For the last few years I’ve observed what I think is a transformation in the golf industry. I believe that innovation and technology has hit a wall with regards to equipment, largely because of the limits on performance imposed by golf’s governing bodies. Nowhere is this more evident than in the golf ball market. Having tested “tour” level golf balls from just about every major manufacturer in the last 6 months, I concluded that they all perform about the same. I started seeing this trend while participating in Golf Digest’s annual “Hot List” testing. Some of the best performing golf balls we tried often turned out to be the cheaper versions of “tour” level balls that cost significantly less.
This lack of innovation in the equipment market has led entrepreneurs to think outside the box and come up with new game improvement technology over the last half decade or so. The market is now flooded with swing trackers, launch monitors and distance measurement devices. One of these new products is called GAME GOLF, and it is the world’s first automatic shot tracking system according to creators of the device.
GAME GOLF is a GPS-enabled game tracking device that you wear on your belt. It comes with sensors (or tags) that you attach to your clubs by screwing them into the hole in the top of your grips. They provide 18 tags in case you have some other clubs rotating in and out of the bag on occasion. To use the device, you simply turn it on and go. GAME GOLF comes pre-loaded with over 35,000 courses and finds the course you are playing automatically. From there, you simply pick your club, tag the device and hit your shot. GAME GOLF will record your location, club selection, shot results, distance and more as you play your way around the course.
When you get home simply attach the GAME GOLF unit to your computer via the included USB cable and upload your round to the web. From there the GAME GOLF website will show you a map of your round via satellite imagery, statistics for the round, distances for each shot and much more. During the upload process you can edit your round details in case you forgot to tag a shot here and there, or if the GPS was a little off from your location. You have full control before your round becomes official and you save it.
One of the great features of GAME GOLF is the social aspect of the platform. Once your round is posted, you can share the results on Facebook and Twitter. Other players using GAME GOLF that follow you will get notifications of your round and can comment on it. There is also a nifty challenge feature that lets you and other golfers using GAME GOLF to compare stats over a number of rounds for bragging rights. In a sense, there’s no hiding your game’s deficiencies with this thing! After 4 or 5 rounds you’ll start to see where your game needs the most improvement, and if you share, so will your opponents.
Let’s take a closer look at GAME GOLF, how it works, what I liked about it, what I don’t like and what’s in store for the near future…
How It Works
I don’t mean to over-simplify this, but it really is almost foolproof to use GAME GOLF. The main tracking unit weighs next to nothing and attaches to your belt. It only has one button to turn it on or off. There’s no screen or controls to worry about. You simply put it on, turn it on and play golf. There is one sensor assigned to each club in your bag from the driver down to your putter, with a few extra wildcard tags thrown in for extra hybrids or whatever.
When you turn on the unit, the GPS sensors find your location and the devices loads the golf course automatically. When you get to the first tee and tag the device with your driver, it locates you via GPS and is smart enough to know where you are. From there it awaits your next tag. When you arrive at your tee shot and tag the club you will use for your approach shot, it calculates the distance your tee shot traveled from the last tag and uses GPS location to determine if you hit the fairway, rough, bunker, etc. In a way, the GAME GOLF device is like having someone follow you around and track your statistics in real time. As you play your round, the device uses the info it gathers to track stats like drive distance, fairways hit, greens hit, average putts per green, scrambling percentage and more.
When you get home you’ll plug the unit into your PC using a USB cable and upload the round to the GAME GOLF web portal. From there you can check the round to make sure the score is correct, edit your shots for greater accuracy and add the shots you may have forgotten to tag in the process of playing. Once your edits are finished you’ll “sign” your round which makes it official, and it is posted for the whole world to see. From there you can share the round with friends and compete in challenges with other GAME GOLF users.
