This was originally published in 2007 but the story remains the same.
“It’s not the gun, it’s the gunner.” Do you believe that?
Judging by our bleeding obsession with clubs I’m guessing not. Square heads, movable weights, boxer hybrid shaping, high modulus stabilization ribs, precision trimmer blades, color-safe bleach…
Somehow thinking about all these options hearkens that scene in Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life” when the glutton ate that one last “wafer thin mint”. I think if I have to assimilate one more new golf club design concept all that will be left of me is hair, teeth, and hamburger, decoratively spackled on the interior walls of my office.
Of course, we all are compelled to play the clubs tiger uses… or Phil, or Davis. At least that’s what the big club companies want us to be thinking. Why else would they pay out infinite bucks to these guys to brandish their latest iteration of hypedom? Heck, with what the top two tiers of players knock down in club endorsement dough (Tiger being Tier One, a few others filling Tier Two), it makes the payout in the inaugural FedEx Social Security Quest for the Cash look like chump change.
It’s essential to assert that I hold the major golf OEMs in the highest possible regard. Their contribution to the game we love is much more than you likely think. These guys beat their heads against the wall year after year, many struggling to survive the bitter competition. But even if their motives are 100% profit-oriented (I don’t believe it–few in the golf industry are not motivated by a good dose of blind passion for the game), they spend a fortune to promote it. That’s good for golf. Long live the big OEMs.
But, sadly, the OEMs have been sucked into an insidious cyclone. Product cycles have become frighteningly short. The branding competition to capture market mind share drives staggering endorsement expenditures. The essential need to come up with the newest-best miracle “technology” strains R&D budgets. And like Ex-lax and heroin, the more you take the more you need.
Even worse, a foundation of innovation and player-endorsement is a false one. The OEM house is built on enough sand to fill a million church pews.
On the topic of player endorsements, the clubs the pros use–as club guru Tom Wishon pointed out–are no more like the clubs you buy than NASCAR cars are to those in the showroom. And, there is no fundamental logic to the concept of playing the same clubs the pros play. When was the last time you cut a 240 yard 4-iron ten feet off the ground?
On the topic of innovation, do you really think that whatever the designers come up with next year will enable you to hit it straighter and/or longer? Did the clubs you bought this year lower your handicap? We’ll reserve the deeper discussion of this topic for a later installment.
The bottom line is that it IS the GUNNER. But… It also IS the GUN. But it’s NOT the elliptical shapes, the cavities, OR the new blue bleaching crystals.
Today’s lesson: It’s the FIT. And it’s having clubs that FIT THE FIT.
Author's note: This appeared in the blog "The Next 500 Years" in 2007. The messages remain the same.
In 1989 Sir David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia was re-released, twenty-six years after having won the 1962 Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, and five others. At the time, my town had one magnificent super-sized widescreen movie theater. It later got sliced up into about six small screening rooms, but while it was intact there was no better place on earth to watch a film. And from my perspective there was no better place to spend an afternoon (apologies to golf).
I’d always been a movie lover, and the theater experience to me was magical. But that all changed on a Wednesday afternoon in 1989 when I took off work and escorted my wife to a 12:30 p.m. screening of Lean’s masterpiece. By my calculation, the early afternoon Wednesday showtime would be lightly attended, affording us a high probability of avoiding chattering interference by less respectful patrons. This was going to be a great day.
And it got better. Entering the darkened theater we discovered that we were the ONLY ones there–in a room with perhaps 1200 seats. It soon became apparent that no one else was coming… a dream come true. We were about to watch one of the greatest films of all time entirely by ourselves.
But what happened next was more hideous than hot dogs and Jim Jones Kool-Aid, more pernicious than shanks and yips. In fact, what followed was so traumatic that it’s taken until now for me to face up to it.
As we settled into our plush, gum-gilded recliners, as the film started to roll, two ushers–one male and one female–wandered into the theater, sat in the same row as us–about five seats away–and TALKED FOR THE ENTIRE 227 MINUTE DURATION OF THE FILM.
Not since that ugly day have I trekked by the $9 popcorn and into the once holy sanctuary of celluloid.
