Golf Simulators and Launch Monitors with Carl Markestad of Carl’s Place

Our guest this episode is Carl Markestad of Carl’s Place, a leader in home entertainment products, including golf simulators and golf launch monitors.

In this discussion we learn about:

  • How do golf launch monitors work?
  • How does putting work on a golf simulator?
  • How accurate are golf simulators?
  • How high of a ceiling for golf simulator?
  • How much space do you need for a simulator?
  • How big is a golf simulator?
  • How much does a golf simulator cost?
  • Can a golf simulator improve your game?
  • What is the best golf simulator?
  • Will we all eventually have home golf simulators?
  • Are golf simulator businesses profitable?

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

[Walter Lis] Golf simulators have been around a long time, at least figuratively for the industry, but especially in the Chicagoland area, we’ve seen this huge boom in the past two to three years with the standalone businesses coming up.

We’ve got these huge places with 10, 12, 13 simulators. My question to you is, why now? What, what’s changed where suddenly, the simulator businesses become so popular?

[Carl Markestad] I think the easy answer is that the technology is good and I think now it’s not extraordinarily expensive. And it’s just doable.

I also think it’s a matter of people getting more acquainted with things like video games? It’s this crossover of the sport with screen technology in general. So everything big screen is more attainable and more comfortable to people.

[Walter Lis] You work with individuals, people who want to have simulators in their homes. You also work with golf simulator businesses. From your perspective, are they profitable? Are they doing well?

[Carl Markestad] I’m not in the books of any of them specifically, but we get a lot of people expanding their bays, adding more screens, upgrading screens.

All indications from us, from our business customers say that, yes, it’s going very well.

[Walter Lis] So let’s take a step back then. Let’s talk a little bit about how you got into simulators and the golf simulator business. What’s the quick strokes that got you from there to here right now?

[Carl Markestad] Carl’s Place started out doing backyard theater screens and we had nothing to do with golf whatsoever. But it was those same customers that were buying screens that they wanted to have a backyard movie. They would start asking us about whether they could hit a ball into their screen.

And at the time that was not possible, one thing led to another and working with various vendors, we found materials that would work for that. And so we put it out there for people just to give them an answer.

And then it just slowly became a thing of more and more people asking about it. And once we started offering more complete solutions with the enclosure and everything like that, it really took over the entire business. So it was this for about three or four years really, where we went from being mostly backyard and home theater screens to being almost entirely golf screens.

How do launch monitors work?

[Walter Lis] So then I guess the next logical question is digging in a little deeper as far as how do simulators work. Can you give an overview of how golf simulators collect and provide their data to golfers?

[Carl Markestad] There’s a few different technologies that are out there, a few different strategies that they use to make it work.

The two that we work most often with are either camera or radar based. The first option would be you have cameras somewhere in the enclosure, the simulator, either overhead, looking down at the ball, or maybe right next to the ball. And basically, the club hits the ball and the camera has, takes high speed imagery of the contact and the initial flight of the ball.

And it just extrapolates from there where the ball is. So that’s as simple as it is for the most part.

The radar systems are a little different. They, they usually sit on the floor behind the golfer, and they are using radar technology to just kind of ping the ball as soon as it takes off.

And it, that’s accurate enough where it can measure where the ball and space between the club and the screen. In that time period it has enough measurements to, again, figure out where it’s going and extrapolate that into a full flight path.

How accurate are golf simulators?

[Walter Lis] So from your experience, how accurate are these two technologies?

[Carl Markestad] They’re both very accurate. We’ve tested various systems extensively, and the better ones are down in the less than 3% error rate. We take them out to a driving range and measure the actual flight of the ball versus what the system tells us happened.

And yeah, like, like 3% is pretty typical for the better versions of either type of launch monitor.

[Walter Lis] So next question is the how does putting work on a golf simulator?

[Carl Markestad] Putting’s a little controversial, I guess I would say, because it’s because it’s just a different type of shot.

Because you’re putting on a flat surface it just feels less of a simulation than, driving off a tee, that’s pretty analogous to the real thing. What most people do with putting, to various degrees, is they just have large gimmies turned on.

If you get the ball within 10 feet of the hole, that’s plus one. In some places, if it’s within 20 feet of the hole, it’s plus two, and there’s various rules that you can use. You get the ball on the green and you’re done. It depends on how fast you want to play.

I think a lot of putting is okay. It’s not just terrible, it’s just that most people just want to move on to the next hole by the time they hit the green, so they skip it.

[Walter Lis] You’ve recently built a tool that allows someone to visit your website and build their own simulator. Can you talk about what was the genesis of that?

[Carl Markestad] We have always really emphasized our ability to make a simulator for anyone’s space. And so, we’ve always offered that. You call us, we will make you a sim, whatever size you want. And we just wanted to make that easier for people.

The typical conversation we have with people when they call us and want to walk through how to do this, how to fit it in their room or whatever. And let’s make a tool that can walk you through it and kind of answer all those questions and let you pick all those things. I think it turned out pretty good for what you’re able to do with it.

