Beyond the Billiard Room


Faced with the possibility of extinction, home recreation rooms are ushering in some surprising new players

According to the National Sporting Goods Association's 2005 report, consumer recreation equipment purchases were up 2.8% on the previous year, yet purchases in the category of billiards and indoor games declined 8.7%, from $621.9 million to $572.3 million. Is all hope lost for the beloved rec room of old? Is it time to cart out the pool tables and take the dartboards down from the walls to make room for flat-screen TVs and next-generation video games?

Not so fast, say a bevy of innovators in the indoor recreation-space category. The classic "billiard room" may indeed be on its deathbed, but a variety of other pastimes normally enjoyed outside of the home are knocking on the door and begging to get inside.

Ever dream of playing the links of St. Andrew's or Pebble Beach without having to step outside of your door? A Maumee (Ohio)-based company called AboutGolf is offering the opportunity with a high-tech new breed of indoor golf simulators. Originally designed for commercial environments such as golf stores and industry functions, the machines are making their way into homes with a going rate of $40,000.

Executive Toys

AboutGolf simulators use something called a Flightscope Sim Sensor to electronically project your real-life drives, chips, and putts onto a fully-rendered 3D environment displayed on a huge screen in front of you. It measures ball speed, vertical launch angle, horizontal launch angle, side spin, back spin, club head speed, and club face angle, and it feeds stats back to you after each shot.

"We think that the residential [golf simulator] market is largely untapped," says Bill Bale, AboutGolf's chief executive. "This is because of a combination of lack of awareness and lack, in the past, of technology that is robust enough." With increasing exposure in key locations such as PGA Superstores around the country, and the interest of an affluent market, the company believes its technology will become an increasingly common feature in the homes of serious golfers.

Some games are just more fun when you can enjoy them in the privacy and comfort of your own home and in the company of good friends. Private bowling lanes have long been a luxury feature of the most decadent properties, but they are now becoming an affordable option for enthusiasts who hate the ritual of renting shoes and competing with raucous league nights at the local alley.

Saves You Quarters

The contractors of United Bowling in Yulee, Fla., will install an entire customized bowling lane in your new or existing home for $19,000 to over $110,000, depending on size and amenities. Founder Doyle Claxton says a majority of his residential projects are still done for high-profile residential clients (such as football player Laveranues Coles and actress Sandra Bullock, a current client), but that home bowling alleys have in general started to become a more substantial part of his business in recent years.

It's not just sports that are vying for favor in the transformation of the modern rec room. Arcade games, once abundant in malls and bars across the U.S., have been gradually ousted from public spaces. They have been enthusiastically ushered into a new domain—the residential arcade.

"Pinball and arcade game sales are increasingly focused on home owners instead of [public] operators," says Kevin Steele, editor of Game Room Magazine. "There are less public places to play—the mall arcade is gone, and you can only occasionally find [games] in bars." The children who grew up with the first generation of arcade games, he adds, are now in their 30s and 40s, and can afford to bring the nostalgia of games like Pac-Man and Asteroid into their own home.

Got to Pay to Play

Jack Guarnieri owns PinballSales.com, an online retailer of arcade games based in Lakewood, N.J. "My customer base is anyone with a disposable income," he says. Guarnieri sells to both "parents with the space and money" to spend on their kids as well as adult arcade aficionados, on an everyday basis. PinballSales.com offers cabinet machines such as the popular multigame Arcade Legends (about $3,000), and a variety of pinball machines new and old (around $4,000 each).

One of the most extreme rec rooms in the world belongs to Guarnieri customer Bobby Volk, who outfitted his Vermont vacation home with about $80,000 worth of arcade games. Check out the slide show for a peek.


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