* * *
Reacting to recent essays here pertaining to slow play, Ben Witter recently submitted the following:
I’m convinced that pace of play is an issue that, if not seriously addressed by the industry, will eventually kill this game. I’ve almost given up on recreational play for the same reasons you stated in your post about taking [your son] to a game rather than playing golf…
It’s virtually impossible to imagine and, moreover, shocking to know that Ben Witter, the most passionate lover of the game of golf I’ve ever known, a man who covets playing golf more than a young boy anticipates Santa’s delivery of an electric train (or, in modern terms, an XBox 360), has largely stopped playing recreational rounds of golf.
* * *
Be it movies, golf, or tiddly winks, just because we love it doesn’t mean we do it. Whether by caterwauling cretans, or dawdling duffers, when the joy is sucked out of that which we love, we will turn away and pursue alternative investments of our disposable time and income.
I now watch an occasional film–on my big screen TV (I also have more time to be cynical). Ben has taken up waterskiing. One can only wonder how many rounds have been lost to jet skis, Harleys, Miatas, and Saturday afternoon cannonball contests. One wonders what it will take and if it’s even possible to regain those lost rounds.
Ben’s memo had a P.S., indicia of how the golf culture has moved past anger and denial into acceptance:
I was at an outing yesterday in Virginia where the pro finished his pre-event announcements by telling everyone that “We’re shooting for a 5 hour round” and I thought – geez, this is what golf’s come to… acceptance of a 5 hour round as the goal!
Solutions exist. Some have been presented here already. Many more will be discussed. But as Ross Perot told us there has never been a shortage of good ideas–it’s the execution that counts.
As we all know, the information superhighway is rife with sloppy writing, emotional subjectivity, and misinformation. That's our world, but the advantages of the Web certainly seem to outweigh the disadvantages. I am definitely getting a little worn out with the countless articles and op-eds about LIV Golf presented by ignorami–including in the mainstream golf and general press.
Wearing my "arrogance hat", here are some thoughts:
There is a lot of logical talk about the fact that the Saudis bankroll LIV as a sports washing campaign. For this discussion let's stipulate that in our black and white world, the Saudis are "bad guys". It also should be acknowledged that PGA TOUR sponsors do a massive amount of business with the Saudis, and we all saw our President crawl over to Riyadh and get shot down on his request for significantly increased oil production. Hence, I rate this topic neutral. The U.S. government, our richest corporations, and many others prostitute themselves and their enterprises with bad guys from time to time.
Jay Monahan has been overt in the most pejorative way in calling LIV an "exhibition". That's the pot calling the kettle black. Once you get past the AJGA, virtually all of competitive golf on the national and international level is a professional exhibition with paid actors–even collegiately. The NFL is an exhibition… MLB… NBA… PBA… the National Pickleball Championship. Some are just bigger and better than others. The TOUR provides a powerful force of suspended disbelief with respect to this topic–to the point where it's easy to buy into the fact that this is pure sport–but pure sport doesn't compete with other leagues by offering bigger and bigger payoffs.
I definitely am in suspension of disbelief with regard to the TOUR, and the DP–and that will never be the case with LIV. I don't track all the NASCAR title sponsorships but recall once there was a Winston series at the top and a minor Busch series. Maybe that's a good analogy. LIV is the Busch League–and entertaining at that. I just can't figure out why the TOUR, the DP, the R&A, and others of the golf establishment feel so threatened by this.
If I was commish I don't think I'd ever talk about it–I'm not sure why Monahan is so into giving LIV all that free PR. It appears he's scared down to his socks. But he's the king and his kingdom is and likely always will be massively dominant. And, so far, no player who has joined LIV matters to me. The chances of LIV overtaking the TOUR brings a vision of flying pigs to mind. In this case, I'll worry about the TOUR when Rory joins LIV (who would you rather root for–Rory or Brooks, Rory or Sergio, even Rory or Phil–who more than once has gotten tied up with some pretty shady gambling folks).
I just spent three days watching the Wyndham event–and the absolutely pristine excitement of watching young Tom Kim win, gain his TOUR card, make the Fedex Playoffs, and perhaps launch a storied career. That ain't happenin' at LIV. That said, let's not discount the positivity of LIV in raising up the Asian Tour and the potential of perhaps LIV and the Asian Tour evolving into one of the "big three". But we'll be long gone before they manage to buy their way into the history books with the TOUR, the DP, the USGA, Augusta, and the R&A.
Don't hang this on Greg Norman. He's not really much more than the Saudi's top "sporting lady", and no better than their second choice at that (kudos to Jack for not grabbing the cash). Like most really rich guys, Norman's a slave to dough. But I can see how $100 mil in the pocket would make it easier to embrace the positives of LIV.