[Walter Lis] So based on that tool here’s some other kind of rapid-fire questions for you.

What’s the height you’ll need for a simulator? What do you recommend?

[Carl Markestad] We usually recommend at least nine feet. 10 feet is very comfortable. If you can get 10, perfect. Nine is usually doable.

Golf Simulator Design

Golf Simulator Design

Once you get less than nine, you start to, if you’re a shorter person, that might be just fine. But we have customers that will squeeze it into eight-foot ceilings, and they’ll like only use their irons.

How much space do you need for a simulator?

[Walter Lis] And how much space, overall space do you typically recommend having in a room for a golf simulator?

[Carl Markestad] Our bare minimum is 12 feet wide. That can still be a little tight.

If you want to have righties and lefties, you really need like 14 feet wide. And even that, we like, we like maybe 15 feet. That’s kind of our, our preference.

We see a lot of different depths that people are comfortable with. We usually recommend that you want somewhere where you can golf 10 to 12 feet away from the screen. Some of the radar technologies that their requirements are how this is set, the radar unit must be seven feet or something behind the tee and then you have to have nine or 10 feet between the tee and the screen for the unit to read.

The camera systems don’t have those requirements. They can be more compact.

Then it’s just a matter of how comfortable you with the ball are bouncing off the screen. How close do you want to be? 10 or 12 feet? You never have to worry about it. Some people go as close as like eight feet or even a little closer.

That gets a little uncomfortable in my opinion. But again, if you have a spare bedroom or something, you’re trying to fit this in, people do it.

The other thing is you just must have a little bit of room between your screen and your wall. To leave room for the impact to hit the screen and not hit your wall.

If you think about it, maybe a 16-foot-deep space is kind of our recommendation. But it’s pretty flexible.

[Walter Lis] For people are putting a simulator in their homes, do they typically prefer a camera-based system or a radar based system?

[Carl Markestad] It’s all over the place. The lower end radar systems are very good. And they’re not expensive. A FlightScope Mevo+ unit right now is on sale for $1,700 or $1,800.

And that’s very good. That’s some of our, one of our most accurate units, the challenge to it is that it’s one of those that needs the depth, behind the golfer and between the screen. But still, it’s a very reasonable way to get into a sim and have really good results. The camera-based systems can be mounted overhead.

So they’re not in your way. You can, have righties and lefties, switch out with  no issue whatsoever. It doesn’t feel like there’s anything there. Those are generally more expensive, the Uneekor EYE XO is closer to $10,000.

And that is very good. They go up from there. There’s other, like there’s Foresight units that are camera based that sit right next to where you hit the ball, but then if you switch righty to lefty, you had to move the unit to the other side of the ball. So there’s all kinds of variables that go into it.

What’s your space? Are you going to move it? Do you want to be able to take it to the driving range?

Some people use it that way. And a lot of people make the decision based on what software are you going to use with it.

Are you using the built-in software? Do you want to use a separate, course software?

And then different, units play better with different, software packages. So hence why I say there’s no real typical setup, it’s just where are you coming from and what’s going to suit your situation the best.

[Walter Lis] Can you explain the difference between the launch monitor and the software?

[Carl Markestad] The launch monitors typically all have something that comes with them that works. The launch monitor is what’s actually measuring what happens when you hit the ball.

Then you obviously want to see that somewhere. Some launch monitors are really designed as like a driving range aid, and they’re not really meant to be a simulator. So maybe they have a display right on the unit that reads out, what your distance was and your speed and all that.

Full Swing KIT Launch Monitor

Full Swing KIT Launch Monitor

Or maybe they are just attached to an app on your phone or tablet that gives you all that readout along with a basic driving range or kind of basic sim game. But for people who want to make a real home sim out of it and use it like a simulator, then you have a separate software package that takes all that data and converts it into like a game.

And that’s what feels like you’re playing at the golf course. Some sims come with all of that, or, I should say some launch monitors come with all of that. They have some kind of built-in core software as well as a driving range. Some of them are pretty basic and only come with the app for your phone or tablet.

And so long story short, for the most part, you can mix and match. If you identify a software package that you want to use, there will be several launch monitors that are compatible. With that you can work backwards and find the one that works for you.

How much does a golf simulator cost?

[Walter Lis] Now when I was going through the tool, your customization tool on your website I was surprised by the price. I chose what I think is pretty good launch monitor software, I didn’t choose any lower end items, and it was still around $5,000.

Not too long ago, I remember hearing the cost just to buy the launch monitor was really expensive – nearly four times that amount. Now I can get the whole thing for $5,000.

Is this just the function of the fact that the technology has become more affordable or is there something that you use your expertise in being able to do this? How, how is the price able to be this reasonable?

[Carl Markestad] The technology is a huge part of it. It wasn’t that long ago where like you said, just to buy the tech, you were talking about $20,000+. And there are still units out there that are up in that, range. We focus a little more on the more reasonable ones because that’s what our customer base wants.

