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6 ways tech is changing your golf game

Technology is transforming the game of golf. Here are ways it's affecting how you play and experience the game.

For some people, spring is heralded by the first sighting of an orange-breasted robin or a purple crocus pushing its way up through the last patch of snow. But for others, there is a far more visceral sign: The solid thwack of a golf ball hit straight down the fairway. It’s a long-standing rite of spring that can be counted on year after year, announcing that golf season is finally upon us.

But golf is not quite so unchanging as it might seem. It may be the most tradition-rich of sports, but these days, it’s also one of the most fast-changing. Technology is transforming the way the sport is played, watched, broadcast, and tracked. Following are six ways the ancient sport has been meeting the 21st century.

High-tech golf balls

It’s a long way from the world’s first golf balls, believed to have been made of wood in 14th century Scotland, to the ones used by today’s golfers. On the outside, contemporary golf balls don’t look much different than the stippled ones that have been used for many decades. But thanks to tech, what's inside is another matter entirely.

These days, some of the best golf balls are composed of as many as five layers—three layers of a compression core, along with an outer core and mantle. TaylorMade introduced the first five-layer ball in 2009 and has been improving on the design since then. The latest ones can be hit further and react to various types of shots and spins for better performance, the company claims.

Other balls have been designed to up your golf game through chemistry—and Nobel-Prize-winning chemistry, at that. Callaway Chrome Soft and Chrome Soft X balls use graphene in their dual-core construction. Graphene is a one-atom-thick nanoparticle whose discovery was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010. Callaway says its use creates balls that let full shots launch higher, while also allowing for better short spin shots. When not improving people’s golf games, graphene is used for display screens, solar cells, and a variety of medical, chemical, and industrial processes.

Finally, get ready not just for a smart golf ball, but what its designer calls the Genius Ball. OnCore has been awarded a patent for a ball strong enough to enclose electronics that will survive the powerful impact of a golf club. The plan is to embed GPS and other technology in the balls that will transmit data about their distance, height, velocity, and location to a mobile device in real time. The Genius Ball isn't ready yet, though. OnCore has been raising funds for its development on Indiegogo. The company hopes to launch the balls by Father’s Day.

Driving digital transformation: HPE partners with Ryder Cup to put data at the heart of golf for the first time

Golf clubs designed by aeronautical engineers

A golf club manufactured today isn’t one of your father’s (or mother’s) golf clubs. It’s not even your golf club of five years ago, thanks to high-tech R&D. One example: Callaway’s XR16 drivers are a result of the company’s collaboration with Boeing engineers. Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, explains, “Speed, weight, and drag are just a few of the concepts our engineers work with every day when designing Boeing airplanes. These same principles also apply to golf club designers.”

Boeing engineers used their knowledge of laminar flow control—changing the flow of fast-moving air by changing the shape of a surface—to help design the club. They placed patterned grooves at key locations on the club head, which creates the optimum amount of turbulence to reduce the club’s aerodynamic drag. Robo-golfers and computer modeling tested and fine-tuned the design. The result: more head speed and longer shots.

Spectacular golf moment: Back in 1971, astronaut Alan Shepard brought two golf balls along on his flight to the moon and hit them both with a one-handed shot using a makeshift six iron he had smuggled on board—what he called at the time a “sand trap shot.” Some people estimate that in the moon’s thin atmosphere and low gravity, one ball went a mile or more, although the PGA says it was likely a much more modest 200 yards or so. Still, not bad given it was a one-handed shot with a six iron by someone in a bulky space suit hitting off moon soil.

Data analytics and mobile apps

What’s killing your golf game? Short drives? Chip shots? Putting? You can guess all you want, but you’re likely wrong. So you might consider trying game-analysis and stat-tracking sensors and apps that can take the guesswork out of improving your handicap by tracking every shot and using data analytics.

Arccos 360, GolfDigest’s Editors' Choice for analyzers, is an example of how technology can improve anyone’s game. It comes with small sensors that you put into the ends of your clubs’ grips. The sensors record and analyze all of your shots with GPS and other technologies, and beam the information to an accompanying app on your iPhone or Android device. It tracks your shots and score, and a 40,000-course database shows you the yardages from throughout the course as you play. The app also calculates handicaps for different parts of your game, such as driving, approach shots, chip shots, and putting. And it identifies strengths and weaknesses in your golf game. With all that analysis, and some swing tune-up, a lower handicap is in better reach.

Rangefinders for more accurate distance reading

Like most golfers, you know which clubs you like to use for which distances and circumstances. But knowing the distance you are from the hole can be an iffy business. Sure, if you’re lucky enough to be right in the middle of the fairway, you may find a marker telling you that you’re 125 yards from the hole. But what if you’re in the rough or not near the marker?

That’s where rangefinders come in. They look like monoculars and use laser technology to give you a precise measurement to the hole—accuracy within half a yard at any distance you are likely to find yourself from the pin. Rangefinders can’t swing the club for you (and what fun would that be, anyway?). But they can give you a true picture of how far you are from the hole, and sometimes that’s a good part of the battle, especially when combined with other analytical tools.

Augmented reality for spectators

Golf isn’t just a participatory sport—it’s a spectator one as well. Live streaming of tournaments is already proving popular. And now the PGA Tour has taken a big step toward improving the spectator experience with its new augmented reality app, PGA Tour AR, for iOS devices. The app, which needs no extra hardware, lets fans see 3D augmented reality versions of holes being played at tournaments from a number of iconic golf courses, such as Pebble Beach in Monterey County, California; TPC Sawgrass in Jacksonville, Florida; and East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. With it, you can follow the action live for many holes right at home, while feeling as if you’re there. Trails of shots and other data is animated onto course models. New courses are being added, and the tour promises that it will have at least one hole available in the app from every tournament this year.

Internet of Things (IoT) sensors everywhere

IoT sensors are being integrated throughout golf, in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. Game and swing analyzers, as detailed earlier, are a few examples. IoT sensors embedded in balls can provide real-time data about how far a ball travels and its speed and location, which can be shared with others via social media. And those who like beautiful courses may not know it, but greens are being kept even greener at many courses using remote sensors that measure soil moisture and temperature to make sure they’re watered and cared for properly.

There’s even more…

A lot more tech is coming golf’s way this year. It’s become such an integral part of the game that the National Golf Foundation, an association of golf-related businesses, has been conducting a study on technology and golf, and will come out with a report about it later this year. And this fall’s Ryder Cup promises to be a showcase for tech, with ubiquitous Wi-Fi access for fans, sponsors, and staff; forward-looking IoT uses; and tech-created graphics that provide insight for those following the event.

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.