How Technology and Innovation Will Save Golf!

In the past few months, there has been a lot of media attention paid to the “demise” of golf.  Part of the reason is that several companies in the golf industry have released earnings reports that have not been particularly strong.  Dick’s Sporting Goods dropped more than 500 golf professionals that serviced their retail stores.  The 2014 Master’s TV viewership was down 28% over the previous year and the US Open viewership was off by 46%.  So no surprise that there is a certain level of “doom and gloom” reporting in the media.  

That said, golf remains an extremely popular sport and industry leaders like Mark King, TaylorMade’s CEO, are exploring ways to make the game more attractive to the younger demographic and retain the current players.  Over the summer, Mark did an interview with Bryant Gumbel on HBO’s Real Sports talking about their “Hack Golf” initiative and some of their ideas on how to reinvigorate the game.   

So, the question is:  “What is wrong with golf and why isn’t it growing?”

There are lots of possible answers. Most players enjoy the challenge of golf; it is not an easy game to master and more than one skill is needed.  Being a long ball driver doesn’t guarantee a low score nor does being a genius at reading greens.  Competency on every type of shot is necessary.  Strategy plays into the game as well with club and shot selection and there is a mental toughness required to be successful.  

But nearly everyone that I talk to says the same thing – it takes too long to play.   Courses have gotten longer to keep pace with the increased distance that new drivers can achieve off the tee and they are narrower to create an even greater challenge.  What often results are lengthy delays while one of your foursome searches for an errant shot in the high grass, brush, or trees lining the fairways. 

So, the enjoyment factor plummets while the time commitment increases – not a good combination.  And the number of players either giving up on the game or just not taking it up to begin with becomes increasingly greater.  So, what’s the solution?  Like almost everything else, we think it’s technology.  There are a number of innovations that already exist or could be brought into the game in the near future that would significantly enhance the interest and enjoyment of the sport.  Just a few examples include:

Smartphone apps to arrange your golf outing are now appearing.  Want to golf but can’t organize a foursome at your local course?  No worries.  Log onto Golfalong or other similar apps and let folks in your area know when you’re available and it will match you up.

Driving ranges are boring – admit it – so practicing the game isn’t a lot of fun.  That is, unless you are talking about a driving range like TopGolf where you can eat, drink, be merry AND hit RFID-tagged golf balls that allow you to see how well you’re hitting and even compete against other golfers at the driving range.   And while there are only a few of these in existence, more are coming along with new technologies to make this even better.

How about a GoogleGlass app that tells you what your distance to the pin is, wind conditions, and recommends club selection based on how you played this hole last time around?  There are several in development and, by the way, it will probably be able to record your performance, send videos of that monster drive or eagle putt, and order lunch at the clubhouse as well. 

What about a ball with a GPS chip embedded in it so you never lose your ball?  Not only can it save you time in the woods looking for it, but coupled to the right software, you can go home and “replay” your game and see where things went awry!

Last, but not least, how about a USGA conforming ball that, by the physics of its construction, is 30% more accurate than the best balls on the market without sacrificing distance?  Hitting more fairways, putting truer on the green, and lowering your score while improving pace of play seems like a really good idea, right?!  The OnCore MA-1.0 is available now, does all that and more!

Okay, that last bullet was a shameless plug for one of our portfolio companies but the truth is that innovation and technology are what will “save” the great game of golf.  Our hope is that the governing bodies, the professionals who play the game, and all of the businessmen whose livelihood depends on the health of the sport realize that embracing change is a good thing and doesn’t threaten the stature or tradition of the game.  

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