Aware that the secret would soon get out, Michael Sim set his alarm for 11.59pm so that he could register for the second tournament in the TrackMan-powered NEXT Golf Tour.
A former top-50 player in the world with four wins on the secondary Korn Ferry Tour in the US to his name, Sim uses the simulator bays at Burleigh Bunker on the Gold Coast primarily to dial in his iron and wedge distances and check club path and attack angle.
An e-mail from TrackMan’s Director of Sales in Australia and New Zealand, Brook Salmon, alerted Sim to the new 10-event virtual tour promising a minimum of $US100,000 prize money for each event.
He signed up for the opening tournament, shot five-under at the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West and finished tied for 12th when the tournament closed on Monday, Sim expected to bank close to $1,000 for his efforts.
A four-time winner on the Nordic Golf League, Denmark’s Mathias Gladbjerg won Round 1 by one stroke with a score of eight-under 64, TrackMan CEO Klaus Eldrup-Jørgensen personally delivering his cheque for $US17,477.
Sensing it would grow in popularity, Sim made sure not to miss out on Round 2 by setting a midnight wake-up call, all 250 spots snapped up within the first three hours.
“I knew how popular it was starting to get,” said Sim, a two-time winner on the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia.
“I actually set an alarm clock for midnight to enter and by the time I got up at quarter to five in the morning it was sold out.”
Entry for each competitor is $US130, $100 of which is put straight into the prize pool.
Given demand, Round 2 was opened up to 500 competitors and the expectation is that by Round 3 there could be as many as 1,000 entrants playing virtual golf for very real money.
“If we get 1,000 players we’re really going to see some sizeable prize purses and the ability for someone to make $50,000 for a 45-minute round of virtual golf,” explains Salmon.
For Sim – and touring professionals just like him who have access to TrackMan technology – the possibilities offered by NEXT Golf Tour are endless.
“If you’ve got a week off and an event’s on, it costs you $200 and you might win $25,000; why wouldn’t you do it?” Sim asks.
“I’m going to play them all. The guys at Burleigh Bunker have been great and it’s a great facility down there.
“You’ll see way more Tour guys start to jump on. I’m not sure how big the fields are going to get but if the fields do get bigger, I’d like to see two or three rounds. Then you’ll start to see the better players win or certainly up the top of the leaderboard.”
In addition to the overall strokeplay champion, each event offers cash prizes for aggregate closest to the pin, birdie streak, longest drives for men and women and greens in regulation.
Although hitting greens can bring its own reward, the fixed putting that is in play means that anything inside three metres is automatically counted as a one-putt, between 3.1m and 20m is an automatic two-putt and outside 20m is an automatic three-putt.
“There’s a little bit of strategy involved with that,” said Sim, who played his tournament round in 38 minutes, all of which is recorded and verified by TrackMan representatives.
“I was two-under and then I had two holes in a row where I was 3.6 and 4 metres away and they’re only pars.
“If I’d got those I would have been four-under after eight and that gets your mind thinking. You almost feel like it’s the last round, back-nine sort of thing.”
That a player of Sim’s calibre admitted to feeling nervous energy while playing a virtual tournament adds even greater legitimacy to what TrackMan has created with the NEXT Golf Tour.
“’Simmy’ is a pretty even-keel guy on the golf course but you could see there was that nervous energy, the nervous smirk,” said Salmon, who watched Sim complete Round 1.
“He air-mailed a green and by his own admission said it was because the heartbeat was racing a little bit because he was pushing to birdie three of the last five to equal the lead.
“There’s a guy that has played on the biggest Tour in the world yet he’s still getting a buzz out of virtual golf. It was cool to see.
“I’m sure our owners would be thrilled to see a person of that ilk have those feelings and emotions.”
There are more than 400 TrackMan units throughout Australia and 23 TrackMan-powered commercial simulator centres.
The NEXT Golf Tour is open to both professionals and amateurs but amateurs are limited to winning a maximum of $1,000 as stipulated by both the USGA and the R&A.
Entries for Round 3 – to be played on Medinah Country Club from February 1-12 open on January 19.
For more information visit nextgolftour.com.