A couple of months ago, Priority Designs, an industrial firm that has been innovating behind-the-scenes in the golf world for the last 20 years, introduced itself to our readers. This time around, the Priority Designs team is going to share with you some concept sketches, and explore a bold vision of what golf might look like in the future.
Let’s be real, you, the readers here, are spending time browsing an insider’s golf magazine with the word SPY in the title. Nothing gives you a zing of adrenalin more than learning that tidbit of info or obscure connection that you can pull out of your back pocket to share while playing a round. What better place to come for that than to one of the teams of professionals hired on a daily basis to deliver research, predictive insights, design, engineering, and prototype solutions to the companies and brands that define the golf industry?
Which brings us to Disclaimer #1: We wish we could spill everything we know but the obvious reality is that our careers would be in jeopardy if we did because we’ve got to protect trade secrets. Since we value having a cool place to work and regular paychecks to keep the family happy, we had to edit out some of the things we know you would love to know.
Disclaimer #2: We limited this article to the product design and user experience worlds because this is the sandbox in which we play. There is plenty of informed writing on the business, environmental issues, and rules of the game.
So How Do We Come Up With This Stuff
The team at PD approached this question as we would any creative challenge: with a brainstorm. The ingredients for ideation vary from firm to firm, but PD’s mixture typically involves pizza, coffee, and a handful of designers, engineers and model makers. Put these all together in a closed war room for an hour, shake well, and you’ll end up with a massive list of ideas ranging from the existing to the absurd.
We tried to sort the concepts into general categories and what we found is that there’s something for everyone.
THE INSTRUMENTED COURSE EXPERIENCE
Here are some ideas about how technology can take the on-course experience to a whole new level.
It’s Thursday afternoon. Software recognizes you haven’t scheduled anything on your calendars for Saturday. The weekend forecast is clear and sunny, your home course has a tee time at 1:15, and surprisingly, your drinking and golfing buddies are free as well. You get a notification on your phone, and with a simple audible “Yes,” a tee time is booked, added to everyone’s calendars and fees are prepaid (at a discount, of course!).
Saturday rolls around and you arrive to a cart stocked with your preferred beer and snacks. The massive display on the first tee greets you personally and gives you a flyover of the hole with stats and distances to hazards.
Your personal augmented reality transitions to a live view down the fairway from the tee; overlaid is a graphic showing the average ball flight of your driver from you past 2 weeks of play, including those rounds down in Myrtle and that range session on Tuesday. Weather sensors just off the tee box help compute a highlighted aiming point on the screen. The group ahead clears the fairway bunkers and a popup tells you it’s safe to hit. You tee the ball, and since your group has enabled player aids for this round, a projector gives you outlines of your feet as an alignment aid.
Thhhhhwwwaaap. A high draw into the left rough. A network of sensors on the tee and discretely mounted in trees and sprinkler heads work together to track your ball. Its location is sent to your cart’s navigation system and your digital scorecard tallies “1.”
You look at the screen and the video of your shot helps you notice your hips got a little stuck on your downswing. A quadcopter lifts off from its charging station on the roof of your cart and begins to capture aerial footage that it feeds back to your phone’s app to share on social media. It then hovers over your ball with a laser pointing to the spot so no more balls are lost in the deep rough.
A personalized ad for those irons you’ve been researching plays as you pull away for a predicted 4 hours and 2 minutes of your favorite pastime. You make par, your buddy makes bogey. The dynamic odds on your betting app shift in his favor for hole 2 as your account is credited $5.
It might all sound far-fetched, but this is the power of data. Purists may scoff or choose to ignore, but the potential for a seamless and time efficient experience exists. How can we shape this into reality? It starts with baby steps. The technology is reaching a point where this is feasible, but incremental expansion is needed to prove concepts are beyond novelty.
Did You Know…
Golf is historically a tech leader? Golf is, without a doubt, the leading adopter of high-speed video and digital analytic technologies. Ever wonder why?
- The game is played from a fixed position making it relatively easy to capture and view the swing.
- Demographics are skewed toward the affluent, who are willing to invest in technology to improve their games.
- The culture of the game encourages practice and continual improvement of skills.
- It’s an individual game, which can simplify analysis and training.
Other sports, like baseball, football, basketball, and hockey, are just beginning to realize the benefits of using digital tools for training, analysis, documentation, and entertainment, but always remember, golf led the way.
About That Technology…
We’ve alluded to a lot of the possibilities that technology could bring to the game but the ideas above are just a first taste.
Considering that drones are becoming smaller, easier to control, and self-learning, they will one day become your digital sidekick. Like a really well trained dog, they’ll be fun to be with as they follow you around, see ahead to landing zones, get video of your best shots, and zip up to the clubhouse when you run out of beer. Your personal drone will make sure no one misses that “no hitter that anyone can throw”- the hole-in-one! When that tee shot drops into the cup, it’s automatically tracked, alerting the entire course of players as well as your social media universe. Your online profile displays a badge for the accomplishment and the course pro presents you with a USGA token, along with the bar tab.
Wearable technology is still in its infancy, but companies like K-Vest have been making motion tracking training aids for years. Priority Designs has been helping design the K-vest training products that give biofeedback as well as graphic outputs. There are so many possibilities for how smart apparel can give you feedback and track data about your round as the tech becomes smaller and more integrated. What if it could give you real time corrections, live connection to your coach, performance trend analysis and personalized swing tips?
Virtual Reality is an emerging technology that can totally transform your golf experience. Think about a hybrid of Google glass and Oculus Rift that would allow you to do things like play with the pro of your choice or at a venue of your choosing. How about the TPC Scottsdale par 3 Hole 16 with Tiger in his prime? If that’s too big a leap, you could use it instead of a rangefinder/app/wristwatch to give you basic distance and scoring info.
As a design firm with a portfolio filled with golf clubs, we would love to talk about what’s cooking. Unfortunately for you, this topic tends to be Top Secret.
One thing you can be sure about is that innovation will never stop when it comes to golf clubs. Whether it is aimed at getting the scratch golfer 5 or 10 more yards or converting a beginner’s interest into a passion, new materials and the application of technology as it’s developed will be coming to clubs of the future.
Change the Game Itself
What can you do in the golf realm in about an hour with a bunch of friends that will surprise/delight/consume them and provide fodder for reliving the experience over food and drink afterwards? Imagine something like the Zombie Room experience but on a golf course. Timed holes, themed holes, varied rules per hole, etc.
Or to get the whole family involved and entertained, parallel games like disc golf or “kickball” golf could be built in using the roughs and terrain along each hole.
Many are looking to create a stickball equivalent for golf in urban areas. Imagine a dynamic course that plays nicely with elements like high rises, intersections, alleyways, drainpipes, sidewalks, etc.? Nylon 7-irons and compressed foam balls are safe for windows and don’t require synthetic hitting mats. Neighborhood kids can let their imaginations create par 7s and par 12s that otherwise only exist in virtual worlds. Look outside; what would your signature hole be?
And finally, the youth around us have a way of reminding us that “advancement” is not always better, and sometimes simpler is cool. Will there be retro leagues with small-faced clubs and no technology allowed or some other hip, irreverent variation on the game?
Keep an Open Mind
The bottom line is that golf doesn’t have to go in any one particular direction in order to stay relevant. It just can’t stand still.