Martin Hopley

It's raining. It's cold. The course is closed. And that was just the summer.

Now we have the colder winter to look forward to and that means even more sodden courses, forward tees, temporary greens and the plague of the I-know-why-we-have-them-but-it-is-just-not-golf fairway mat. So, no change from the last 12 months.

Wouldn't it be great if we could just stay home and hit balls indoors, but with our own clubs? I mean, the kids/house guests could share a bedroom and then I could rig up a practice net or one of those full size simulators in the spare room. Tour pro's convert their basements into swing studios and the back garden gets the Huxley treatment, but then that is them working from home. My home office is a laptop on the kitchen table.

Let's face it, our dreams of a golfing den are just dreams. Or are they?

Help could be at hand with the OptiShot +3 which is a portable infrared golf simulator. A state of the art Swing Pad with two lines of infrared sensors that track the path of the club, face angle, swing path and clubhead speed. Software is provided for your computer, ideally a laptop, that turns it into a fully functional golf simulator.

The infrared swing pad is portable and plugs into the USB slot on your computer so you can use this inside or out. You can hit real balls, flightless balls or no balls (which is the better indoor option). The sensors track club head movement to make projections, so what happens to the ball you hit, or if you use one at all, does not matter.

Provided you have enough space you can swing your own clubs, but if not you can use a short iron to create the swing for all clubs - it just won't go as far.

After installing the software the set up was very straight forward. Just plug in the swing pad and play. Run a cable from the laptop to your TV and you can see the results on the big screen in your lounge.

There is a practice mode where you are on the range hitting at flags at your chosen distance. You can select any club from your own bag and move the targets to suit your preferred distance. I found the yardages underestimated my real shots (honestly) and the creators say that this can happen, but it is usually accurate to within 10%. With a few more agressive swings I was in this range.

Once you have honed your swing you can also take it to the course thanks to the game mode where up to 4 players can play a choice of 14 courses. There are some simulated course plus certain real ones that are included in the European edition for free such as host sites of the 2010 US Open (“Monterey Classic”), 2010 US PGA Championship (“Whispering Dunes”) and The Players Championship (“Ponte Vedra”), as well as many more world famous courses that can be purchased.

The game play is as you would expect if you have been to one of these simulator bars. It was pretty true to life apart from being able to hit through the thickest tree trunks - albeit with a hefty distance penalty.

One thing that was much better though was the putting which was one of the best simulations I have tried. Just a normal stroke over the sensors was pretty accurate for speed and alignment. Indeed if you would like to practice your stroke and get feedback on path and tempo then just zoom in on a green on the range or the course and hit away.

The creators are at pains to point out that this is not a game to compete with Tiger Woods PGA Tour. That relies on body movements to get its data rather than the clubhead. Tracking the clubhead means the OptiShot +3 software is then able to give you more data back. It is a true simulator for practice, lessons and the odd game with friends that inviduals or clubs can use for significantly less invesment than a full size simulator.

The raised up Swing Pad is very robust, which is just as well as it had to survive a few direct hits. Guaranteed for 6 months it is a little raised off the ground so standing on a driving mat, thick board or even a door mat to get your feet on the same level is recommended. Alternatively get a range mat and cut a hole for the Swing Pad to sit in.

The controls are easy to use and once you get the hang of the many keyboard shortcuts then the Optishot +3 golf simulator is very quick and easy to use.

It's certainly ideal for those who want to keep their swing on track during the winter from the dry and warm inside.

Now, where can I put that bed....?

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