If you can't golf, you're going to suck at OptiShot's sim. That's because you take full-blooded hacks at a ball with a real driver, iron or putter, and not a gamepad or mouse as with, say, EA's PGA Tour series. The swinging mat has two strips of 16 infrared sensors that detect when your club zips through the ball before, during and after contact. It measures your clubhead speed to within plus or minus 2 MPH, and the face angle and swing path to within 1.5 and 1.9 degrees, respectively. The sim then figures out the distance your ball would travel in real life and whether it'd hook, slice or go straight.
If you can play a little, it's stupidly fun. I used a BenQ 1080p projector and high-end PC, with all the realism settings cranked. The graphics aren't quite as good as World Golf Tour or other top-notch golf games, but they're definitely good enough, and anyway, it's not meant to be a video game per se. Rather, it makes boring practice more entertaining by making you care about each swing -- if you fluff a shot, you'll get beat by an online rival or shoot a bad score.
To kick things off, you install the OptiShot2 software on your PC or Mac, download the courses and plug in the hardware. The company recommends a minimum 8.5-foot-high ceiling, though you may need more than that -- if you're tall and want to swing a driver, a 10-foot or higher ceiling might be required. You can optionally calibrate your clubs and tell the system's auto-caddy which one to hand you for a given distance. To pretend you're Bubba Watson, you can cheat the settings so that the ball flies much farther than it would in real life.
Once you take a hack with or without a ball, its digital counterpart will accurately slice into the rough or power down the fairway. You can fine-tune the settings for more wind, higher rough difficulty or faster greens, to name a few options. From there, just play the course as you would in real life, hitting drivers, irons, chips and putts.
The system does a good job of measuring your swing, with a few exceptions. I compared it against a Zepp swing analyzer, and it matched the swing speed and clubface angle closely. As with the Zepp, I was hitting drives about 250-260 yards, and deserved any slices or hooks it gave me. That feedback forced me to make the necessary adjustments to avoid spraying the ball all over the digital links. When I did go to play on a real course, I found that extra concentration helpful -- on a driving range, it's too easy to just turn your brain off, since there's nothing to play for.
The OptiShot2 picks up center, toe or heel contact, but not "fat" or thin shots. That's because it can't measure the height of your club above the sensor, so a real-life "topped" shot might look just fine on the sim. It also means chipping isn't very realistic, as face contact is critical on such shots. The simulated putting was reasonably accurate, however, according to a comparison I made with the 3Bays GSA Putt. In any case, the OptiShot2 can't help your putting or chipping much -- those two disciplines have to be practiced on a real green. Having them work consistently makes the game more fun, though, especially with head-to-head play.
If you want a more realistic playing experience, it's doable -- for a price. A sum of $300 will get you an octagonal mat, raising your feet slightly and giving them more grip than, say, your hardwood floor. There's also a $110 hitting net that you can bang real golf balls into for extra feel (and danger), along with plastic tees and foam balls.
You can set up online games and invite up to four friends for stroke or match play (offline games are also possible). This is just as amusing as it sounds, although you're trusting your pals not to fudge the settings. You can play on 15 included courses, or buy extra "Platinum" tracks at $30 bucks a pop. Amusingly, the company added a course called "Sweet Magnolia," a course strikingly similar to The Masters' Augusta National layout. In fact, many of the courses are facsimiles of real-life championship layouts with the names changed, possibly for copyright reasons.
On my first simulated OptiShot2 game I failed to break 100 and I'm a 14-handicap, so that was embarrassing. But that's just the point: By accurately tracking your swing, the system forces you to bear down and play better. After shaking off a bit of rust and grooving a better motion, things started looking up and after about 15 games, I shot a 75 at "Sweet Magnolia."
Then came the acid test: a real golf course. I played my first real round of the year and lo, I actually scored decently. So, the OptiShot succeeds on two counts for me -- it's super fun, and it helped my full swing by forcing me to practice better. It can't help your short game much, but the chipping and putting simulations are good enough to keep it fun. My only reservation is the price: a full setup, including the octagonal mat, net and a few courses runs nearly $1,000, the same price as a membership at my local club. But if you're a golf nut with means, it'll give you a fun way to practice so that when you hit the links for real, you'll be ready.