I did spend some time with Greg a long time ago, in a business relationship. We spent a day on a soundstage in North Miami filming. He was #1 in the world at the time. One of his conditions was that we provide a studio in south Florida where he could land his helicopter—he was unwilling to drive an hour from his home. He brought his head pro from Medalist GC to carry his bag. But in the shoot, Greg was very down to earth and it was a fun day. I’m not sure it would have gone as well had we not paid him over $500k, hired a production crew suitable for the Olympics—with winners of 14 national Emmys–and even engaged Julio Iglacias’ personal make-up lady.
But I digress.
My point is if half the world bows at my feet and I’m being paid infinite money, I could easily turn into a diva. I have only positive thoughts toward Greg and since I’ll never walk a mile in his shoes that almost definitely won’t change.
I’ve very much enjoyed the first three LIV events—watching the majority of the Web feed. The whole operation is still quite sloppy but they’ll figure it out. And, contrary to some folks’ statements, I've seen indications that LIV will perform some potentially lovely charitable acts.
So what if they have been able to grab more sporting ladies off the various pro tours and even the amateur ranks—there are plenty to go around. I look at it as a separate product. But it's the TOUR and the DP that represent the venerable game of golf, with its history and traditions—in spite of the fact that the TOUR leadership sucks up a massive amount of cash in providing wonderful careers to their seemingly infinite number of almost exclusively white Vice Presidents. A little sport is going on here as well.
To what degree should a for-profit sports entertainment entity concern itself with geo-political issues? Personally, I see no problem limiting this concern to how it would affect profitability. We have politicians and governments that control the rest. I own a small golf simulator company. If the Saudis wanted to buy a bunch of them from me I would take their money–within legal bounds. I'd use it to pay my mother's senior living expenses and help out my kids–maybe buy a new hat.
The Saudis might be the guys with the pantyhose over their heads and the bag of burglar tools but I'd be the one walking off with the dough. If Jeffrey Dahmer had offered his victims' families a hundred mil each–I'd have encouraged them to take it.
Btw, that's all Greg and the other sports did. Guys like Norman and Mickelson have been grabbing the dough with both hands for decades. Personally I thank them for all the excitement and entertainment they've given me over the years at their own expense of potentially warped values. I can't criticize any of that stuff–and I don't think that anyone with the possible exception of Jesus, Mother Theresa, and Ghandi should have justification to criticize them.
The rest of us, we're all sports.
After you've chosen what tracking device you wish to use, with which software, the next most important piece of technology is the projector.
I've done a lot of learning just recently about what's going on with projectors. A guy named Bob Wudeck is who I have to thank for that. Bob is Senior Director of Business Development for BenQ, a major multinational tech company deeply involved in projection IP.
BenQ has become obsessed with indoor golf and delivering the perfect simulator projection technology. "In the last couple of years, we have been focusing on using our expertise in laser technology and color accuracy to create an immersive simulation experience", Bob told me. That's code for "we've got some really cool new IP".
But there are many serviceable brands and models available. The key is to understand how to choose the right model for you:
Cost: This is the driving factor for most. There are acceptable options well under a thousand dollars, and my favorite at the high end is about five thousand.
Bulb vs Laser: Bulbs or lasers are the most practical choices today. Bulbs are phasing out. Lasers and LED lighting are taking over. Today, lasers are more expensive but have very long lives, turn on instantly, and stay brighter longer. Bulbs decline and need to be replaced. Bulb units can be purchased for well under $1k. Entry level lasers start a bit over a thousand, and the best lasers start at $2.5k and can run into five figures.
WUXGA: There is still an obtainable resolution below WUXGA, at 1024x728. I've seen decent units under $600. You'll pay more like $850 for a good WUXGA bulb unit at 4000 lumens - but many of these models are being replaced with lasers. The above-mentioned laser at 4000 lumens at $1.5k is indeed WUXGA. Numerous brands provide ~5000 lumen WUXGA lasers priced in and around $2.5k. My high end WUXGA favorite, at 5500 lumens, is around $4k. But you can spend a multiple of this to get 10,000 lumens or more (all WUXGA).
4k: If you want value or extraordinary brightness, choose WUXGA. If you want the best, 4k is it. You can find a 4k projector for around $2,000. My favorite is about $5,000–at 5100 lumens. Note that much higher lumen 4k projection is not available today. One can hope 4k lasers will get brighter and cheaper–although 5000 lumens is a lot..
