The technology fallacy is that digital problems don’t always require digital solutions and I think the game of golf provides a great way to visualize that. As a collector of hickory golf clubs, I can appreciate just how simple the game was meant to be, with players originally responsible for making their own clubs which are then used to hit a small round ball into a hole. A very simple game with no room for digital transformation, right? Wrong. While the push to incorporate digital technologies is increasing, it’s really up to the individual to decide how they’d like to leverage the available tools just like a business would. I’d like to walk through some of the ways that golf has transformed as a result of digital technologies before comparing these changes to what we see in the industries we work in.
As the game became more popular over a hundred years ago several club manufacturing companies formed to meet the demand for higher quality equipment. Buying these clubs was not as easy as just finding a retailer either, it often meant seeking out an order from the manufacturer directly and waiting sometimes months for the order to come in. This process has changed dramatically as there are more than a dozen retailers within an hour’s drive of me and I could even have a set of clubs delivered to my door tomorrow via Amazon Prime. When I got a new set of irons a couple of years ago I went to GOLFTEC for a fitting and swing evaluation. The technology they have on hand is absolutely incredible as they use video, a launch monitor, and motion sensors to evaluate a player’s results with different sets of clubs. The first set of swings are made with the player’s current clubs to develop a baseline for comparison. After seeing the results, the technician then suggests 3-4 other club models from different brands to try. As each new model is tried, data is compared and small adjustments like shaft length, grip type, and size are made to get the best feel. At the end of the session, the player then has 4-5 sets of data to look at to help decide which choice may be the best. This data includes metrics like shot distance, swing speed, shot dispersion, spin rate, and launch angle. The best part is that the testing session is completely free if you decide to buy a set of irons from them.
The gameplay itself has also been heavily influenced by a push to go digital. To make a tee time originally, players would have to sign up on a physical piece of paper posted in the locker room. That changed with the ability to communicate via phone and now just about every course encourages players to book tee times online. “How far are we from the hole?” is the most frequently asked question out on the course and historically players would have to rely on local course knowledge or visible yardage markers to venture a guess. Now, there’s an app on my Apple Watch that tells me how far I am from the hole with every step I take and also keeps track of my score. In situations where I have further questions regarding yardage, I simply take out my rangefinder which shoots a laser to the point of interest. This results in a digitized display detailing distance as well as distance adjusted for slope.
Course management has also been impacted by the push to go digital as technology now allows golf clubs to have tighter controls where they would like them. Carts at nicer courses have GPS in them which give yardage readings to players but also allows for the club to control and communicate in a much more direct manner as well. Management can communicate directly with a group of players if inclement weather is incoming or if they would like to tell them that their pace of play is too slow. It also allows them to set specific boundaries for where the carts can drive, preventing players from driving into areas where the ground is too wet or where wildlife may be present. There are many more digital tools available for maintenance as well like the GreenKeeper app which focuses on daily decisions relating to turf management. This app aggregates weather, soil, and location data to best manage a course’s grass, which is the focus of any golf course’s maintenance efforts. Traditionally, maintenance operates at the direction of the Club Superintendent, who advises based on feel and experience rather than data. As you can see from the screenshot below, the GreenKeeper app allows for precise monitoring, tracking, and then decision making. The app also stores all of the data and decisions so that managers can learn from their experience and improve.
While there are certainly some pretty exciting things happening within the game of golf due to its integration with technology, the real takeaway here is that it comes down to the people. Whether it’s equipment, gameplay, or course management – it doesn’t matter if the latest and greatest technology is leveraged. All that matters is that in each sector, humans are aware of the benefits that digital solutions offer and can then make their own choices. Golf-related digital solutions are exciting tools to choose from but they are far from required. Each person has their own idea of what a great day of golf is for them and each course’s definition of high-quality playing conditions is also different. Even though courses encourage booking tee times online, booking directly in the Pro Shop is still an option if that’s what works best. As with business, it’s up to each firm and individual to leverage digital transformation as they see fit.