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Virtually there

Pinehurst GC simulators include famous world courses

OBSERVER Photo by Jay Young Nolan Swanson, Pinehurst Golf Club owner, sets up the Foresight Sports Simulator at the club earlier this week.

WESTFIELD — Walking inside the newly refurbished clubhouse of Pinehurst Golf Club feels a little bit like stepping into the future. Given your preference, it can also feel like stepping onto any one of the world’s most famous golf courses.

That is because, in addition to the traditional nine-hole layout that so many players have come to enjoy over the years, the course is now the home of two state-of-the-art Foresight Sports Simulators.

Hearing the word “simulator,” avid golf fans may have a picture in their mind of a green mat on a concrete floor, a hitting net and maybe a computer monitor.

Pinehurst has added something very different.

Foresight supplies room-sized, virtual reality systems that project full-screen views of digital courses. Players hit all of the same shots they would on the links, which are tracked in real-time by cameras and then displayed on a massive projector.

Then end result is — well — an awful lot like playing real golf, with some added convenience.

“We’ve talked about it for a long time,” Pinehurst owner Nolan Swanson said of the upgrade. “There wasn’t anything in our county and there is a really nice setup in North East, Pa. A lot of the guys from this area do go down there over the winter. We got started in mid-July, and it took a solid two months to really get things to the point where we started getting the simulators up and running. We’ve been testing them out and getting to know them a little bit.”

While COVID-19 has presented challenges to so many different businesses, the pandemic has also created opportunities. With plans for an upgrade and simulators sitting on the back-burner, Swanson was finally able to get his renovations off the ground thanks to low-interest loans made available to small businesses during the summer.

“It was a two-month project with this big addition and a new entrance,” Swanson said. “These (simulators) are permanently mounted on the ceiling. They’re not portable like the ones you see the pros with on the driving ranges and things. This is set up to go play Oakmont right now, in Pittsburgh, that one is set up on the driving range. It is a little easier to just keep hitting club after club on the range if you are just trying to work on something with a club. It will keep giving you the numbers, the carry distances and spins and things like that.”

Getting started this winter, Pinehurst already has members signed up for a league that will play weekly on the simulators, moving around to different famous courses.

After getting accustomed to playing inside, golfers can finish rounds more quickly than they can outside, and also have the convenience of coming in to record a round whenever they want.

“We can teach lessons on it. We can fit people for clubs on it,” Swanson said. “But mainly it is just to come and play and keep playing over the winter. We have like 25-27 courses I think that you can play. So our league will just play a different one every week. It feels like you are actually golfing.”

The training opportunities offered by Foresight simulators are just as impressive as the ability to play full rounds of golf. Step up to the mat and hit a shot, whether that be a chip or a drive or an iron, and a bar will immediately pop up with a data set of spin, launch angle, direction, carry and total distance.

Fitting for clubs and tuning in distances is far easier on a simulator than it is on a range.

“You can hit 20 shots with the same club and it will start to give you your average carry and then you know — hey I usually hit this club 130 yards in the air,” Swanson said. “When you start to understand those (data), it will help you understand why you hit a good shot and why you hit a bad shot.”

The potential of the Foresight simulators also stretches beyond golf. For practical purposes, both rooms at Pinehurst now contain wall-sized projected TV screens, that can be used to watch sports games, movies or play video games.

The systems can also be loaded with other programs, such as a soccer training application that allows players to work on shot placement.

Paired with a completely renovated entryway, patio, and heating system, Pinehurst expects to draw customers for more than just golf.

“We’ve already been asked about parties,” Swanson said. “We’ve got the TVs up for games so you can come and watch football or watch baseball and play.”

Pinehurst is currently renting simulator time by the hour, and can be reached at 326-4424.

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