Now that we can track a golf ball….

I never get dragged into twitter debates, there just aren’t enough words and it’s futile. However yesterday some pretty clueless individuals did that customer hawking thing on twitter. The words of the great Judge Smales rang true: “well Danny the world needs ditch diggers too”. Trouble is on this occasion I couldn’t let it go because they touched on a subject I feel passionate about. Indoor golf is more than a business to me, I believe it has a role to play in the games future.

I started making golf clubs 17 years ago and as a result worked with the very early launch monitors, club head analysis devices etc. I started Urban Golf nearly 11 years ago. Using second generation simulators, which were not good enough. Through my work in the equipment industry I knew launch monitors had become very good, radar worked well outdoors but not indoors and camera systems were just starting to emerge. I wanted indoor golf to be a part of the game and set about trying to solve the limitations of the technology. A little ambitiously I tried to develop my own simulator.

I found a man called Tim McGann who has become a firm friend. Tim played college golf in California but his brains outweighed his golfing talents and so after university went into the emerging technology of tracking objects through imaging. His first job was developing the tracking system for the Cruise Missile. He is alarmingly smart! He had developed a launch monitor for Max Out Golf, the unit took two high speed images at impact and for the first time directly measured speed, launch and spin accurately through cameras. We robot tested the unit at Loughborough University and verified its total accuracy. We still use this unit as calibration for our Sims and to test new technology. It was pretty cool to see and pretty quickly we had the unit working to project ball flight onto a rendered driving range. Working prototype. This was eight years ago.

The reason I tell this tale is because way back then I, like so many today, assumed that was it. These days people are taking launch monitors with standard ball flight models geared up around being a launch monitor because that’s where the mass market is and attaching them to a graphics package and claiming you can now play golf.

We got bogged down in trying to make the Max Out Launch monitor work for all the shots you would play in a round of golf. We also had issues making it work when the ball was not positioned in a fairly tight location. I bumped into Bill Bales at the PGA Show and he showed me the prototype for 3 trak – The system we use today at UG. My heart sank, even if I did finish the job there would be another system using cameras on the market. I liked Bill, I trusted him and had known him a number of years. I decided to work with him instead of carrying on.

Now here’s the point, it was accurate for standard shots then (seven and half years ago). I went to Ohio three times a year for next four years to evaluate, it took four years to establish all the necessary ball flight models for it to measure extreme golf shots necessary to really play golf and hit all the shots you would want to. For it to be robust and intuitive. So when I hear a launch monitor company saying they have a Sim or someone who bought a launch monitor saying they have a Sim, I have to take issue because of what I know. I didn’t read it on a website, nobody sold it to me, and I didn’t have a one day induction course. I know because I made it my business to know but most of all I actually care!

Three years ago UG reinvested to upgrade all the systems we use to 3 trak. We did it because we believe indoor golf has a role to play in the game. I have personally visited all the R and D facilities of relevant simulator/ball tracking companies. I have used an independent expert in the form of Tim McGann to evaluate and understand exactly how every system works, what is good and bad about each system.

aboutGolf Tracked Ball

The truth is pretty simple. Radar is finished, every other industry which previously used radar to track objects over short distances has moved to camera technology. Its now pretty easy to track a standard golf shot using high speed cameras, its amazing how some companies still do it badly. Soon you will be able to track a golf ball accurately on your iPhone camera. What is not so easy is to create a system that works accurately without positioning the golf ball in a precise location and one which tracks all shots.  I know this because I have been involved in the process. I know ball data, I can hit a ball, and I have spent the last 15 years obsessed with ball flight. I can call pretty accurate launch data by eye (I have tested it). I know others are not going to take this to the levels I have, it has become an obsession. I know people need to make a living so need to support information and tow the party line. The trouble is that false information holds things back.

I want golfers to discover indoor golf.  What we do is authentic, it’s underpinned by real passion and knowledge. The muddy waters created by bad information hold back real progress and people’s ability to make informed decisions. That is the way of the world, however I believe authenticity will prevail. Golfers can play a real game of golf indoors, we do it, our clients do it and soon there will be a tipping point.

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