Projection Distance: Each model has a specific lens and that lens has a specific throw or throw range. Most home installations will want to use a short throw lens, while commercial installations will often want the projector farther back. The throw range determines where you can place your projector to get the image you wish. A good calculator can be found by Googling "projection calculator pro".
These are the big items, noting that I did not make brightness a topic. Brightness is a direct product of cost and other choices. Within the above parameters I would not make choices based on lumens.
It has been gratifying to see club fitting come to the fore in mainstream golf. Twenty years ago few thought about getting fit. We didn't have dedicated club-fitting stores. Golf Digest didn't rate the top 100 club fitters.
All that has changed, and club fitting is seeing 20% annual growth rates. Cool stuff. But it's time to get real. Golf has never done well with tech. And, many–make that most, of the organizations and folks in the fitting industry remain relatively…
The time has come to do a deep dive into what's going on in the fitting industry. This is an anecdotal start but we'll fill in the gaps over time and pull it all together eventually for a treatise on club fitting.
The largest club fitting entity in the U.S. charges $400 for a full bag fitting. The fittings can take several hours. Their model is to fit by testing a handful of shafts with a common head (irons/woods), and comparing data. The one that goes the farthest, in most cases, wins. Then they test that shaft with a handful of heads and, typically, the one that goes the farthest is the chosen shaft/head fit. Then they more casually look at lie angles and other stuff relative to making adjustments there.
Here's the problem. If your current clubs aren't fit well, you almost definitely are not making the same swing you'd make if your clubs were well fit.
Everytime you hit those ill-fitting clubs you consciously and subconsciously react to the result. If it felt great and went great, you try to repeat it next time. If it didn't, you iterate. Over time, with ill-fitting clubs you will iterate away from your natural swing type and tendencies.
What does this mean? It means that if you have been playing with ill fitting clubs for a while the odds are your swing has migrated in a direction to get ball contact closer to the center of the clubface. It's a contrived swing you continually reinforce swing after swing (we call that proprioception).
So, in your $400 fitting as above, you hit six shots to warm up, and six shots with each of maybe seven shafts, and then six shots with the two best shafts and each of seven heads. Your swing is not going to migrate–six shots is not enough. You're getting fit to your contrived swing.
A guy walks into a clothing store to buy a suit. He puts it on and one sleeve is hanging way too long. The salesman–the fitter–suggests the guy cock his shoulders to the opposite side, evening up the sleeves. But the trousers have one leg longer than the other. So the salesman suggests the person cocks one hip higher to even things out. And he walks out of the store with his new duds. Two guys see him walking down the street, one shoulder low and one hip high, walking oddly. One guy says "Look at that poor crippled guy over there.". The other guy says "Yes, but his suit fits great."
What's the solution to this? Don't fit this way. This is the wrong way to fit. The right way to fit is to see past the contrived swing to the player's core swing type and fit to that. The level of instant gratification is much less with this approach–it takes time to recover your natural swing type.
That said, if you got a $400 fit and it helped, super cool. But think how much better you could get if you fit to your optimum swing.
More to come.
The Final Nine
by Fred Dobbs
Now that I’m in decline I almost never sleep past 6 a.m. The only exception is when I absolutely must get up. This morning was one of those times. My alarm reliably sounded at the appointed hour, and I do remember hitting the snooze button. But I fell into a very deep sleep before the second blast, not to awaken for thirty minutes (my decline has also taken its toll on my hearing). It was a costly error, but not worth discussing.
I got to pondering why the snooze buttons on alarm clocks all grant nine more minutes. I think it’s because nine minutes is just enough time to fall back into REM sleep, leading to a series of events that ruin your day. But I’m a negative guy.
H.L. Mencken opined on the symbiotic relationship between time and beer. Twenty-four hours in a day. Twenty-four beers in a case. Essentially, according to Mencken, beer is a measure of time.
The number nine’s relationship with time isn’t exclusive to the snooze button. Two sports offer an alternative to the traditional clock.
Baseball fans laud their sport’s glorious separation of time from traditional measure. Instead of minutes and hours, baseball’s time is metered in outs and innings… nine innings. Golf’s time is measured in shots and holes… and nines.
