As Much Science as Art

By | December 8th, 2016
“The consumer base, at private clubs especially, now expects a facility to have the latest and greatest technology available,” says Troon Golf’s Director of Education, Tim Mahoney (left in photo).

“The consumer base, at private clubs especially, now expects a facility to have the latest and greatest technology available,” says Troon Golf’s Director of Education, Tim Mahoney (left in photo).

Golf instruction has moved well beyond just watching students bang buckets of balls on the range; modern technology now makes it possible to do a better job of analyzing, and fixing, swings—sometimes without even being at the same site.

The art of successful golf instruction is moving ever closer to a science. The days when the gospel of hours spent banging buckets of balls on the range was considered the only true path to golfing enlightenment are gradually fading into the past. Golf teaching professionals—formerly identifiable by their golf tans and sunburned noses from long days on the range—can now critique their pupils’ swings via their smartphone, iPad or tablet in the comfort of their air-conditioned offices, or while getting a beach-worthy tan poolside.

Summing It Up
• At private clubs especially, the customer base has come to expect launch monitors and body-awareness technology to be standard parts of golf-instruction packages.
• Today’s golf-instruction technology helps to fit time-strapped students’ needs by making it possible for instructors and players to stay connected without even needing to physically be at the course together.
• In the end, even the latest and greatest technology is still only as good as how the instructor applies it.

And instead of trying to picture what their pro is seeing in their swings, golfers or prospective golfers can now see themselves from start to finish in 3-D, slow-motion or stop-action on their own phones or computers. For better or worse, using technology like TrackMan or FlightScope, golfers can see what causes their golf ball to fly right—or wrong—after impact. Or, better yet, the skilled instructor can see and interpret the readings, to tell students what they really mean for their game.

Differences of opinion remain among many of the game’s top instructors about how much technology, and what kind, is necessary to effectively teach the game. But there is no doubt that modern golf technology is no longer confined to the bowels of equipment manufacturing headquarters in Carlsbad, Calif., or other R&D labs of major golf industry suppliers.

Schools of Thought
The genesis of today’s instructional technology was video, and some top instructors still rely heavily on that medium to illustrate and supplement their own communication skills with students. John Marshall, proprietor of the John Marshall Golf Academy in the Atlanta area, estimates there is now roughly a 50-50 split between “old school” instructors who still rely almost exclusively on video, and those who use more advanced technology-based tools. In some cases this reflects personal preference, while in others the budget of either the instructor or the host facility limits technology options.

Shawn Cox (left in photo), Director of Golf at The Grand Golf Club of the Fairmont Grand Del Mar resort, has embraced new technology that “provides way more information and shows people more in-depth than just the old video cameras.” Today’s technology-based systems are also more player-friendly and easier to use and comprehend for both the student and instructor, Cox notes.

Shawn Cox (left in photo), Director of Golf at The Grand Golf Club of the Fairmont Grand Del Mar resort, has embraced new technology that “provides way more information and shows people more in-depth than just the old video cameras.” Today’s technology-based systems are also more player-friendly and easier to use and comprehend for both the student and instructor, Cox notes.

“The consumer base, at private clubs especially, now expects a facility to have the latest and greatest technology available,” says Tim Mahoney, Director of Education for Troon Golf. “The customer base has started to expect things like launch monitors, which have become fairly common. Lately there has also been a shift to body-awareness technology, partially because [today’s high-tech golf balls] don’t curve so much.

“Something like MySwing Professional has 17 body sensors, is wireless and goes to a tablet, providing 3-D information on the full body swing,” Mahoney adds. “It’s got a lease option for around $200 a month, with a 24-month minimum, and you can rent it to students for audio feedback.

“It takes me about six minutes to get a golfer strapped up and have them take three swings, so [MySwing] produces an avatar model of your body,” Mahoney says. “It comes in a pouch, and it’s usable on the golf course.”

Mahoney is also a fan of the Hudl technology, an inexpensive app that allows both instructors and students to exchange swing videos back and forth, allowing the instructor to critique performance remotely. “It’s a very good way to keep in touch with customers and keep them involved within the brand,” Mahoney adds.

Even a “simple stroke” like putting is no longer a stranger to advanced technology. Mahoney cites a device called Blast Sensor, priced around $149 and designed to calibrate tempo, speed and rhythm on the greens. Another popular putting technology system is the SAM (Science and Motion) PuttLab, used for putting analysis, training and fitting.

It’s important to be judicious in where and when today’s advanced teaching technology can be applied, says Golf instructor John Marshall (right in photo above). “Some of the information is almost lost in translation for the  beginner,” Marshall says.

It’s important to be judicious in where and when today’s advanced teaching technology can be applied, says Golf instructor John Marshall (right in photo). “Some of the information is almost lost in translation for the beginner,” Marshall says.

Getting in Gears
Mike Fay, Director of Player Performance at the Boyne Golf Academy at Boyne Resorts in Michigan, and a Michigan Player Development Award recipient, has virtually all of the latest technology tools at his disposal. In addition to TrackMan and the V1 video system and V1 Sports app, Fay is a fan of the Gears full-swing club and body tracking system in full 3-D. While it may be a bit pricey for many clubs or instructors, one advantage of the Gears technology, which records a player’s swing in 3-D and produces an avatar, is that it not only shows what the swing looks like, but provides measurement data to provide a benchmark for improvement.

