Are Golf Simulators Cheating?

Realistic golf simulators are obtainable - is it cheating to use one? Depends, are you practicing your golf game or using it to lower your handicap? Let's talk.

Golf simulator in a work out area

For those of you who know Carl and his peeps, you’re well aware of how scientific we can be.

To live up to our reputation, we put out an *extremely* scientific survey of random Carl’s Place employees and other friends of the writer to see if they believe that the use of a golf simulator is cheating.

The survey was one question: “Do you believe using a golf simulator is cheating?” Many of our respondents wanted to ask what the definition of cheating is, but we didn’t want them to ask nor did we provide them with an answer. We just wanted to know what their gut said.

Real quick: if using a golf simulator is cheating, then there are a ton of golf cheaters around the world. And a ton of new indoor golf businesses condoning that cheating. 

“IT’S JUST PRACTICE”

Several of our survey takers said something along the lines of: You’re just practicing your swing, so it is not cheating. Ultimately, this is quite true. 

One of the best ways to use a golf simulator is to fine tune your swing, making it more consistent once you have it tuned to where you want and need it to be. 

“If you’re going to practice and want to get good at something, you should use every tool in the toolbox,” a respondent said. “A simulator is no different than a doctor using an EKG to get data about the heart. The EKG gives important data the doctor wouldn’t otherwise have, similar to a simulator giving you data you couldn’t get just by hitting balls at most driving ranges.”

Another person said if a golfer uses a simulator, they are actually putting in more work than others, meaning any progress made is earned and not cheating. Also, you still need hand-eye coordination to make good contact with the ball and other skills to be a great golfer.

“Maybe I’d consider it cheating on your workout since you aren’t really having to walk the course, or even just around the greens if you’re riding in a cart,” they sarcastically said.

HOW REALISTIC ARE GOLF SIMULATORS? 

Not only are golf simulators designed to be realistic, but the technology used in launch monitors is tested and proven to be quite accurate - 99% accurate on the leading launch monitors. Measurements from your club swing and ball flight give you a highly accurate analysis of your golf game. But, there are several aspects of virtual golf that will always be different from the real thing. 

HOW IS IT DIFFERENT THAN A REAL GOLF COURSE?

  • Lie - It’s highly unlikely that you’ll have real grass, dirt and sand in your golf simulator to replicate a real golf course. Most of the time, you'll be hitting off a golf mat no matter what lie you have on your golf simulator software. If you’re in the fairway or in the fescue on your golf simulator software, you’ll still have the same lie inside your enclosure. However, there are different hitting mat options available that provide a more realistic lie if you are in the rough or sand.
  • Weather: While you can adjust weather settings on your golf simulator software, you also don’t have to or might forget. A little different than that unexpected squall coming through. In a golf simulator, you can play in as still of an environment as you’d like.
  • Ground conditions: The amount of water a golf course takes greatly affects everyone’s game. The wetter the course, the less the ball rolls, and maybe the more difficult it is for some people to hit a clean shot. The drier the course, the more roll you will get and maybe an easier shot for most, or vice versa. 

MOST REALISTIC GOLF SIMULATORS

We’ve put a couple launch monitors to the test at a driving range to see how accurate they are. You’ll be surprised at the results for the Mevo+ and SkyTrak

“It’s difficult to replicate an actual golf course, but depending on how much you’re willing to spend on your simulator, you can make it pretty life-like,” one survey taker said.

Another noted that years ago, golf simulators tended to be only something a wealthy person could afford. Nowadays, you can get a decent golf simulator setup for around $5k, or even less. 

Although that might make it seem easier to play in a golf simulator, some of the courses might play tougher than in real life, or compared to your local municipal course.

“Maybe it’s not an exact replica of being out on the course, but that doesn’t necessarily make it more or less easy, so I don’t think it’s ‘cheating’ to use a golf simulator,” another respondent said. “It’s like playing basketball outside on the court versus in a gym, or throwing darts in a tournament versus throwing metal tips in your grandparents garage … it’s just different ways of doing the same thing.”

COMPETING ON A GOLF SIMULATOR

Some might look at competing against others in a golf simulator even more fair than outside.

You’ll be hitting off the same surface in the same conditions for each shot as the people you’re competing against, using the same launch monitor and software to read your shot. There is no wind. There are no hills. There are no softer, squishier spots. 

Everyone is on the same playing field, which is much different than a normal round of outdoor golf. 

“If you were golfing at Pebble Beach in real life versus someone at Pebble Beach on a golf simulator, that would not be a fair comparison,” someone said. “But if it was simulator versus simulator, even different setups, they’re all so close that it would be hard to argue.”

Golfer in a golf simulator

HOW TO USE A GOLF SIMULATOR TO “CHEAT”

Several of our respondents (in our randomized double-blind placebo control study - ha!, no) mentioned that using a golf simulator to lower your handicap could be considered cheating. We would agree. To some, golfing inside might be easier, meaning you can record better scores. Using golf simulator scores to pad your handicap in the outdoor golf environment...do you agree that's cheating?

Golf simulators these days can be extremely realistic. Particularly when you have the full golf enclosure experience with a high-end projector giving you a crystal clear image. But, in some areas, perfectly realistic is not quite there yet. One example would be hitting out of the rough. Sure, it can penalize your power a little bit, but hitting out of the rough on a simulator off a hitting mat inside is different than hitting out of the rough on a real golf course. 

“It’s not cheating, unless you use it to handicap your handicap,” one respondent said.

“Maybe you could have a separate golf simulator handicap,” another person mentioned.

GOLF SIMULATOR HANDICAPS

Maintaining a separate handicap for your golf simulator rounds sounds like a solid option to not cheat with your golf simulator.

However, you could record your indoor golf rounds as “real” and add them to the handicap equation. And you could go very low with those rounds if you change a few settings, such as gimme putts, on your golf simulator software to help your overall handicap go down. We’d consider changing settings and counting indoor rounds toward your handicap as ways to cheat.

If you’re the guy taking 1, 2 or more mulligans on every hole, maybe this is an option for you.

For the rest of us, let’s stay a bit more on the socially acceptable choice of using the golf simulator to practice fairly. However, golf has been known to have a few cheaters by other means of artificially improving your score.

“Messing with your score, using unapproved equipment or balls, stuff like that would be cheating in my book,” someone said.

CARL’S OVERALL CONCLUSION

The way we look at it, the use of a golf simulator to practice and get better is not cheating. It’s just an extra tool. 

Still think using a golf simulator is cheating? Maybe if you had one you would feel differently. Golf simulators are becoming more and more accessible to home golfers and in commercial businesses. 

Don’t think you have the money for a golf simulator setup? Maybe we can prove you wrong