VERO BEACH — If you’d love to play Pebble Beach in the morning and drive the ball at St. Andrew’s in the afternoon – you can, on simulated courses so detailed and accurate that PGA professionals use them to hone skills.
ForeGolf , a Vero Beach software development and simulation system manufacturing company, can open that door to virtual reality.
It has created easy-to-install packages that come pre-loaded with 50 of the world’s great courses and can mimic any weather condition from bright sunshine to windblown rain.
Company founders Mary and Erik Lugris, both avid golfers, started the business in part because they wanted to work together and also to help others “live their golf dreams.”
Erik, a serial entrepreneur who previously built and sold a successful internet business in Miami, has a strong background in gaming software development.
Mary, a Vero Beach native and CPA, comes from the world of accounting and financial management.
“I worked for Price Waterhouse back before they added Cooper,” said Mary, whose outgoing personality balances the inward looking focus of her husband.
When the pair launched ForeGolf in 2008, it was a distributorship for another company’s indoor golf simulation system.
But it didn’t take Erik long to see that he could build a better mousetrap and bring greater reality to virtual golf.
In early 2010, the Lugrises and long-time banking and marketing executive John Keating, who had come aboard as an investor and company vice president, severed the distributor relationship and launched their own patent-pending product line.
Keating said three things set ForeGolf apart from the competition.
“It is the high-speed cameras we use; the sophistication of our software, which makes the experience more realistic; and the simplicity of our system.”
ForeGolf sells two basic models, the Sirgul All In One, which has a single large projection screen that golf balls are hit against, and the Sirgul 180, a three-screen system that encompasses the player in a three-dimensional virtual world.
Instead of having multiple boxes with many wires like competing systems, Sirgul consolidates all the technical components into a single box with just two wires to hook up.
“We wanted it to be seamless and easy to install,” said Mary. “It simplifies troubleshooting, too. If there is a problem, there is only one box to look at.”
The custom-designed computers at the heart of Sirgul are manufactured in Virginia, but other materials are sourced locally, according to Keating.
“We buy everything else here in Indian River County where we manufacture the systems,” he said. “That includes the light fixtures, projectors, mat, canvas for screens and the metal box that holds the components.”
The company’s plant is located on U.S. 1 in Vero Beach.
Both systems come with 50 courses pre-loaded and the option to add 50 more.
They provide a rich data stream about the golfer’s stance, swing and performance that make them superb teaching tools.
Using his or her own clubs and brand of balls, a golfer can take a full swing in the family rec room and see the flight of the ball down a famous fairway from multiple angles while getting precise speed and distance readings.
The PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance in Port St. Lucie, where 28,000 university and country club pros go for training and certification, recently bought a Sirgul system to help golf instructors.
“The PGA of America is excited to partner with ForeGolf,” said PGA President Allen Wronowski. “The simulator will help the PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance’s clients achieve their goals in learning and playing the game.”
Keating said other customers include U.S. military bases, where the systems are installed in recreation halls, universities that use them in their golf programs, entertainment centers around the world and individual golfers who have them installed at home.
“We made the system much more family-friendly six months ago,” said Keating. “You can now use it for Xbox games or Wii exercises or to watch movies or television. So it isn’t just a guy buying a simulator and hitting golf balls all the time. It is something the whole family can enjoy.”
“Owners can also network to play a friendly game or compete in custom designed tournaments,” said Erik.
“They can set the tournament perimeter of which course will be played and any special rules and how many holes will be played between this date and that date. Players can compete whenever they have time. When you play your hole, a leaderboard comes up that shows who’s playing right now, who has played and what the scores are so far.”
Erik Lugris and his team are currently creating software that will enable players to enter the game as avatars so they can see themselves play.
Via networking, an instructor at a remote site will be able to enter the same game in avatar form and observe and communicate with the player.
Soon, ForeGolf’s virtual courses will be linked to sensors that allow real-time weather conditions to be incorporated into the game. If it is sunny with a 15-mile an hour wind at Augusta, those will be the conditions on the electronic version of that course.