Like my collapse into catatonia this morning, there have been some famous failures on the final nine in golf. Greg Norman’s dump at Augusta in ‘96 has been called the worst choke in tournament golf. I think I agree. Few remember Harry Vardon’s wrenching Open collapse at Inverness in 1920. Vardon was, especially by the standards of that day, an old man at age 50. As he stood on the twelfth tee the final day, five strokes clear of the field, a vicious cold front blew through (remember those?). Vardon wearied, his lead dissipated, and he finished second to Ted Ray. But he didn’t choke. His body failed him.
In my book the most tragic gas-job was by Arnie at Olympic (we’ll pause now for a moment of silence). Arnie’s choke, to me, was the worst ever… because he wasn’t a choker. He was, as the press told us more than once, a swashbuckler. I’d love to be called a swashbuckler. How cool would that be? As Arnie proved that day, everyone chokes sometimes. Even swashbucklers. But this piece isn’t about choking. Yet.
The other day I flew to Atlanta–the capital city of the Great Wasteland (okay, two Mencken references in one article are a bit much). I had the usual array of seat-mates. Bubba sat to my left–suffering the bloated burden brought on by years of consuming deep-fried mushrooms and Lite Beer. Unshaven, sporting less than sanitary jeans and t-shirt, his elephantine arms and shoulders protruded halfway into my space.
The guy in front was, by my estimation, a retired IRS agent, about 70 pounds overweight (they charge extra for 70 pounds of baggage, unless it comes attached to your body in the form of fat cells). As soon as the plane took off he jammed his seat back as far as it would go, and with his girth augmenting the range of his projectile’s motion he crushed my knees and almost dismantled my jaw.
To my right was a young woman wearing an extremely short dress (I'm male, I notice these things). She never stopped moving the entire trip. It was like the fast forward button was stuck on the VCR (remember those?). I never saw anyone fidget so much or so frenetically.
At one point she decided to put some lotion on her hands. I didn’t think it was possible to shake a bottle so rapidly. It was like one of those vibrating paint mixers at the hardware store. Ultimately the cap flew off and lotion spewed everywhere. She shrieked.
Later, when the attendant put two drinks in front of her (orange juice and water, no ice) I waited for the inevitable. Sure enough, about five minutes later, her right arm exploded forward in what appeared to be a completely involuntary movement–liquid spewing everywhere. She shrieked.
But that was more tolerable than what went on before she was told to turn off her cell phone. I never heard anyone talk so fast. From what I could gather–discerning a few key words–her boyfriend’s phone had made it into the hands of a cab driver. I suffered through her mach six cackling while she floundered in futility, with a heavy Japanese accent, to get the Mexican driver who apparently spoke very little English to return the phone to her hotel. I shrieked.
Surrounded by my collection of annoying friends, I made myself as small as possible in my even smaller than normal space and tried to read the in-flight magazine. That’s when I came to realize what it’s going to take for the game of golf to survive the next five hundred years.
Each issue of Delta Airline’s magazine includes a welcome article by the President and CEO. In this particular issue, the welcome message presented a myriad of measures being taken to significantly reduce Delta’s consumption of jet fuel. Updating to newer jets has reduced fuel consumption by 30-35%. Modifications to older craft will save one million gallons of fuel annually. Elimination of ovens and other weight reduction moves will save 1.4 million gallons. Modifications of climb and descent speeds, the use of stationary fueling carts, and implementation of single-engine taxi procedures save another million plus gallons. The list went on.
I paused to contemplate these amazingly simple and effective changes, and why they took so long for Delta to implement. Ben Franklin and others have been credited with the axiom “necessity (desperation?) is the mother of invention”. Perhaps the more applicable flipside would be “bounty is the father of sloth” (best to not lay the blame on mother).
I suppose it’s the unchangeable nature of man to wait until the last minute to make moves to avert impending doom. But did we really think that we would never have to deal with rising fuel prices and global warming? Damn those Republicans.
American golf is facing a similar fate. It’s not only not growing, but rounds are gradually decreasing. Many factors are involved, with time perhaps the greatest. Our evolving culture has whacked the amount of time we devote to leisure activities.
Concurrently, rounds are taking increasingly longer to play. Unfortunately, golf’s alternative measure of time–shots and holes–has not held up in the marketplace. In our everyday lives we remain enslaved by the clock.
Jack Nicklaus has suggested that we have twelve hole courses, but there’s something nay gawf about “the back six”. I have a better idea: Learn to play faster.
Golf’s “nine” used to equate to about an hour and a half. Anymore it often creeps closer to three painful hours. That’s the gas equivalent of about ten dollars a gallon. The time has come to learn how to conserve–not shots, not holes… but time.
