Presently, technology has infamously been the reason for the decline of certain industries such as taxis, bookstores, and traditional television distributors. Obviously in many ways, technology has also advanced industries. What most people fail to mention is how technology has saved some businesses, especially one that personally means a lot to me: golf. Now, the argument of whether or not golf is a sport or “cool” is a discussion for a different time and place, but let me just emphasize the difficulty of swinging a 3.5 foot stick over 100 mph to get a little white ball that has a diameter of 1.68 inches to travel about 150-500 yards into a 4.25 inch diameter hole, in 4 shots or less. Not to mention the wind speed, hazards around you, type of grass, and the fact that the player has to conform to the course, as no course is the same..but this is me getting off topic.
Over the past ten years, golf has been on a steady decline as the bougie sport cannot seem to attract the younger generation. Since 2002, the amount of U.S. golfers has declined by 30%. The USGA (United States Golf Association) and the PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association) knew that some changes had to be made. These associations understand, especially for millennials, that golf is too slow and too expensive. With that being said, within the past two years, golf has actually made some changes that might have saved the sport from dying. These technology innovations have truly made a difference in making golf cheaper as well as more interactive.
- Top Golf
Top Golf has modernized the traditional driving range by utilizing the Internet of Things, gamification, and analytics to intrigue those who might not be fond of golf as a source of entertainment. As soon as you walk into Top Golf, the customer receives a card that Top Golf uses to track visitor information such as the locations they visit as well as how much and how long they spend at each Top Golf location. From there, the player goes to a selected hitting-bay and logs-in using his/her Top Golf card. Each hitting-bay has RFID readers that can tell when a ball is needed. Also, each ball is microchipped so the systems knows who you are, which then allows it to keep score for the player. On top of the bay itself, the driving range has over 500 RFID readers that indicate targets, to create a point system for the player. Top Golf has taken the seriousness out of golf to create an environment for those who might not have the patience for a five-hour round.
- Technological Advancements in TV Coverage
This is a personal disclaimer: when I went to my first Bears football game as a 6 year old, I was really confused why all the lines I saw on TV were not shown on the actual field. Well, golf is finally catching up. If you watch golf on TV then you probably have noticed some changes. CBS is covering 21 PGA Tour events in 2018 and they are upping their visual representation of what happens on the golf course. Toptracer and Virtual Eye are just two of the many new tools that is being used to cover golf on TV, which will make it a bit more interesting to watch. It is not the most revolutionary thing to happen and seeing it on TV would not make someone say “wow”, but it does keep golf on the same playing field as other sports shown on TV that utilizes pretty lines and cool camera angles.
Toptracer would be the pretty line version for golf. It wirelessly tracks the ball, which then is represented with a line on the television screen. This is significant because ball trackers in the past were only used on the tee shot, but due to Toptracer’s wireless component, it can be used in the middle of the fairway as well. Virtual Eye allows for the viewer to see the course in 3D on the television screen. The combination of Virtual Eye and ShotLink did not just advance the visual representation of the course on the TV screen, but also has allowed for better analytics for the PGA to keep better stats as well as creating more stat categories.
- Social Media
Before the rise of social media, not many people were willing to “follow” golf as they would for football or basketball. Golf’s biggest problem is being unable to connect with the younger generation, but with the rise of social media, specifically Twitter and Instagram, the golf industry has been more easily able to target their younger audience. It really all started when the Bryan brothers created a golf trick shot video that went viral. These brothers now have a YouTube channel called Bryan Bros Golf, which has over 30,000 subscribers.
Social media has allowed golf to seem more appealing to the younger generations as people started creating their own trick shot videos and younger professionals became more active on social media. Rickie Fowler is probably the best example when it comes to a professional that can engage with the younger audience. His contemporary style and sense of humor allows males in their 20s or older to connect with him, and younger males to look up to him as some used to with Tiger. Posts such as Fowler’s spring break trip with his squad (Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, and Smylie Kaufman) resonate with the typical college frat boy.
Since we’re now on the topic of the college frat boy, Barstool Sports creating @ForePlayPod might have saved golf from dying. The acronym, #SAFTB, has officially become Saturdays Are FORE The Boys. Their content, along with @GolfGods, might not be the most appropriate for such a proper rich person sport, but it solved the industry’s biggest problem that Golf Channel and/or the PGA would have never been able to solve themselves.
For a old timer’s sport, golf has been revamped to seem calm, cool, and collected. The technology does not stop here. The PGA tour has been testing virtual reality technology not just for consumers to experience content in a different way, but also for training purposes. Thanks to technology and social media, golf may last well beyond Tiger Wood’s legacy.