What I Like
GAME GOLF is easy to use. The stats you can gather using the device are plentiful and powerful to help you improve your game. Once you get about 10-12 rounds in the system you really start to see good numbers on average distance for each club in your bag and where you tend to miss with each club. For example, I’m hitting only 43% of the fairways with 34% of my misses going left and 22% missing right. This system is awesome at identifying where you need to improve and giving you some solid data to measure your progress.
The social aspect of GAME GOLF is also a great way to keep in touch with your buddies across the country or compare your game with the pros. Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood frequently use GAME GOLF during their practice rounds and it’s easy to compare your stats to theirs. For example, my scrambling percentage is 53%, compared to 62% for McDowell and 65% for Westwood.
GAME GOLF was approved for use by the USGA, meaning that you can use it for handicap rounds and tournament rounds alike. The unit doesn’t provide any information to the user in real time so you cannot gain an unfair advantage by using it, unlike competing products which require the use of your phone with the sensors. Don’t get me started about phones on the golf course…
What I Don’t Like
The tagging process takes some getting used to. It is suggested that you change your pre-shot routine to include the tagging process, but I prefer tag the shot after I hit. That way I don’t have to change my routine at all. I simply hit my shot, then before putting my club away I’ll tag the shot and move on. On the putting green I like to tag the putt while marking my ball so I don’t have to worry about it later, and on tap-ins I’ll quickly tag it while reaching for the ball in the hole or add it later when I forget.
For the system to work properly you have to tag your club to the head unit to register the data. Failure to do so results in incomplete data when you upload your round. For example, if you tag your tee shot on a par 4 but forget to tag the second shot, then hit the green and two-putt for par, when you upload the round it’ll appear that you drove the green and two-putted for birdie. Thankfully you can edit your round and add the missing approach shot, but you’ll have to remember what club you hit and how far away you were. Forgetting to tag a shot happens most often on tap-in length putts, as I alluded to above. It’s pretty easy to add them in after the fact when editing your round, but unless you have a photographic memory of all the shots you take like I do you had better not miss too many tags or your round will be a mess to clean up.
There are two things that make GAME GOLF so easy for me to use: I’m a scratch handicap so I don’t take as many shot as the average golfer, thus fewer tags and less info to remember when editing a round, and I’m an IT professional so I am very computer savvy. For me, the editing process takes about 5-10 minutes for a round. I’ll go hole by hole and check everything for accuracy, adding shots I forgot to tag or the system didn’t register properly. For some users the process may take longer, especially at first.
I played a round of golf at a mountain course in North Carolina that had been re-routed at some point, because when I tried to upload my round in GAME GOLF the scorecard was completely erroneous and the holes didn’t match up in the correct order. Armed with the course scorecard, I emailed the GAME GOLF support team and worked with them to correct the course layout and scorecard in their system. With a few emails back and forth we had the information updated and my round was accurate. The support staff seem to have their stuff together and are very responsive.
Prepare to check your ego at the door. The accuracy of measuring distance with GPS may be debatable, but so far with over 15 rounds in the system I can say that the average distances of almost every club in my bag are right about where they have been for years. Many people over-estimate how far they hit the golf ball, which is why most approach shots come up short. GAME GOLF may hurt your ego a bit when you realize that your average drive is 25 yards shorter than you think, but I’m here to give you actionable data to help improve your game, not stroke your ego. For the record, 24% of my approach shots taken from outside 100 yards come up short, compared to only 4% that go long.
GAME GOLF is constantly evolving as a statistics and game tracking platform. The social aspects of it have just started to scratch the surface of their potential, and new features are going to be available via firmware updates to the device. As more people join the community, more opportunities arise for sharing of information and competing with one another. I would love to see some PGA Tour caddies using it to track their players’ stats during tournament play, and more pros on all tours take part in sharing rounds with the public. I could even see some kind of virtual golf tournaments take place using the platform. The possibilities are endless for this kind of technology.
GAME GOLF is available for $199 at golf retailers and online at www.gamegolf.com. Also check out my interview with the folks at GAME GOLF on their blog.