In 2009, Japanese pro golfer Ryuji Imada prepared for the upcoming US Open—held at the prestigious Bethpage Black on Long Island—by playing a few rounds on the notoriously difficult course. Torrential rain pelted Bethpage that year, but Imada never even needed to bring an umbrella to practice. That’s because his training ground was a computer-generated replica of the real thing—a golf simulator, in which players use their own clubs to crush real golf balls off an indoor mat and into a screen, which translates their shots into an interactive afternoon on the links.
Imada ultimately missed the cut for the Open, but his use of virtual golf as a professional practice tool underscores its rise in popularity. In densely populated South Korea, digital fairways have all but supplanted their real counterpart, attracting an estimated 200,000 players daily as of 2008—six times the number at real courses. Whether they provide re-creations of world-famous courses or simply serve as digital driving ranges, different golf simulators boast a variety of specs and features. Various models may use infrared sensors, high-speed cameras, or other motion-tracking devices to accurately project the path of each shot and help golfers tackle the physical challenges of a real-life round.
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