It's the final nine. Let’s hope we don’t choke.
There’s a pretty good “sci-fi” book called Ender's Game where a young boy is recruited into a special long term military training program that seeks one person to lead the world and save the universe.
The training involves “gamified” military exercises, plus extensive training via video games.
Still very young, Ender is challenged to succeed in a new video game, a critical test of his skills. He wins the game.
What he didn’t know was the game was his ultimate mission and he wasn’t controlling virtual fighters. He was controlling real fighters in a winner take all showdown for the survival of mankind.
A very successful friend once told me he loved business because it was the ultimate game—sort of like Ender’s game. And I’ve concluded that understanding and embracing that fact, before you start to play, provides a huge advantage.
If you’re an entrepreneur (code for “business guy who can think independently”), it’s likely the best of your competition are playing their “game” something like chess. They’re at the board, on one side, making moves within accepted norms, systems, parameters, traditions, and known dynamics, following “best practices” and “execution”.
Be above the chessboard. Eschew the accepted norms exercised by your competition. Determine how to blow them up. Replace them. Create new paradigms. Redefine things. Destroy your competition, and save the universe.
We’ve got an amazing gang at Clarity.Golf. And it’s getting bigger and better just about every day. We’re blowing up the best practices—without giving a plug nickel what they even were.
Meanwhile, our Harvard MBA competition are sitting in their penthouse aeries, studiously working their digital slide-rules, pouring over financial statements, vetting the best sensitivity training courses, rigging plans for recurring revenues (code for “gouge the customer”), making their products more cheaply (code for “gouge the customer”), jamming human pegs into holes and then unceremoniously eliminating the pegs that don't fit.
A Harvard MBA walks up to the counter and orders a double latte with a triple espresso shot and a dash of nutmeg. The guy behind the counter says, “You must be a Harvard MBA”. The righteous MBA responds “Well, yes, but that’s offensive. You’ve pigeon-holed me as a Harvard MBA just because I ordered a highly caffeinated, exotic, expensive coffee!” The guy behind the counter replies, “It has nothing to do with the coffee. It’s because you’re in a hardware store.”
Forest or trees?
We at Clarity are out to blow up the norms and save the universe. And, in our opinion, blowing up the norms includes focus on improving every aspect of the customer experience, code for “serve the customer”.
Note: I wrote this article fourteen years ago. It still applies, however the growth of indoor and other derivative forms of golf have had a wonderfully positive effect on golf's growth. While the number of North American golfers–defined by golfers who play on golf courses–has slightly declined over the last fourteen years, in the same period the number of golfers who participate in derivative forms of golf have increased sixfold. Sixfold! This includes 12 million participants that never play on a golf course. Pretty cool.
When my grandmother was succumbing to cancer, my uncle made a series of calls to my father to come pay a final visit. Over time the requests for my father’s visit became more urgent. I accompanied him on the ultimate visit. We were both shocked at the degree of my grandmother’s physical decline. Yet her mind and soul had sustained the same amazing luster and positive energy she had had in her prime.
The business of golf in America is ill. A casual observer might not notice, as would have been the case with my grandmother before her body began to fail. But the symptoms are present. Golf can be healed, but not without change. It’s been said that golf has lost its relevance in American culture. I am willing to stipulate that this is the effect. But the causes are many.
If you could give golf a stress test, a colonoscopy, and a full body MRI, you’d understand what the doctors already know.
Signs of Illness:
The Howling B.E.A.S.T.S.
A while back I tried to write a clever article about slaying the BEASTS. “BEASTS” is my acronym for the things in golf that affect its overall relevance. We can heal golf if we focus on improving these fundamental elements.
B = Barriers: The game today places barriers for many participants. We must strive to welcome with open arms all players, regardless of ability, age, sex, race, or style. We must think of golf as the business it is and golfers as the customers they are. Instead of bombarding our customers with rules and negativity when they come to the course, we should strive to make every moment they spend an extremely positive experience.
E = Equipment: Most golfers have equipment that is ill-fitting to their swing and physical capabilities. We must strive to deliver to golfers clubs that fit their games. We also need to make this equipment affordable, or to welcome new players without equipment by supplying it at the course–with a selection and reasonable cost comparable to how bowling centers accommodate casual participants.
