NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Combining a current profession in data and analytics with a favorite sports pastime was Mike Wilson’s goal when he began delving into the world of golf simulators.
“It started off much smaller,” he said. “Like, ‘Man, I want to put a simulator in my garage.’”
By Saturday, Oct. 7, Wilson and his wife, Kat, are opening a 5,000-square-foot indoor golf club and lounge, Backspin Social, at 6717 Market St. It features four golf simulators plus a putting green, as well as a few pool tables and a fully stocked bar.
It will be the third indoor golf lounge in Wilmington, but Wilson said Backspin’s simulators are a bit different. For instance, the augmented reality program, PuttView, used for the virtual putting green, shows players how to aim the ball into the hole and also tracks its journey getting there.
“It’s another way for somebody who’s really interested in becoming a better golfer,” Wilson said.
There are also numerous games that can be launched from the putting green, especially to engage younger kids. One is Tic-Tac-Toe, wherein the 10-foot-by-15-foot rectangle projection can pair up partners to try and make the ball land in the Tic-Tac-Toe’s nine different boxes.
Wilson said the putting green is outfitted with roughly 15 different games, such as Putt Pong — “kind of like beer pong” — and Maze. The latter includes a projector etching out a labyrinth on the ground for users to putt the ball through without hitting the virtual walls.
“Otherwise, you have to go back and start over,” Wilson explained.
Backspin’s main golf simulators can pull up any golf course worldwide and mimic conditions faced in real-time. For instance, they could set up the same course a PGA Tour has utilized for the pros. If a user wanted to play Pebble Beach — considered sacred ground in golf land, situated in California on the 5,300-acre Del Monte Forest, featuring seven championship courses that belly up to coastal cliffs — Backspin Social can make it happen.
“The only thing missing would be like the sound of the ocean,” Wilson said. “But if it’s 72 and pretty breezy, we can simulate that.”
Wilson studied Professional Golf Management while in college but changed his major to business before entering the corporate world. He has since worked as a manager in data and analytics for 15 years, though never gave up his passion for golf.
In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, he and his wife lived in Colorado, and like many professionals, yearned for a change. Wilson lived in Charlotte for five years after graduation and mentioned North Carolina as an option.
“And my wife actually had a dream one night and said, ‘Man, it would be really nice to live next to the ocean,’” he recalled.
This came in the midst of one of the Rockies’ snowstorms.
“And we were just over it,” he said, adding that the rising cost of living also played into the decision.
They considered other coastal areas in the South — Savannah, Charleston and Tampa — before Wilson brought up Wilmington. He had visited the Port City while living in the state years ago.
While sitting on the couch one night, scrolling through Zillow, he and his wife sent a text to each other featuring the same home for sale in Wilmington. They did a Facetime walk-through with realtors and decided to make the move.
“We flew out after the offer to check out the house in person and the town,” he said. “We just decided: ‘Let’s do this.’ We thought nothing’s permanent, unless you want it to be, so let’s live in Wilmington for a little while. And, you know, we don’t plan on leaving.”
After three years as transplants, the couple began evaluating a change in careers. His wife — who previously worked in Medicaid in Colorado — opened her own spiritual practice, Conjure, and Wilson was feeling burned out by corporate life.
He decided to look for space for Backspin Social, a concept that had grown from a personal, in-house practice course to perhaps renting a small space for friends and family to enjoy the games to a fleshed-out business plan. The Wilsons signed a lease on a newly constructed space next to Enterprise Rentals near Old Dairy Road.
“It’s a unique building that was just sitting there, with tons of space, that I drove by daily,” he said.
They’ve been renovating the rectangular building for a year, with two lounge areas outfitted with couches and chairs, a bar with green tiles and multiple TVs for patrons to watch sporting events. An outdoor patio is included and Wilson plans to bring in live music and special events.
Backspin Social will feature local beers on tap, as well as a craft cocktail menu. It will serve twists on golf-heavy classics, like the Arnold Palmer. Plus, there will be a large mocktail menu.
“We realize a lot of people are very conscious about wanting to go out and do something but not have to drink,” he said.
While the goal is to provide entertainment to patrons, Wilson sees Backspin as an educational space, too. During the recent Tropical Storm Ophelia, a coach from Castle Bay Golf Course utilized Backspin to teach lessons since the class couldn’t happen outdoors due to deteriorating weather conditions.
The simulators have infrared, high-speed cameras with sensors that measure one’s swing — how fast a club moves or where the ball launches from the club, what direction the swing is in.
“It calculates your ball flight, if you hit it up into the right or down the middle or to the left,” Wilson added.
The Castle Bay coach utilized the tools to help his students tweak their techniques in real-time. Wilson wants to pair up with pros to bring in more lessons.
The bar owner also has volunteered with the local First Tee program — whose mission is to empower kids via golf — and hopes to offer resources from Backspin to the junior players, as well as UNCW students. Also, he will launch a golf league for women and men at the club, to play nine holes weekly and rotate through games. Players will be recognized, for example, for getting closest to the hole on a par three.
“It will be just a friendly competition,” he said.
Wilson said, unlike real-life courses, which require walking or traveling in carts, one person could play 18 holes or four people could knock out nine in an hour.
“I mean, nothing beats being on the greens,” he said. “But one thing that I tell folks is that when I go out and play golf, I personally want to get to the golf course an hour before my tee time just to warm up and practice a little bit, then play for four or five hours and drive 45 minutes or so home. So you’re looking at seven or eight hours for a regular golf course. You can be in and out in an hour, hour and a half with virtual golf.”
Backspin Social makes its debut on Saturday, Oct. 7, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Peak times to reserve a game in one of the bays costs $50 an hour and $40 during non-peak hours; there is no limit on the amount of people playing.
Reservations can be made online and walk-ins are accepted, pending time slots are available.
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