But the basic idea is that over the past few years there’s been huge improvements in the availability and accessibility of some of this technology. The Garmin launch monitor is $600 and it’s very good. But it’s not as full featured as some of the other things.

That’s where I was talking about how it’s a little harder connect it to a PC and use some of the better simulator software. But again, if you just want a basic setup where you want to work on your swing and get that data in your garage, it’s great.

It works really well. And it’s only $600. That’s crazy.

From the rest of the angles, that’s where we apply our expertise to make this enclosure for a much better price than people had offered in the past. In the old days you had to have someone come in and build a setup in your house for $50,000 or more.

That’s where we wanted to come in and say, we can make you this thing that’s relatively easy to assemble in your home and it functions just as well as, any other impact screen. You’re in and out of the enclosure for $1,000 or $2,000, depending on how big it is and the features you want.

You add up all that stuff together and as you found, $5,000 is doable for a pretty decent setup. And that’s what’s most exciting about it for us. That puts it in a range that a typical person could dedicate a bay in their garage or a spot in the basement, or a spare bedroom or whatever.

And that’s not an obscene investment to, for the type of enjoyment you can get out of this thing.

[Walter Lis] Does your company get involved with the installation of these products? Do you have people that you send out to install the simulator?

[Carl Markestad] No, basically that’s a short answer, we, we’ve always taken a DIY approach. That’s kind of the foundation of the company. The goal for all our products is to come ready to assemble, like you’d put together a dresser or something.

We do have partners out there such as resellers that also sell our products, that also do installation. So, depending on where people are located, we can connect them with someone who could help them out if that’s a requirement. But Carl’s Place as a, standalone doesn’t have installers.

Can a golf simulator improve your game?

[Walter Lis] Do you believe a golf simulator can improve one’s golf game?

[Carl Markestad] Oh, absolutely. Yeah, no doubt about that. And I can testify to it, personally, that I am not very good.

With even just as little as a few days practice in a sim with that real-time feedback you get from one we have in our showroom. But the one I like to use is a Uneekor EYE XO. And that shows you a video of your club hitting your ball after every strike.

And I mean, so good. I shanked that one. What did I do? And immediately you see where your club hit the ball. With no professional help whatsoever, I can straighten out my shots and double the yardage. I can transform from being a total beginner basically to being, capable

What is the best golf simulator?

[Walter Lis] So you might have just answered my second question, but what’s your favorite golf simulator?

[Carl Markestad] My favorite is that Uneekor EYE XO. I like the camera technology because of its versatility to mounting.

It’s not on the floor in the way. And it’s just super accurate. And that video feedback is awesome. That’s my personal favorite. It’s one of the more expensive ones.

My second would probably be the Garmin Approach R10, just because of its value. You get very good accuracy out of it for a 10th of the price. So it’s hard to not like that one too.

Garmin Approach R10

Garmin Approach R10

Will we all eventually have home golf simulators?

[Walter Lis] Do you think we’ll all eventually have a golf simulator in our house?

[Carl Markestad] That’s exactly what I’ve been saying. Yeah. I’ve been telling people. If you’re building a new house, make sure you got 10-foot basements down there, because you’re gonna want one of these things.

It’s worth it. Not long ago the home theater was the mark of the slightly upscale home. That’s the extra bonus room that everyone wanted.

Golf simulator

I think you’ll see demand for a golf simulator room, or at least kind of multipurpose room where you’ve got a screen that can be used for golf and also with a couch there for watching movies or whatever.

[Walter Lis] Have you seen the popularity of data collection affect the golf simulation industry?

[Carl Markestad] Everyone wants that data. You see it in all sports, not just golf. Whether it’s analytics about strategy of the game or analytics about specific mechanics, your performance, whatever it is. Name the sport, the data is big.

And golf is of course a perfect example of that. The tiniest change to your mechanics can have such a big impact on what you do.

So getting that data can allow you to can accomplish changes so much faster or get feedback so much faster than going to the range and hitting a bucket of a hundred balls.

You can hit 10 in the simulator, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s going on. And with swing cameras and all of that, it’s just hugely powerful.

[Walter Lis] You’re based in East Troy, Wisconsin?

[Carl Markestad] We’re based in Milton, Wisconsin. I’m, from East Troy. That’s the ET of our url. But yeah, we’re, we’re based in Milton.

[Walter Lis] And do you have a warehouse? If people from Chicago want to go visit you, can they go visit Carl?

[Carl Markestad] Yep. We have a lovely showroom that we’ve just completed. We have a brand new building here.

We have all these different technologies out on the floor that you can test out. It’s by appointment, so they just call our customer service, and they can come check it out.

[Walter Lis] It sounds like a trip I think a lot of golfers would like to make, especially now in the coming months as we get more.

[Carl Markestad] Yeah. Yeah. And that’s, that’s why we built this thing, to give people that opportunity to come and check it out. And if you can’t, we do a lot of stuff on our YouTube channel.

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Walter Lis

Walter Lis is the managing editor of Chicago Golf Report, which launched in 2010.

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