A = Access: Many golfers perceive impediments to regular play. We must strive to overcome factors that mitigate access including price, availability, pace of play, weather, and location. One partial solution involves the growth of indoor golf. While hard to comprehend for golf traditionalists, indoor golf has the ability to overcome virtually all of the access problems golf faces. It also is consistent with a cultural trend to move outdoor sports and activities inside. Consider that over 80 new indoor water parks are expected to open in the U.S. in the next year. One indoor golf simulator purveyor claims that 2 million rounds per year are played on its simulators alone. GolfTec, an indoor golf instruction business, claims to give 10% of all the golf lessons in the U.S.
S = Social: The vast majority of golfers play to relax and have fun in a social environment. Women especially are oriented to the social aspects of play. We must strive to get compatible golfers together in a way that creates an enjoyable social experience. There are many ways for golf facilities to create a more social environment for players to meet and play together. But the biggest impact can be made, very easily, by simply getting club pros out from behind their desks and pro shop counters out onto the course to get folks together, play holes with the patrons, and act as the course's social director.
T = Time: The most diabolical disease in golf today is slow play. We absolutely must take measures immediately to enforce a reasonable pace of play, and to educate golfers on how to speed up play and why it is essential to the health of golf. It dawned on me while playing the other day, waiting on every shot the entire round, that most players really have no idea how to get around the course efficiently. Instead of having marshals patrolling the course pretending to keep things moving, send out friendly instructors to help players learn good habits in efficient play.
S = Satisfaction: In golf, as it is with anything in life, if one doesn't find their performance satisfying they'll be less encouraged to do it more. We must strive to improve our methods and systems for teaching the game, we must help golfers realize and find pleasure in meeting realistic expectations, and we must provide courses and play from tees that fit our games. We must strive with all our power to guarantee that our customers have a very predictable, positive experience every time they come to the course.
If we place serious focus on these fundamental elements, we can not only heal the business of golf, but we can help the game of golf sustain its amazing luster and positive energy.
I used to be in the golf technology business--simulators and stuff to measure balls and clubs and weight transfer. That was “back in the day” when the movers in the golf industry still used slide rules and rotary dial phones--in the early 2000’s. Needless to say, golf and technology didn’t mix well.
I remember a big pow-wow with the movers of a major golf organization, back in the abacus days--the 1990’s. They called me in to discuss some tech matters related to a golf museum they were steering. One of the big movers in the room got up and came over to where I was sitting at the conference table--about a three minute walk from his seat at the end. He dropped a copy of the local rag in front of me and on the front page was an article about the museum.
“Bill”, he said, “Do you see that article on the front page?”
“Do you see that part where I was quoted as saying that the museum would have unique interactive displays?”
“What’s an interactive display?”
A call from another one of the big movers came to me less than a year later. They were looking for some financial involvement from a big tech company and knew I had done business with them and wanted to know if I could help get to the right guy.
“Bill”, he said, “Do you think you can help me with [big tech company]?”
“I don’t know, what have you done so far?”
“We were told we had gotten hooked up with the right guy. We flew out to meet him and waited for over a half hour. Then this guy in a golf shirt and jeans came out and took us into a small office. He indulged us for a while and then sent us away and nothing happened.”
“Who did you meet with?”
“I can’t remember. I think it was something like Ballman, maybe.”
“I can’t help you”.
Things have changed. The golf world is using Texas Instruments calculators and touch tone phones. Some of the more progressive movers in golf even have flip phones.
I once said, to blank stares, that one day every TOUR pro would use tracking technology on the practice tee at events. That seemed ludicrous to my audience, but that is exactly what’s happening today. Yet the use of the technology is far from where it can be. Most of the guys are using expensive radar units to simply tell them how far they hit it.
For whatever reason that makes me think of Jed Clampett dining on the pool table in the “fancy eatin’ room”, and using the cue sticks as “pot-passers” (a reference purposefully chosen to reach the subconscious back-channels of old white guys--the “stewards” of the game of golf).
In the old days we dealt closely with a well-known golf club OEM. They used radar at their test range--only to measure carry distance of shots. I asked them why they used radar--it was so expensive--to merely get carry distance. They told me that otherwise they’d have to send a guy out onto the range to do it and radar never called in sick.
So here we are a hundred years later (in tech time) and golf has taken one or two more baby steps with technology. Crazy Bryson DeChambeau (I’ve adopted the Presidential method of adding colorful descriptors to everyone’s name) is shaking things up with some innovative tech thinking. Good for him. There is so much more he can do, but compared to the average meathead he’s a stunning genius.
