When Jeff Sproat was offered a chance to play a golf simulator a few years ago, he wasn’t interested. He was a real golfer who played real courses. What interest could he have in a simulation of the game he loved?
Then, he tried it.
“I ended up spending about three hours in there. I got hooked,” Sproat recalled.
Years later, it’s become more than his hobby. It’s his business.
Sproat is the owner of Golfer’s Grail Indoor Golf & Tap, 10019 N. Dale Mabry Highway, Suite 100, in Tampa.
With four simulators, he’s spent the past couple of years encouraging people who are skeptical of the concept, like he was, to give it a try.
There are many aspects of the indoor golfing simulation that mirror the outside game, Sproat said.
Customers bring their own golf clubs and use them for different shots, just like they would on any course. They use real balls. They swing as hard as they would outside. And they can play just about any game you’d find at a golf club or tournament, including driving contests, closest-to-the-pin competitions and even target golf games. And the game is scored the same way, too.
Still, there are important differences, he said.
Golfers are competing on simulations of real courses and some imagined ones — 66 in all, not counting five putt-putt courses and a program that lets players smash windows for fun.
When they hit the ball, it actually makes contact with a screen onto which the course is projected. While they’re playing, LED sensors track the club swing, and audible sensors track the ball. That data provides an estimate of the accuracy and power of the shot, and the results are displayed by showing the ball either landing in a preferred spot, or somewhere else that reveals flaws in the previous swing.
The simulator is accurate enough to make golfers better at the real game, said Sproat, who plays with a single-digit handicap. Since practice is what improves technique, the simulator allows players to get in extra rounds.
Golfer’s Grail isn’t designed to replace anyone’s outside golfing experience. It’s supposed to supplement those rounds and allow players to get in the practice time they might not get otherwise.
“Every golfer wants to be better. They know that they can be better,” Sproat said. “For the avid golfer, it’s more golf.”
It’s actually more golf with a few enhancements. If a player wants a mulligan, or just to replay a hole over and over, it can be done with a couple of buttons on the console. A round of golf that takes four or five hours outside can be done in less than an hour inside. There’s no dress code, they sell beer and wine a few steps from where players swing, and food can be delivered from neighboring restaurants.
And while you might only spend time with the people in your foursome during your round outside, everyone can be part of a gallery of sorts inside, socializing and watching all the participants.
“In here you can play at whatever pace you’re comfortable,” Sproat said. “The clubhouse and the golf course are together.”
The golf courses draw a lot of attention from customers, Sproat said.
The owner himself got in some real golf at Northdale last week, then took a few swings at the challenging 12th hole at the Augusta National Golf Club (home of the Masters Golf Tournament) on the simulator that afternoon.
It’s a day of golf that couldn’t be accomplished in real life, but pretty simple to manage with a program that stays loyal to the courses they’re modeled after.
Sproat has played a little from every course on the simulator, and said they’re accurate to the real-life counterparts he’s tried out in real life.
The most popular ones are Augusta, TPC Sawgrass in Ponta Vedra Beach and the Pebble Beach Golf Links in California.
And while the players aren’t actually at those locations, they won’t get any closer to the courses without airfare, time off from work and a hard-to-get tee time.
“It is the next best thing, because you actually are hitting the ball. You’re playing the shots. When it’s uphill, you have to hit it harder; when it’s downhill, you have to account for that,” Sproat said.
While regular golfers are a big part of his customer base, he particularly enjoys bringing the game to new people.
Sproat has been hitting the links for nearly 50 years, but he knows that many people who try out the simulators don’t play at all. Fathers with younger children can spend time trying out courses together, and disabled players can do things that wouldn’t be practical on a real course.
Golfer’s Grail works with veterans groups, and that sometimes includes amputees being able to get in a round or two.
Expanding the game to those who might not get to enjoy it otherwise is a big plus for a guy who’s been playing since he was 8 years old.
“I love it. That’s probably the best feeling you can have,” Sproat said.
An hour of golf at Golfer’s Grail costs between $27 and $37, depending on the time and day. That cost is split among all players.
The venue is available for individuals, groups and charity tournaments. For more information, call (813) 969-2100 or visit GolfersGrail.net.
Published June 24, 2015