In the Chicago suburb of Buffalo Grove, Ill., WJ Golf worked to disrupt the virtual golf industry with a custom-designed, turnkey solution that combines sophisticated big data analytics and the latest short-throw laser projectors from LG Business Solutions. The solution thus includes technology that gives players an experience so realistic that golf pros have begun using it to give lessons.
When owner Won Cho founded the company with business partner Jason Jung in 2019, their first act was to find the right simulator solution with excellent hardware and software. This led them to sign a deal with South Korea-based UDR Simulators to be the exclusive U.S. distributor.
Setting up the Simulator
After installing WJ Golf’s simulator in the clubhouse at a local golf club, it could stay open all winter for year-round play. Here, guests and players marveled at the 16-foot-wide by 10-foot-high projection screen. Cho, however, saw it differently.
“The UDR Simulator is an excellent, capable system, but there are components that can be changed or determined by the owner, such as the projector,” Cho explains. “It was great to see the high level of immediate interest after we installed three units at the golf club. But after several months, we realized the bulb-based projectors were beginning to dim and lose color accuracy. They all needed new bulbs. Hoping to reduce maintenance and provide a more consistent playing experience, we started researching the latest projection technologies of some of the top models from projector brands.”
Upgrading the Solution
The results led Cho to choose the ultra-bright short throw LG ProBeam projectors (model BU53PST) known for their excellent color, clarity and lifespan. As a result, it improved picture quality and reduced maintenance. Moreover, it utilizes a short-throw model which allowed WJ Golf to shift the location and angle of the projector. This eliminates the possibility of a player accidentally looking at the projection source when they turn around.
The WJ Golf simulators also feature lower latency than competing U.S. solutions. So, by the time a player lifts their head after swinging, the ball is already “in the air” on the screen; and there doesn’t appear to be any lag from the player’s perspective.
“Another reason we chose to use the UDR Simulator as our base is their Lie Converter. This is a yard-long cylinder mounted into the floor that allows players and trainers to rotate through various ground types and experience the real feedback and friction of fairways, rough areas and even bunker surfaces,” Cho remarks.
He continues, “We wanted to present the most realistic, professional-feeling simulation we can; and we achieved our goal through more immersive graphics and intuitive tactile play. It’s really about giving the player the impression that they are really in the moment, standing at the tee, not in a building. Together, the Lie Converter, the oversized screen and the crisp, bright projector make that possible.”
Plans for Expansion
The quality of WJ Golf’s simulators has received a warm reception throughout Illinois. In fact, the company now operates three commercial locations. This is in addition to selling turnkey units to corporate buyers and homeowners.
The company has a five-year plan to expand to 25 locations in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana. It has also expressed interest in launching what would be the U.S.’s first golf simulator tournament or competition series. This would be based on the ability to record sessions and link distant simulators to enable both staggered and head-to-head play.
With more than 170 real golf courses available on the simulator system, there is always something new and exciting for players to try. WJ Golf’s simulators also provide a unique putting capability, says LG. It requires players to get within five feet of the flag before moving to the next hole. Many current simulator competitors avoid the putting green experience. Instead, they automatically add one or two strokes to a player’s score based on where they land on the green.
“Even our local PGA pro Todd Sones has begun recommending lessons on the simulator after he saw clients rapidly improve following initial simulator sessions,” Cho adds.
Growth of Golf-Simulation Market
Cho then notes, “The indoor-golf-simulator industry is exploding. Since we opened, we’ve seen four additional indoor-golf facilities pop up around us. We are aggressively pursuing a number of opportunities to capture the growing market and deliver superior indoor golf experiences across a variety of use cases. Throughout this journey, we expect LG projectors to continue providing differentiation and elevated experiences for our players.”
One of the outsized benefits of golf simulators is they enable year-round play and business operations for both golf clubs and sports-entertainment complexes. Cho hopes to address this opportunity in concert with facility operators across the region.
Addressing the growth of the golf-simulator market, LG notes what it can offer for communities or individuals without needing to access to traditional golf courses and training.
“Virtual golf is poised to make the sport more accessible to more players, particularly younger generations that show enthusiasm for eSports. They can combine their technological proficiency with their athletic ability; and realize competitive prowess at a lower investment level than standard golf play,” says Tom Carroll, sales director at LG Business Solutions USA.
“Whether communities, institutions, schools or local businesses take the reins, we expect golf simulators to broaden the sport’s visibility and help maintain enthusiasm as the ranks swell with players who were previously excluded. Technology is key to WJ Golf’s growth and success and we’re proud that LG’s advanced short-throw laser projectors are providing an enhanced experience.”
Click on “View Slideshow” for images of the simulation at WJ Golf.