We’ll defer to World Wrestling Entertainment’s Paul Heyman for a proper Arccos introduction here.
Why Heyman Hustle? On golf’s consumer-facing side of big data and Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) there is only one “reigning, defending, undisputed heavyweight champion!”
That’s Arccos. And it’s no contest.
Lot of truisms inside the squared circle: To be a fighting champion, you take on all comers. It’s part of the code. Only one problem: There have been more pretenders than contenders that have tried to challenge Arccos.
Not exactly a fair fight.
The Trophy Case
Bill Goldberg once had a memorable streak of 173 straight wins in World Championship Wrestling. That pales in comparison to what Arccos has managed in the golf industry’s won-lost column.
The Stamford, Conn., company remains undefeated. It even boasts a bunch of awards to go with its title belt.
Fast Company has listed Arccos third on its list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies in the sports category. MyGolfSpy honored the company with an Editors’ Choice award for its Arccos Driver product. There’s a laundry list of kudos too lengthy to mention.
Then there’s “the face that runs the place.” (Thanks, A.J. Styles.)
Sixteen-time world heavyweight champion Nature Boy Ric Flair always said, “to be the man, you gotta beat the man.” If you want to main-event in golf’s on-course data space, you’ll be climbing into the ring versus Sal Syed.
Challengers might want to consider a handicap match.
“The culture of our company is to listen,” says Syed, Arccos co-founder and chief executive. “Whether it’s customers, our partners, MyGolfSpy readers, influencers, whoever, it doesn’t matter. We listen to their feedback. We want to know what we can do better. Our job is to act on that feedback and deliver.”
Since Syed and fellow co-founders Clinton Grusd and Ammad Faisal revolutionized the game 10 years ago with a tool and a platform that combined shot-tracking with A.I., the company has acted on feedback and delivered pretty well.
Arccos’s most recent Tale of the Tape through Dec. 31, 2020:
- Three million clubs paired in the Arccos app
- Six million rounds played by users
- 400 million shots hit by users
- 31 billion on-course data points (yes, that’s 31 billion)
- 194 countries where an Arccos round has been played
Emphasizing its dominance further were the company’s results last year. It was a record-breaking 2020 for their connected golf products.
Users of Arccos technology amassed:
- Three billion yards in distance (yes, billion, again)
- 1.87 million rounds played
- 113 million shots hit on course
The Arccos team is justifiably proud of first-time engagement. New users saw an average handicap decrease last season of 5.02 strokes.
“Our business this past year essentially doubled,” says Syed. “I can’t attribute it all to the pandemic but there definitely was a certain percentage. There were a lot of challenges in 2020 but a lot of golf was played.”
Widening the Grand Canyon-like gap in the heavyweight division of data and analytics even more last season was a trio of Arccos’ technology platforms:
*A.I. Rangefinder (non-USGA conforming)
World’s first A.I powered GPS rangefinder that adjusts yardages in real-time for slope, wind speed/direction, temperature, humidity and altitude.
Arccos Caddie Link
A small, extremely lightweight wearable that automatically captures shot data, allowing Arccos members to un-tether from a smartphone in their pocket while they played.
Strokes Gained Analytics
Harnessing an A.I. Neural Net provides players with the most advanced personalized insights in the game. The first platform of its kind, Strokes Gained Analytics allows a player to select almost any target handicap—from Tour player to 20—and measure their performance versus that goal across every game facet.
“There is this realization in a lot of consumers’ minds now that data can really them,” said Syed, who conceived Arccos with Grusd and Faisal while attending business school at Yale University. “Sure, you’re going to have those golfers out there who say, ‘I know what my weaknesses are. I don’t need a system to tell me.’ But most golfers don’t honestly have a benchmark. They don’t really know where they should be in a certain aspect of how they play. There’s a comprehensive system tracking a universe of golfers to help them make smarter decisions and improve their performance.”
Tag Team Success
Five years ago, Arccos forged a unique partnership with COBRA Golf. It was kind of a WWE version of The Rock and Mick Foley … with similar success.
Despite their vastly different cultures, the two brands formed a cohesive relationship. It took time but, through applied synergies, the COBRA-Arccos tag team ushered in another revolution in the equipment space.
A first generation of “smart” club technology put an entire industry on notice.
“Whether it was going to take two years, eight years or 10 years, we didn’t know,” recalls Dan Ladd, COBRA PUMA Golf’s Executive Vice-President and General Manager. “What we believed was it was going to be the future. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, we knew there would be naysayers but we were the ones willing to look ahead and take on some risk. It’s rounded the corner. More people are getting into it and seeing what it can do and how cool it can be. Most importantly, how it can help you improve and have a little more fun? That’s good for the game.”
How well did COBRA fare with its “COBRA Connect Powered by Arccos” activations in 2020?
“We were up between 150 and 200 percent which was really exciting,” Ladd says.
Since partnering with COBRA in April 2016, two more OEM heavyweights—PING and TaylorMade—have aligned with Arccos.
Announcing a deal last October, TaylorMade immediately launched a U.S.-only promotional campaign giving its new relationship a push. Stay tuned. There will be more to come on that front.
Much further along in the tag-team division with Arccos is PING.
John K. Solheim became a believer through trial and error.
During a personal test of Arccos, PING’s forward-thinking president noted an odd trend of medium and short irons missing the green left.
He wondered: Is this a swing issue or is there something else going on?
“Arccos’s screen shows your irons statistics,” says Solheim. “It said I was missing the green left 18 percent of the time and right two percent of the time. That was weird but the data was right in front of me. I sent a note to Erik (Henrikson, PING’s director of innovation and testing) and told him I didn’t think the lie angle on my irons was wrong but maybe a slightly stiffer shaft would help. I had that done and the lefts immediately went away. I saw instant benefit.”
