This week sees the best golfers from the U.S. and Europe compete for their teams in the biennial Ryder Cup. The contest first started in 1927 between America and Great Britain & Ireland before expanding to cover continental Europe in 1979.
To be selected for one of the competing teams is one of the greatest honors within the sport.
But while the elite professionals tee off at Le Golf National in Paris, new technology could transform how amateurs play the game and lower their handicap.
AI and VR in golf
This new wave of services includes platforms to find tee times and GPS-enabled applications that give players real-time data on the golf course, such as ball position and yards to tee.
Meanwhile, Virtual Reality (VR) software means players can replicate the experience of playing some of the world’s most famous courses, such as St Andrews, without ever having to go there.
U.S. golfing publication Golf.com has launched a new platform that connects golfers to professional instructors and uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to analyze a person’s swing and automatically identify issues with their action.
The ‘Swing AI’ system detects the issues and relays these to the teacher, who then scores it personally and develops an interactive lesson plan.
Golf.com believes the “Play with the Pros” product can achieve the ambitious goals of making players better and allowing professional instructors to expand their businesses by eliminating the need to be physically present to offer tuition.
This interactive two-way tuition means golfers around the world can receive instruction to suit their level of ability – even if they are not in a golfing hotbed – while tutors can increase the number of people they are able to teach.
“The golf industry is going through a digital transformation that provides golfers a better user experience directly related to game improvement,” says Rick Geritz, CEO of SwingAI. “When players improve, they play more, buy more, and grow the entire game.”
In many ways, it is similar to digital health applications that link patients to doctors via a video link and use AI to make an initial diagnosis.
The professionals are already utilizing remote coaching technologies with U.S. Ryder Cup team members Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka using a system called K-Motion, which uses 3D motion analysis to identify weaknesses in their action.
The instructor can then evaluate the performance and track their student’s progress.
Golf’s mobile future
The company admits the cost of its player and coaching products mean it’s for “serious” players only, but with sport being a multi-billion industry both at a professional and amateur level and one in which people are willing to spend decent money on equipment, it’s no surprise that this type of technology is being applied in such a manner.
The fitness wearable market is significant, while mobile applications are being used to connect players to teams, venues and coaches in various sports. Golf, with a traditionally more affluent playing base, is perhaps more suited than most.
Not only will technology appeal to those who think nothing of spending a few hundred dollars of a new club, the sport’s governing bodies hope it will attract new audiences – both in terms of recreational play and fans at a professional level. In the U.K. at least, there is a desire to shake off a “stuffy”, exclusive image.
The Ryder Cup is possibly the only event in the calendar that appeals to those who have little or no interest in golf. The concept of U.S. versus Europe is instantly relatable, while the partisan atmosphere generated by the home crowd is unique in a sport characterized by polite claps from the gallery.
That’s why so much time and effort is being invested in new broadcast technologies and improving on-site connectivity, both to improve the fan experience and to help organizers understand more about golf fans.
As recently as the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales, mobile phones were not allowed on the course because they were perceived as an annoyance. In 2018, mobile is an integral component of the sport’s future and golf is ready to embrace innovation.
As Tim Shaw, the Ryder Cup’s commercial director tells me: “The mobile phone was once the administrator’s curse. In 2010 we didn’t allow mobiles but now it is far from an anti-mobile environment.”