Indoor simulators have transformed cold-weather venues into year-round golf facilities.
When you hear the name Sun Valley, it’s likely skiing is top of mind. After all, this Idaho mountain location is home to the country’s first winter destination resort. Although it now boasts 45 holes of championship golf, Sun Valley’s annual snowfall dictates its reputation.
While Sun Valley sees some 200 inches of snow annually and is renown as a winter wonderland, it has recently become a year-round golf hotspot, thanks to its indoor facilities.
Situated on the lower level of the Sun Valley Club, a 59,000-square-foot structure opened in 2008, a high definition golf simulator was installed to give guests another activities option during the long winter months, according to Director of Golf Jeff Petersen.
In addition to the simulator, there’s an open hitting bay, and both are used for group and individual lessons. The latter costing $100 per hour.
“Space is a bit limited, so one-on-one teaching is preferred,” says Petersen. “Video analysis is an option, as well.
“The simulator allows us to video swings and provides feedback on swing speed, club path, launch angle, efficiency, and face angle,” he added, noting that alignment aides also are available.
A La Carte Options
Not interested in a lesson; just the simulator? Sun Valley charges $30 per person for the first hour, $20 for the second and $10 for the third. An average round of golf takes approximately an hour.
But what can be done on the simulator? According to Petersen, quite a lot:
- Game mode with options such as field goal kick, window smashers and range cart;
- Practice mode boasts a driving range with multiple back-drops. One range, the distance to the green can be adjusted and the simulator tracks average length from the pin. Also included are putting and chipping, long drive, and closest-to-the-pin variations.
- Contest mode is the same as practice mode, only keeps a running leader board. “Great entertainment,” says Petersen.
- Teaching mode allows for swing analysis and video. This allows the instructor to play back, pause, slow motion, draw lines, angles, etc.
- Play mode. Sun Valley currently has 20 courses.
“The features are what sold us on this unit,” says Petersen. “From a practice/learning aspect, to entertainment, to play, this was the most versatile and wide reaching simulator we found.”
There are options, however, and many choices within those options.
When Glen View Club in Golf, Ill., was interested in ways to leverage the available space to create revenue and member value, they chose a single simulator, with a standard enclosure, accompanied by a simple atmosphere for enjoying food and beverage while playing a round, participating in a league or taking a lesson.
Before signing a purchase agreement, Glen View sold enough pre-paid indoor simulator memberships to its club members to cover the entire cost of the simulator purchase.
The club opted to make food and beverage available without overhead, using a supply of snacks and drinks and an honors system payment policy. Members may also order off the clubhouse menu and have their F&B delivered.
Within the first year of operation, Glen View saw a 50 percent return on the investment and had sold indoor simulator memberships to approximately a quarter of their outdoor members. There was also an increase of $150/indoor member in food and beverage over the winter months.
The cost for the HD Golf unit Sun Valley chose was around $55,000 installed, and there are opportunities for the property to add additional enhancements down the road.
“There are constantly updates for new courses or new features,” Petersen said. “Updates cost anywhere from $500 to $5,000, depending on what you are looking to get.
It isn’t hard to see how the indoor facility—a technological tool to better the golfing experience, both teaching and playing—helps the overall golf operation at Sun Valley, but what about the overall resort operation?
“[It’s] entertainment and function for golfers and non-golfers alike,” Petersen said. “It provides another outlet for a guest looking to take a break in the winter or a serious golfer looking for empirical data to improve their game.”
The capability exists to watch HD TV and movies, too, though he said the resort has not used it to this point.
As for staffing the indoor facility and keeping it open year-round, Peterson said it is rarely used over the summer months, while it only requires one person to be present during all hours of operation during the winter.
Additional operational costs can range from significant, such as software updates, bulbs for the projector and rental clubs, to incidentals like balls and tees.
“If you are in a seasonal, wet, hot, whatever the case, area I think it is an easy sell,” Petersen said. “This allows golf to be present and an option 365 days a year – rain or shine.
“The initial cost is high, but after that there is not much,” he added. “We have recovered the cost of the simulator in three winter’s time. It is a wonderful teaching tool as well and a way to differentiate ourselves from any competition.”