And for sure I’ll get in trouble for my use of the term meathead. I remember getting an unhappy email from a big name--a very bright academic--in the world of teaching pros, because in an article, “The Dawn of the Launch Monitor”, I alluded to the average club pro’s aptitude with technology as being--let’s just say--not at a high level.
In my defense, in the same article I admitted to having no clue how to set the time on my own VCR (if you don’t remember those, ask any club pro--okay now I’m in real trouble).
Enough about the past. As our country’s greatest inventor--Charles Kettering (the other guy was just a publicity hound)--said, “I only think about the future because that’s where I’m going to live.”
To put it in youthful terms (I’m very old), “Me and my boys are getting back into golf”. Since our last foray we’ve not seen much innovation on the tech side. The tech is there--but the execution is not.
We intend on changing things.
Let's talk about simulators. And by that, I mean indoor golf simulators.
Silly me, when I started AboutGolf in 2002 I didn't love the term "simulator". Webster's Dictionary defined "simulate" as "fake". Just looking it up online the first definition is "to give or assume the appearance or effect of often with the intent to deceive: IMITATE".
So I initially called our product an "indoor golf environment". There was no intent to deceive, fake, or imitate. The concept was you use real balls, clubs, shoes and gloves; you hit real shots that you watch virtually on a projected image; the shots are as accurate as technology allows. There's nothing fake about a golf simulator--or at least it's not intended. Everyone in the sim business is trying to do the best they can at making the best product.
And, unlike when I got started and introduced radar and then machine vision (cameras), there are a bunch of companies doing a pretty darn good job of all the stuff that needs to be done to make for an accurate golf simulator--no faking done or intended. That's a great advantage for you--the consumer. Our little industry is getting more and more competitive.
Way back when just after the turn of the millennium golf sims were not all that well known, they were sold essentially only by what I call vertical brands that provided the whole product, and they were expensive--too expensive. I was one of those with AboutGolf. Today, those vertical companies still exist. Many still charge you silly prices. Some have taken a straight-arrow approach and are priced reasonably.
But we also have what I call "aggregators", folks who work with various OEMs/suppliers, who put a combination of components together--usually at a much lower price than most of the singular companies. And, there is a third sector of the golf sim economy: DIY. Today, you can go online and in an hour or less order every component you need to assemble your own simulator. If you know what you're doing in choosing the right parts (it's not easy), and can put it all together, you can end up with a great sim for a surprisingly low relative cost.
Until recently when things have started to change, the entire sim buying market was pretty darn silly. They looked (many still do) at sims like cars. Consider a $45,000-$50,000 car. For that you can get an Audi A4, a BMW 3 series, or a C-class Mercedes. They're all great cars. But, it used to be that if you looked at three $45,000 simulators, where you'd think they were an Audi, a BMW, and a Mercedes, it might actually be an Audi, a Yugo, and a Fiat. But buyers decided based on the false assumption that price determined quality and performance. It didn't then and it doesn't now. Some sim buyers at the top end have bigger wallets and egos than brains (big dollars, little sense?).
But it's getting better. More systems have reached critical mass of tracking performance. Many use the same software. All of the major companies have decent software. And the best part is that there are great aggregators out there that can ensure you get the right product--and they add only a modest margin to the sale. In my opinion, for most, it's worth the few extra bucks versus DIY. But there are very capable DIY folks out there and the industry now serves them. Pretty cool.
Clarity.Golf and I are now adding a fourth element to the industry--knowledge. And, for whatever it's worth to you, it won't cost you a dime. Our consulting is always free. So, if you're a DIY guy we'll strive to add to your knowledge so you can make the best decisions relative to component buying, design and installation, and/or your business plan. If working with an aggregator is your best choice, we'll add to your knowledge about this option, and we can recommend an aggregator. Clarity will likely be doing some aggregating as well--but our aggregator allies are our good friends and we chose these friends carefully. If a system from one of the vertical entities is best for you, we'll add to your knowledge so you can make the best deal and get the best service.
We'd love to talk to you. Email Bill Bales, Clarity.Golf Founder, at email@example.com.
Bill Bales has been a force in golf simulation for over thirty years including as developer of Microsoft Golf, AboutGolf — under Bill’s control–#1 premium sim in North America — PlayData (producer of launch tracking for AboutGolf’s simulator), and Clarity.Golf.