FIELD OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates to improved golf simulators provided with lie simulation.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
One of the particular disadvantages of the game of golf is the very large space it requires, which can make it very expensive where land is at a premium and/or require extensive travel from a city to a more or less remote golf course. In recent years various golf simulators have been developed which can provide some elements of realism by using projected images of a player's view of a golf course and of the ball's estimated position after it has been driven by a player. Various kinds of sensor are used to monitor the flight of the ball and/or the trajectory of the golf club head, and use the captured data to estimate the trajectory which the ball would have followed out in the unconfined space of the real golf course. With such simulators it is quite possible to “experience” playing holes from golf course from all around the world, in a small confined space which can readily be accommodated in the centre of a city or any other convenient location.
A particular feature of real-life golf courses is, however, the very diverse nature of different lies which may be encountered in a round of golf due to the varying topography of the course. Thus whilst the first drive for each hole will normally be played from a substantially level tee area, subsequent drives will often have to be played from lies with a variety of slope angles and slope directions relative to the direction in which the player wishes to drive the ball. A significant practical limitation of such golf simulators is that no provision is made for providing the player with such variations in lie, let alone in providing variations in lie which are related to the estimated position of the ball after the last executed drive.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
It is an object of the present invention to avoid or minimize one or more of the above disadvantages.
The present invention provides a golf simulator comprising a launch area facing a screen at which the ball is driven and which is used to display an image of part of a golf course; sensor devices formed and arranged for detecting at least one of: the impact of a golf ball on the screen, the flight of the ball towards said screen, and the trajectory of the golf club head during the golf club swing; a tiltable tee apparatus having a playing surface panel and at least one displacement device formed and arranged for tilting said playing surface panel so as to provide a desired slope angle and slope direction relative to a golf driving direction; and a computer apparatus operatively connected to said sensor devices and to said at least one displacement device, and programmed so as to control display of part of a golf course on said screen, based on the topography of the golf course, and the position of the launch area in relation to said golf course, and compute an estimated trajectory of the ball on the basis of the inputs received from said sensor devices, compute an estimated position of the ball based on the estimated trajectory and the ball landing zone topography, control said display on the screen so as to display the estimated position of the ball on the screen image, compute the slope angle and slope direction of the estimated position or lie of the ball, and control said at least one displacement device so as to bring the playing surface panel slope angle and slope direction into correspondence with the computed slope angle and slope direction so that the next drive can be played from a realistic lie.
Various different kinds of displacement device may be used in accordance with the present invention. Thus on the one hand there may be used various pressurized fluid, e.g. hydraulic or pneumatic, operated devices. Alternatively there may be used various mechanical devices driven by motors, conveniently electric motors, typically via suitable gears and/or other drive transmission mechanisms. Separate displacement devices may be used to provide tilting of the playing surface panel and rotation of (at least) the playing surface panel. Alternatively there could be used an arrangement where several, e.g. at least three, independently operable displacement devices are used to raise selectively, different sides of the playing surface panel, thereby providing different slope directions without the need for rotation of any part of the tee platform. Various suitable forms of tiltable tee apparatus are known in the art including designs such as those described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,820,478, 5,558,334, and 5,549,522.
It will be appreciated that various different kinds of known golf simulator could be adapted in accordance with the present invention. One suitable type of golf simulator is described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,846,139.
In one preferred form of golf simulator of the present invention, the tiltable tee apparatus is provided with control signal receiving inputs for a tee platform tilting device motor and a tee platform rotation drive motor, for tilting and rotation of the tee platform respectively, towards required slope angle and slope direction or orientation values, said control signal receiving inputs being operatively connected to the computer of the golf simulator so that the slope angle and slope direction of the tee platform may be adjusted under the control of the computer so as to be brought into correspondence with the slope angle and slope direction values at the estimated position of the ball as defined by the ball landing zone topography.
It will be appreciated that the computer can be used to control the tee platform in various ways. Thus on the one hand there may be used drive motors such as stepper motors which are drivable between positions with fixed predetermined relationships to given reference positions so that a control signal from the computer to achieve a desired slope angle and/or slope direction is executable directly. On the other hand there may be used a feedback system with slope angle and slope direction sensing devices provided on the tiltable tee platform and having outputs for slope angle and slope direction signals, respectively; and a tee platform tilting device motor and the tee platform rotation drive motor, for tilting and rotation of the tee platform respectively, towards required slope angle and slope direction values.
Various suitable angular displacement sensors may be used for the slope angle and slope direction (orientation) sensing devices, and include resistive or capacitative sensors, optical sensors, LVDT sensors, etc. It will of course be appreciated that either similar or different kinds of sensor may be used for the slope angle and slope direction sensing devices.
Thus in accordance with one preferred aspect the golf simulator of the present invention there is used a tiltable tee apparatus having:
a slope sensing device and slope direction sensing device having outputs for slope angle and slope direction signals, respectively; and
control signal receiving inputs for a tee platform tilting drive motor and the tee platform rotation drive motor, for tilting and rotation of the tee platform, respectively, towards required slope angle and slope direction values; said slope and slope direction sensing devices and said slope and slope direction control signal inputs of said apparatus being operatively connected to the computer of a said golf simulator so that the slope and slope direction of the tee platform may be compared by said computer with the slope and slope direction of the golf course, at the estimated position of the ball in the ball landing zone, and the computer generate control signals for tilting and rotation of the tee platform so as to bring the slope angle and slope direction of the tee platform into correspondence with the slope angle and slope direction values of said estimated position.
It will be appreciated that in use of the above apparatus, the tee platform would normally start in a neutral or zeroed configuration with zero slope corresponding to a flat tee-off launch area. After each drive has been completed the tee platform slope angle and slope direction is then adjusted via the simulator computer so as to bring it into correspondence with the slope angle and slope direction values at the estimated position of the ball after that drive, so that the launch area is reconfigured into a realistic lie dependent on the drive actually executed by the user.
