It was an unwavering interest in data science, technology and their impact on the present and future of golf that led PGA Hall of Famer Bob Ford to Arccos. The 2017 Bob Jones Award recipient and Seminole Golf Club General Manager was fascinated by the company’s pioneering of “connected golf,” emphasising on-course data collection, performance analysis and game improvement.
Appointed chair of the Arccos Advisory Board in 2018, Ford immediately jumped in and consulted on the development of the “Coaches Dashboard,” a free, web-based platform allowing PGA Professionals, college coaches and instructors to access, analyse and interpret their students’ on-course performance data.
As he was leaving Oakmont Country Club outside Pittsburgh to spend the winter months at Seminole in Juno Beach, Florida, Ford took the time to discuss five ways technology and data are impacting the 562-year-old royal and ancient game.
1. Revealing the Truth to the Average Golfer
Arccos has collected more than 150 million shots from over 2 million rounds of golf played by its user base. This allows for half-a-billion GPS mapping points and 30 million data points of golfer behaviors.
But Ford says it only takes a few rounds of on-course data for the average golfer to sober-up to the reality of his or her game.
“Without question, they’ll be shocked by what they see in their short game,” he states. “Some golfers can’t get it on the green from 120 yards out, but in their minds, they hit it on most the time. And most players don’t accurately account for their strokes. They’ll be surprised to see how many they actually take during a round.”
(Editor’s note: according to Arccos data the average 15 handicap golfer will miss the green 60.6% of the time from 120 yards).
Second to the short game is the reality check that occurs with distance, or lack thereof.
2. Galvanising the Student-Teacher Bond
The wealth of performance data available today could lead golfers to believe they can self-diagnose their own swing flaws. Or, so it would seem.
Ford takes an opposing point of view.
“I think the bond between teacher and student is going to grow with more widespread adoption of technology and data collection,” he says. “It presents an opportunity to stay closer to the student.”
From business travelers spending days or weeks away from home, to college golfers honing their games in the off-season, Ford says real-time performance data and instant sharing of results via smartphone is a game-changer.
“An instructor can give a lesson, the student goes away somewhere, plays a few rounds and sends the results back to the instructor,” Ford says. “There is an ongoing dialog that brings them closer even if they aren’t physically together, and Arccos is helping forge that bond.”
3. Changing the Narrative from the Range to the Course
When it comes to teaching, Ford is hands on. Very hands on. At Seminole, most of his time with students is spent on the golf course, versus the practice range. He unequivocally favors performance data collected during a round.
“I wouldn’t even look at the range data if I was coaching that player,” he says. “It is night and day, unless you are a professional golfer. You see a different person on the course than on the practice range.”
PGA TOUR players maintain remarkably stable heart rates whether on the range or competing on the course. The average player is effectively two different golfers from the practice tee to the first tee, especially if there’s any level of competition involved.
“It can be easy to get them [students] to do things on the range,” Ford says. “But we can look at the data by hole and see how they are playing every shot. From there we can develop a plan of attack for lowering scores within a live environment.”
4. Growing the Game through Analytics
Golfers improve their handicap 47-times faster with Arccos Caddie than without. Collectively, products and services that enhance playing ability over time benefit the entire industry, a fact Ford says is often overlooked.
“I think the most important thing in all of this, and we don’t talk about this as much in respect to growing the game, but the better golfers get, the more they want to play,” Ford says. “Tech also resonates with younger generations raised on electronics. Not only that, but it also involves them utilising their smart phones. It is part of the recipe for growing rounds.”
To Ford’s point, smartphone use on the golf course is up 47% since 2011 according to the National Golf Foundation (NGF). Additionally, 70% of core golfers surveyed by the NGF have used a launch monitor, while only 25% have tried on-course performance tracking.
It begs the question, is 75% of the market missing out on leveraging technology to get better?
“I wouldn’t say they are missing the opportunity because Arccos is out there for them to explore and use,” Ford says. “I think they understand the power of data, but they may not grasp how it can impact their game.”
5. Democratising Game Improvement
Ford says the single biggest change-agent in golf technology up until a few years ago was the rapid adoption of TrackMan at premier private clubs, resorts and golf schools. However, the dual radar-based launch monitor does not track on-course performance, unlike Arccos Caddie, and can easily crack the $20,000 mark, putting it well out of the reach of most consumers.
“Everyone wants to do what the PGA TOUR pros are doing and use what they’re using,” Ford says. “But it is prohibitively expensive for the average golfer.”
Advances in manufacturing and distribution, as well as increased competition, are opening artificial intelligence and performance tracking devices to exponentially more buyers.
“The prices are coming down, no question, with scale and efficiency just like with flat screen TVs and other technology,” Ford says.
For example, Across Caddie Smart Grips retail from $199, including a one-year subscription (valued at $99.99), with several grip options from Golf Pride or Lamkin.
The evolution is not only economic. Arccos has shifted the narrative from the range to the golf course, which Ford believes is a seismic disruption that now sets the standard for golf-focused data science and technology.
“With strategic partners like Microsoft, PING, Cobra and Dick’s Sporting Goods, I’m excited to work with Arccos to help shape the future of the game,” Ford says.