Solheim’s belief in Arccos has trickled down through his company. All of PING’s clubs are available with Arccos’s Smart Grip and Smart Sensor technology through custom upgrade.
G710 iron sets all came standard with Arccos smart sensors.
Particularly influenced by the data and A.I insights has been Marty Jertson, PING’s Vice-President of Fitting and Performance.
He’s taken advantage of the information and has utilized it in a number of ways including a complete makeover of how PING executes wedge fittings.
“Based on the Arccos data, amateur golfers tend to use their wedges about 60 percent of the time from the rough,” he said. “Since that’s where golfers use their wedges a majority of the time, that’s where we start our wedge fittings now.”
Syed refers to it as another case study for how data can be such an influencer on the industry.
“Our mission, along with our OEM partners, is a combined effort to help golfers improve. That leads to ideas, product creation and applied synergies. Everyone wins.”
Jertson sees a much bigger picture for Arccos and PING going forward
“Tour pros have access to an entire ecosystem of coaches, on-course stats and access to technology,” he said. “They look at their numbers and make adjustments. That same full picture they have is the future for amateur players.”
Fitting and Grip Alliances
A new era of Smart Fitting has emerged from the revolutionary process of Smart Clubs.
Re-imagining tag-team aspirations in another specialized industry space, Arccos has leveraged key partnerships with a trio of North America’s highest-profile club-fitting brands: TXG (Tour Experience Golf), Club Champion and Cool Clubs.
For the moment, the ramp-up of Smart Fitting is in its infancy.
But Syed is all in. He is optimistic for its build-out utilizing Arccos as a key piece of a complex puzzle.
“All of these top fitting brands we’ve partnered with realize fitting, at its best, is a relationship. They’re smart people,” he said, veering off topic for a moment to mention the partnerships his company has formed the past 18 to 24 months with grip manufacturers Golf Pride, SuperStroke and Lamkin (for Arccos sensors) before jumping back on point.
“What they want is a repeat customer. How they achieve that is through accountability and by having data to help figure out why something might be off in someone’s driver after a fitting or because of a swing change.”
Ian Fraser, TXG’s founder and CEO, agrees.
Integral enough is Arccos technology at the Toronto, Ont., facility that he plans to build the price of the sensors and subscription into all of his company’s fittings this year.
“Arccos is fast becoming an important part of our business. It helps us quantify fitting results with our customers and be pre-emptive to their needs once they get some rounds under their belt. I’ve always believed in club fitting but I’m more excited than ever to have data-driven feedback to ensure our customers get full value from the TXG experience.”
Where Arccos is becoming particularly helpful for TXG is the value proposition before a fitting.
“Performance-tracking benefits afterwards are awesome but this also allows our fitters to notice a player’s performance trends prior to a session with them,” Fraser added.
Defending the Title in 2021
With Microsoft leading its A.I. expansion, Arccos has continued to seek innovative ways to harness on-course data through A.I.-generated insights. The goal is the same: To help golfers improve performance with smarter decision-making on the golf course.
This month the company will begin to roll out five new initiatives:
Player Dashboard – Fully incorporates Arccos’s Strokes Gained Analytics into the dashboard to help players, coaches and fitters more easily identify and understand strengths and weaknesses across all game facets.
Arccos Caddie for Apple Watch – Moving from beta to a full-featured offering with new additions to the experience, it allows players to seamlessly record their on-course shot data without carrying a smartphone.
Smart Distance Club Averages – Leveraging new algorithms takes Arccos’s club averages to another level by accounting for recovery shots and terrain while also supporting “what if” views of weather and elevation impacts across individual clubs.
Arccos Caddie Team Program – Special package combines Arccos’s award-winning platform with customized training to suit the needs of high school, university, college and national teams while providing coaches with the ability to access and analyze their players’ on-course data.
Enhanced Putting Data – Ability to mark second- and third-putt locations to deliver even better insights for short-game performance.
“We already have USC (University of Southern California, (University of) Oklahoma and other NCAA programs using the Caddie Team program,” says Syed. “I envision this helping coaches in the future to set line-ups based on weather conditions and course specifics.”
The Arccos CEO is also intrigued by the putting data.
“I think putting is where a lot of consumer misconceptions lie. On television, we see all these putts made on Tour. The bigger sample size of an entire field at a PGA TOUR event is the pros don’t make everything. From seven feet, their rate is only about 50 percent. My belief is there are a lot of golfers out there who aren’t as bad at putting as they think.”
A Tease for MyGolfSpy Readers
Sometimes the right question leads to a surprising answer. You just have to ask.
Although Syed was not able to offer specifics, he teased another Arccos main event coming this summer.
“This is what I’m really excited about. What we haven’t shared much up to now is what Arccos can do for your equipment. We’re going to be dissecting it in ways you never imagined.”
At its core is a ground-breaking shift in how consumers think about what’s in their bag, what a player’s weak or problem clubs are and why. Even the types of clubs and golf ball they should play will be considered.
“Today, those are not data-driven decisions. Those are the things that are going to change. You’ll be able to compare clubs, all kinds of things. One thing I can tell you: I believe it’s going to be an important moment in the history of golf.”
The New Day
At 31 billion data points (and counting) and a bank of up to 400 million shots hit by users, Arccos has no end of possibilities. Supported by a surge in new members and users in 2020, the company further demonstrated its on-course data set as a valuable tool for players, coaches, fitters and OEMs.
“We know the upcoming releases for the first half of 2021 will continue to accelerate our business,” Syed said, “especially as we strive to realize the vision of connecting every golf club.”
You know that heavyweight championship belt strapped around Syed’s waist? Expect it to remain there for a very long time.