A particularly suitable form of tiltable and rotatable tee apparatus comprises a ground support, and a tee platform rotatably mounted on said ground support, said tee platform comprising a base portion and a playing surface panel hingedly connected at a first edge portion to a corresponding edge portion of said base portion, said playing surface panel being supported at a jack support portion remote from said first edge portion on an upper end of at least one screw jack pivotally connected thereto, said at least one screw jack having its lower end pivotally connected to said base portion, one of said ground support and tee platform base portion having a fixed spur gear secured thereto in a substantially horizontal plane on the rotational axis of said rotable tee platform, and the other having mounted thereon a drive motor with an elongate toothed drive output transmission member for driving engagement with said spur gear so as to rotate said tee platform in use of the apparatus, whereby in use of the apparatus said tee platform may be tilted throughout a range of slope angles and slope directions by operation of said at least one screw jack and said tee platform rotation drive motor.
This apparatus has the particular advantages of providing good stability using an economic and reliable form of construction. This is particularly beneficial in view of the relatively rapid movements and strong forces utilized in a golf swing which impose considerable stresses of all kinds on a platform, and it is particularly important both for the integrity of the apparatus and for the avoidance of disturbing the player's equilibrium and concentration, that the tee platform should be as stable as possible.
Various forms of elongate toothed drive output transmission member may be used which provide substantial resistance to any unintentional movement of the rotatable tee platform when the drive transmission member is not being driven. Thus, for example, there may be used a worm screw rotated by the motor directly, or preferably via a suitable reduction gear system. Advantageously though there is used an elongate rack member driven by a screw jack or the like operated by said drive motor.
With an apparatus of the present invention the rotation and tilting of the tee platform can readily be controlled in a substantially precise manner with minimal play between the relatively movable parts. Furthermore, the use of a screw jack mechanism provides for a fail safe and positive maintenance of a desired slope angle in a particularly simple and effective manner without the need for any additional braking or locking mechanisms, and with a playing surface panel hingedly connected at one edge to the base portion, the stability of the tee platform is further increased in a particular simple and economic manner.
Various kinds of screw jack device may be used in the apparatus of the present invention, including, for example so-called scissor jacks. Preferably though there is used a telescopic screw jack which generally comprises an elongate housing portion with a captive nut through which an elongate screw is secured into and out of the housing portion for telescoping therewith. Advantageously the screw jack is driven by a motor, usually an electric motor, preferably via a reduction gear-box. Similarly the motor used to rotate the tee platform is also usually electric and preferably provide with a reduction gear box in order to limit the speed of movement of the tee platform and improve control thereof.
Advantageously, the stability of the tee platform, may be yet further increased-against any possible pitching on its rotatable mount by an annular bearing support extending radially outwardly of the rotatable mount. Any suitable form of bearing support may be used including, for example, a multiplicity of angularly distributed roller bearings.
In order to increase further the stability of the tee platform against any rotational displacement thereof in reaction to the swing of a golfer standing on the tee platform in use thereof, there is advantageously provided a locking device which is engagable, preferably automatically engagable, after the tee platform has been rotated to a desired position. Conveniently there is provided a locking device configured to be normally locked, being unlocked upon activation of the tee platform rotating drive motor, and re-locked upon deactivation of the drive motor. One particularly suitable form of locking device comprises a plurality of angularly distributed electromagnet units with axially displaceable elements with end portions which function as brake pad elements extending into braking engagement with a disk brake type plate when the electromagnets are powered up, and returning to a retracted position when the electromagnets are powered down.
The playing surface panel is generally provided with an artificial turf synthetic matting simulating grass for supporting the ball on, and advantageously the matting has an outer annular zone with shorter turf for simulating fairway, an inner annular zone with longer turf for simulating rough, and a central zone having a non-slip surface for supporting a player thereon, typically of a natural or synthetic rubber material, or other polymeric material having a surface adapted to provide good friction. If desired the material could have a limited degree of resilience. Advantageously the material is configured or formulated so as to shed water to avoid compromising its non-slip properties.
It is generally preferred, that the top surface of the matting should be substantially level in order to provide the player with a more natural looking playing surface. In this case different turf lengths for the different zones, can be provided by using a stepped substrate into which the artificial turf fibres are anchored. A suitable turf length for the outer “fairway grass” ball support zone would generally be in the range from 5 to 15 mm, for example, about 12 mm, and for the inner ball “rough grass” support zone generally in the range from 20 to 40 mm, for example, about 25 mm. If desired, the effective turf height can be varied when required by the simple expedient of sprinkling a layer of sand or other like particulate material onto the substrate between the turf fibres. The sand is retained by the fibres when the tee platform is tilted, and can be removed when no longer needed by a vacuum cleaner apparatus. Typically the central player support zone would have a diameter of the order of 1000 mm to 1300 mm, whilst the annular “fairway” and “rough” zones would each have a radial depth or width of around 125 to 250 mm, for example about 200 mm.
It will be appreciated that, for particularly steep lies, even the longer turf may be insufficient to retain the ball in position and the platform is advantageously provided with a flexible tubular tee generally of the kind used in driving ranges, but with an angled top end. The tubular tee is desirably mounted in a suitable recess in the platform substrate so as to be rotatable so that when the platform is tilted, the tubular tee can be rotated so that the angle of its top end relative to the horizontal is minimized thereby better to support the ball.
It will be understood that various forms of sensing devices, image display systems, and other golf simulator components, suitable for use in the simulators of the present invention, are already known in the art and accordingly need not be discussed in any further detail herein.