Golf's no longer a good walk spoiled - you can now stand still

LACK of time to play the game they love is a constant gripe for most golfing enthusiasts.

In the winter months, when the days are short, golfers willing to endure the cold have to compete for tee-off times during all-too-rare weekends when rain, snow and frost have given way to pleasant sunshine.

And even during the summer, when daylight holds to 10pm and beyond, the ceaseless demands of the office make it hard for many to take out their clubs and play 18 holes.

But golf fans can now play a full round in their lunchbreak following the launch of a new indoor golf centre in Edinburgh, featuring the latest sports simulation technology.

The Clubhouse contains six state-of-the-art simulators designed by US company Full Swing Golf, each costing up to 40 an hour to hire.

The simulators let players try their hand on virtual versions of 50 of the world's toughest courses, including Pebble Beach, Valderrama, Oakmount and the Old Course at St Andrews.

The simulators, which have also just been launched in Glasgow, use two infrared "curtains" to pick up the speed, angle and spin of the ball during flight.

Most existing simulators, on the other hand, analyse the movement of the clubhead over the simulated tee and are unable to gauge the ball trajectory.

Every shot can be played in the simulator, from driving off the tee to hitting irons to putting on the green. The ball-tracking system allows golfers to play their shots from anywhere in the simulator, and uses fake rough and sand areas to enhance realism.

Highly realistic depictions of the courses are projected on to a screen into which players hit. Detailed information on the shot length, carry and ball speed are displayed after each shot.

Players can compete against their friends in about 30 different match modes, including matchplay and strokeplay.

By hooking up with other simulators online, golf fans can also play in international events. A whole tour has even been created for simulators.

The Clubhouse is being run by businessmen Andy Murray, Stephen McKenzie and Charlie Simpson. The group has invested 1 million in the venture, which has taken about 18 months to come to fruition.

Mr Murray said: "The company that developed the simulators is the world leader in golf simulation. The simulators are so good they are used by the USPGA for training and club-fitting. They are completely accurate and, above all, great fun.

"The added advantage of being indoors means that golfers can play or practise at any time and in any weather conditions, which is an obvious bonus for Scotland."

Mr McKenzie said: "The main market for us is people who are time-precious, appealing to the corporate market.

"If you are invited out to a corporate golf day it may take eight hours from your time when you can't get any work done.

"But with this you can finish work at 5pm on a November evening and play 18 holes with your mates at the Belfry."

While golf simulators have been popular in the US and the Far East for nearly 20 years, they are a relatively new addition to the golfing landscape in Scotland.

However, it is a development that has not found favour with all aficionados of the sport.

Jim Black, a golf writer, said the growth of the technology was threatening to damage the sport.

"Anything that assists you to become a better golfer is obviously an aid but I'm a little concerned that new technology is now driving the sport," he said.

"I sometimes think it is helping to create robotic golfing personalities, who don't have all the feel and passion for the game."

He added: "You can have all the machines you want in the world but what machine allows for the wind, rain, cold and all the rest of it?

"I sometimes think this drive for perfection is losing some of the essence of the game."

• HUNDREDS of young golfers will benefit from quality new practice and coaching facilities following an investment of almost 70,000 by Sportscotland.

The cash from its Building for Sport programme will see a new indoor coaching and development centre created at Mouse Valley Golf Club near Carstairs and a new pitching area and putting green built at Turnhouse Golf Club in Edinburgh.

Mouse Valley Golf Club, based at Kames Golf Club, has received a Sportscotland award of 39,000 to assist with the creation of an indoor golf development and coaching centre.

The centre, which will be one of only a few in Scotland, will consist of driving bays, a putting area and video swing-analysis all housed undercover.

It will allow the club to offer coaching to young players all year round, providing them with a quality introduction to golf.