Golf

How Smart Sensors Are Changing Golf

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Since late 2014, Arccos Golf smart sensors have been collecting data about golfers’ games. These tiny innovations screw into the butt end of grips. Many Cobra Golf and Ping clubs come standard with them built in. Using them is nothing short of fascinating. As you swing, it collects shot data and can then tell you so much about your game and playing tendencies through the accompanying smartphone app. For instance, after using them for a few rounds, I quickly learned that most of my missed approach shots go left and long. In fact, even when my shots land on the green, they’re on the back left. Also, my driving distance was a good 10 yards less than what I thought it was — something very common to golfers who use these.

“There is generally a cognitive bias on how long people think they hit and how long they actually hit,” says Sal Syed, CEO and co-founder of Arccos. “We’ve found that the initial humbling emotion is quickly overtaken by an enlightenment emotion that drives people to improve. Our average user improves 5+ shots in their first season using Arccos.” 

Now in its seventh year, the company has recorded millions of shots from golfers all over the world . While Syed says the company won’t disclose exact numbers, he will reveal that “on an average weekend day last year, we were collecting more than 600,000 shots — including 750,000+ on Labor Day. And we’re on track to at least triple that this year.”

The average Arccos user is 44 years old and plays to an average handicap of roughly 14. The company also separates data for males and females, with separate strokes gained benchmarks so users can compare themselves to male or female golfers of varying skill levels from tour pros to 20-handicaps.

Syed’s general hopes for the data are ambitious. He wants to help golfers play better golf through amazing insights; help the golf industry make smarter decisions and better products based on this data; and make golfers aware of the power of data and that they can then apply these lessons to other parts of their lives. “The thing that has surprised me most is the richness and predictive power of this data set,” he says.

The data’s potential and implication are huge. Last year, the company reported that after poring through data of more than 26 million tee shots, it discovered golfers using the sensor hit drives an average of 222.1 yards in 2019, which was 2.6 yards shorter than in 2017. The median driving distance has an even larger gap. And the gaps were consistent across age group and handicap, as well. Was that caused by equipment? Course conditions? Weather? Who knows. While that may imply to consumers that their two-year-old driver may not necessarily need an upgrade yet, no one should jump to any conclusions.

Since 2018, Cobra has been including Arccos’ smart sensors on the “Cobra Connect” grips of most of its clubs — standard with purchase. That was a year after it started the program with just its drivers. But executives at the popular club manufacturer quickly saw its potential. Out of all the data the company’s collected from the smart grips, there have been surprises. “Almost all players have at least one poorly gapped club — that’s not surprising,” says Mike Yagley, Cobra’s vice president of innovation and artificial intelligence. “But what is surprising: Most have several, some up to six, that are not properly gapped — that was much worse than I thought it would be.”

Gathering all of this data has also helped Cobra’s engineers learn more about golf club design for the future. “The average golfer, or game-improvement iron target player, is always striving for more distance, yet the data shows the need for playable distance, or distance with forgiveness,” says Yagley. “We definitely put higher moment of inertia and lower center of gravity technology into our KING F9 irons, which carried into our KING Speedzone and now the KING Radspeed irons this year. The wide, deep sole of our game-improvement irons was designed to improve what we were seeing in the data — high shot dispersion, hitting a low number of greens in regulation, shorter iron shots, and many players giving up good scoring opportunities with their iron play. Our KING Radspeed irons have been designed to give golfers what they need according to the data, which is very playable distance.”

Indeed, smart grip sensors in grips have proven that the key to golf’s future may literally be in our hands right now.

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