 'mapped out.'
The GPS golf simulation software creates golf courses using GPS data or photographs and plans. The course is on a canvas screen in front of you, and sensors focused on the artificial grass hitting area, record the speed of the ball and all the other data. An appealing feature is ‘flying with the ball:’ the screen provides golfers with the experience of flying through the air with the ball, until it lands on the ground, and rolls along to its final resting place.
You can hire a booth out, for up to four players, for just $50 an hour during the day, or $60 in the evening, which includes the use of excellent clubs. That works out at $15 a head for an hour of golf, 'pretty cost effective against ten pin bowling for example,' says Graeme, as one parallel which can be drawn with an another indoor entertainment venue. Half an hour on the driving range is just $18.
The pair see lots of scope to offer real variety to customers, as the system allows them to hold long drive competitions, chipping competitions, and nearest-the-pin competitions. Their aim is to attract corporate and other functions, and the liquor licence they’ve been granted 'rounds out the business model.'
The pair anticipate a surge in evening business with the liquor licence secured. With full bar service they can run business house competitions complete with some sociable drinks. 'Get a group of four people together, come down and play 9 holes, we’ll have a few prizes on offer and bits and pieces. It’ll be a good laugh.' As responsible hosts, the Hills are already offering finger foods including panini, wedges and other snacks, and selling coffee and a variety of soft drinks.
The Global Golf setup was 'very expensive,' Graeme Hills acknowledges, but they’re confident of success. Further down the track is the possibility of franchising the operation. Already they’ve received some inquries from visitors who say 'wow this is cool,' says Graeme, 'we could do this in such and such a place.' But he adds sensibly, as a former banker married to an accountant, they are still finding their feet.
The Hills are correct when they say Global is suited to anyone from the expert who wants to analyse their technique, to a total beginner. After all, the simulators aren’t biased, they don’t care how you play. The pair are very friendly, helpful hosts, and the putting green, TV, comfy lounge area and snack menu round out an impressive package.
And if you’ve seen the industrial nature of some driving ranges, rest assured there is no comparison with the contemporary styling of Global Golf, with its high ceilings, plush sofas, and mod cons.
It’s a perfect spot for your family’s rainy Sunday ‘what’ll we do,’ corporate team building, business meeting, or party. We at BoTCom reckon Global Golf, on word of mouth alone, will eventually take its place as one of the Bay’s most popular all-weather, all-season indoor attractions. Try it!