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Virtual Golf Bars

Golf Simulators Bring 18 Holes Within Easy Reach

Golf is one of Japan's most popular athletic diversions. However, it takes a great deal of time and effort. Golf simulators provide an easier option by enabling golf enthusiasts to squeeze in a realistic round on the way home from work or during other windows of leisure time.

Detailed Game Play

There is much more to modern golf simulators than virtual reality; for a start, actual clubs and balls are used to generate an authentic golfing experience. Thanks to advanced technology that enables them to accurately simulate the distance and direction the ball will travel after it has been struck, virtual golf machines have recently become a much more popular form of recreation.

Another part of the machines' appeal is that, in contrast to a round of real golf, players can get caught up in the excitement as a group. Now this equipment is taking center stage in a new form of entertainment venue: the virtual golf bar. Golf bars let both veterans and novices enjoy a drink and a snack as they compete to hit the longest drives and perhaps even score a hole-in-one. These hi-tech machines have created an entirely new way of enjoying an ancient game.

In virtual golf bars, players stand two or three meters away from a 150-inch-plus shock-absorbing screen, which displays video replicas of famous golf courses around the world. The simulators are equipped with precision sensors to measure the players' shots and extrapolate the path of the ball.

There are several types of simulator, each using slightly different sensors to recreate the players' shots. Some machines gauge the ball's angle of elevation, speed, spin, and direction at the point of impact, while others measure and analyze the spin and direction when the ball hits the screen and drops to the floor. The systems are capable of recreating any type of swing, from the intentional draws and fades of the pros to the unintentional hooks, slices, shanks, and other mis-hits that plague beginners.

Scores are recorded automatically, and the presence of virtual rough, bunkers, and water hazards means that players must take into account each course's unique terrain. Modes of play include 18-hole tournaments, driving competitions, and closest-to-the-pin contests. The system comes as close as possible to playing an actual round of golf: it affords the sensation of making actual contact with the ball, and, if participants can manage to hit a "virtual" 300-yard drive, they are certain to be rewarded with a very real sense of satisfaction.

A New Hang-Out for GolfersGolf bars are finding favor among different types of players for different reasons - aside from the obvious appeal of being able to play in any weather. In addition to those who just want to enjoy a game with friends, beginners can pair up with more experienced players to get some coaching, and those just starting out in the sport may head to a golf bar instead of taking formal lessons. Some bars even offer coaching free of charge.

Moreover, unlike regular golf, in which players spend a good deal of time walking about on their own, golf bars provide the immediate gratification of being able to praise or pan other players' shots. The availability of beer and other drinks helps to create an atmosphere that facilitates fun and communication. This last feature in particular is helping to make golf bars a novel venue for parties and other events.

Golf simulators are much more sophisticated than video games, and they owe their realism to a homegrown Japanese technology 30 years in the making. Thanks to their accessibility and realistic game play, the number of golf bars in Japan has soared to over 100 in the three and a half years since they first emerged. And since they can be installed in spaces as small as 16 square meters, they are now appearing at other leisure facilities, such as karaoke parlors and sports clubs. (December 2009)

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