Other technology Fay cites include the KVest biofeedback and measurement system and the Swing Catalyst, which Fay calls a “fantastic” tool for measuring pressure on the golfer’s feet and determining weight shift during the swing.

Fay, who works extensively with juniors as well as adult beginners and advanced players, is also a fan of low-tech systems such as SNAG Golf, which he says is an ideal way to engage the younger set while teaching them golf fundamentals in a format that emphasizes the fun. Fay does recommend using technology judiciously, noting that typically the more experienced the golfers, the more likely they are to benefit from being exposed to more advanced and high-tech instructional methods.

Camera-Ready
Shawn Cox, Director of Golf at The Grand Golf Club of the Fairmont Grand Del Mar resort in San Diego, notes that modern technology has made many of today’s systems more player-friendly and easier to use and comprehend.

Holton Freeman of Timaquan G&CC’s EaglesDream Golf Academy now relies on radar-based systems for ball-flight analysis, as well as new wearable technology that provides insights into how golfers are focusing—or zoning out—on their shots.

Holton Freeman of Timaquan G&CC’s EaglesDream Golf Academy now relies on radar-based systems for ball-flight analysis, as well as new wearable technology that provides insights into how golfers are focusing—or zoning out—on their shots.

“Today, there are a lot of different options for cameras,” Cox says. “They show people more in-depth. We use a wireless system that does require more batteries, with Apple iPad Touch equipment. They provide way more information than just the old video cameras.”

Other systems that Cox now uses, in addition to the SAM PuttLab and another putting measurement tool called BLAST, include the camera-based technology of Quintac and the Zepp club sensor. Foot-pressure systems include Smart2Move and BodiTrak, which Cox says may not only be the least expensive of the genre, but also the most effective, because of their ability to feed information directly to an iPhone or iPad.

Holton Freeman, senior instructor at the EaglesDream Golf Academy at the Timaquan Golf & Country Club in Lake Mary, Fla., is another believer in applying technology judiciously. He uses radar-based systems such as TrackMan and FlightScope for their ability to read ball flight in three dimensions and to integrate video and data.

In addition to the SAM PuttLab for putting and the BodiTrak system for identifying weight transfer, Freeman, like Cox, uses a technology called FocusBand, which measures the brain to determine what the golfer is really focused on, through a wearable headband that contains sensors and provides feedbacks to mobile devices for real-time review. FocusBand’s Director of Performance, Jason Goldsmith, has applied the technology when working with top tour professionals, including Jason Day, currently ranked first in the world, and Olympic gold-medal winner Justin Rose.

Taking It Slow
While Cox notes that some of today’s golf training and instruction technology has gotten easier for students to comprehend, he and others feel that in many cases, students are better served by having trained instructors review the feedback and then decide how to best use the data to measure and improve the student’s performance. As John Marshall notes, “Some of the information is almost lost in translation for the beginner.”

The FocusBand literally gets inside a golfer’s head, through a wearable headband that contains sensors to measure how a brain is focusing and provides feedback to mobile devices for real-time review. The company’s Director of Performance, Jason Goldsmith (far right in photo) has applied the technology when working with top tour professionals Jason Day and Justin Rose. (Others in photo are Henry Boulton, co-founder and one of the inventors of FocusBand, at left, and Glenn Deck, Director of Instruction at Pelican Hill Golf Club in Newport Beach, Calif., in middle.)

The FocusBand literally gets inside a golfer’s head, through a wearable headband that contains sensors to measure how a brain is focusing and provides feedback to mobile devices for real-time review. The company’s Director of Performance, Jason Goldsmith (far right in photo) has applied the technology when working with top tour professionals Jason Day and Justin Rose. (Others in photo are Henry Boulton, co-founder and one of the inventors of FocusBand, at left, and Glenn Deck, Director of Instruction at Pelican Hill Golf Club in Newport Beach, Calif., in middle.)

So what are the basics of what most clubs should now have on hand to facilitate lesson programs and player instruction? The consensus seems to be that some sort of video and feedback system is a must. The usefulness and essential nature of many of the other systems and tools mentioned by those contacted for this report depend more on the resources available to the club or the instructor, as well as the level of demand for higher-tech approaches.

The ability to transfer video and data to enable interaction between instructor and student remotely has also emerged as an added plus on many levels. Because finding time to physically go to the course and work on one’s game continues to be increasingly difficult, there is clear value in technology that makes it possible for club members and customers to stay connected with their golf games, and their instructors, by maintaining relationships online or via mobile devices.

These connections make it more likely that members or customers will make the time to put their remote lessons into play more often. Additionally, in northern climes, it makes it possible to enable some level of golf training in the winter months. And for those elusive Millennials who are seen as a key to growing the game, the flashiest golf-instruction technology can appeal to their fascination with electronic gadgetry, and go a long way toward helping to lure more of them onto the course.

Still, a number of the top-rated instructors we spoke with stressed that while technology continues to become more of a useful tool, there is still no substitute for old-fashioned direct communication and rapport between instructor and student. As Boyne Academy’s Mike Fay says, “You have to have some sort of technology—but at the end of the day, they come because of the coach.”

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