Trackman and Titleist have partnered on a new (sorta) golf ball. The Titleist Pro V1 RCT is the first golf ball specifically designed for use with Trackman in an indoor environment.
Let’s back up a bit.
Golf is traditionally, perhaps even fundamentally, a game played outdoors. But, when you consider lessons, fittings, and a fully simulated golf experience, there is inarguably a massive number of shots being hit indoors. It’s also true that we live in the age of data. Very few of us are banging balls for the sake of banging balls. The shots we hit indoors need to be measured, and they need to be measured accurately.
That’s where the Titleist Pro V1 RCT comes in.
Doppler’s Dirty Little Secret
Perhaps it’s unfair to call it a dirty little secret because it’s well-understood across the golf industry that Doppler radar-based launch monitors, most notably (given today’s topic) Trackman, have some issues in limited flight environments. Limited flight is a semi-technical way of describing any hitting situation that involves a screen, a net, or anything else (other than a tree) that impedes the flight of a golf ball.
The specific problem is that Dopper-based systems like Trackman struggle to accurately capture the spin axis and spin rates when they can’t track the full flight of the golf ball. This is particularly true for high-speed, low-spin golfers.
I’m guessing some of you probably didn’t know that.
That’s not to say radar is never right indoors or that the accuracy can’t be improved by affixing aluminum dot stickers to the golf ball and aligning it to the target, but indoors, radar has issues. And that thing is, when you’re not getting spin axis values (effectively the curvature of the golf ball) or spin rates correctly, other metrics like height, descent angle, carry, and total distance aren’t being calculated correctly either. That makes it pretty much impossible to know exactly what the ball did.
In teaching situations where you’re often more interested in the swing than the ball flight or for your virtual round at Pebble Beach, misreads aren’t a big deal. My swing coach (poor bastard) uses Trackman indoors, and it gives us absolutely everything we need to improve my game, but in fitting and research environments, filtering the noise caused by bad spin data can be a challenge, and failure to do so can lead to bad insights and recommendations.
While this may be the first you’re hearing of it, this isn’t new information, but the advent of the Pro V1 RCT certainly represents the most public acknowledgment of the problem I’ve seen to date.
Titleist Pro V1 RCT Golf Ball
The solution to Trackman’s indoor spin problem is the Titleist Pro V1 RCT golf ball. RCT stands for Radar Capture Technology.
The Pro V1 (and Pro V1x) RCT is the result of a 2-year research and development collaboration between Trackman and Titleist. Very simply, the Titleist Pro V1 RCT replaces the aluminum sticker on the exterior of the golf ball with what Titleist calls a radar reflective mark underneath the cover of the ball. That radar reflective mark is actually a kind of ink on the casing layer. It not only removes the need for a sticker but also eliminates the need to orient the ball in any specific direction. When used with the Titleist Pro V1 RCT, not only is Trackman more accurate than when using a sticker (and way more accurate than when not), Trackman says the Pro V1 with RCT makes its Trackman 4 system more accurate than anything on the market right now.
Bold statement. Love it.
For its part in this, Titleist says that extensive testing with the Pro V1 RCT has shown Trackman can accurately capture spin more than 99% of the time.
Hands-on with the RCT
I had a chance to hit 75 or so shots with the RCT balls in a Trackman simulator environment. Anecdotally, spin capture was significantly improved. I didn’t get a single italicized spin reading. In the Trackman world, italics indicates an estimate as opposed to a measurement. In a typical session, I’ll encounter several italicized spin numbers so, either Trackman has rolled out a font update, or it’s more accurately capturing spin rates with the Titleist Pro V1 RCT. I’m betting it’s the latter.
There were a couple of drives (high toe shots – it’s always the high toe miss for me) where what I felt (a low spin sweeping toe draw) didn’t agree with what Trackman spit out (very high spin push slice). Feelings aren’t facts, however, so while I’m not entirely convinced the spin axis issues have been resolved completely, I won’t be certain until I can do some head-to-head comparisons with the GCQuad.
For now, let’s accept that the Titleist Pro V1 RCT can dramatically improve the accuracy of Trackman in limited flight environments. That’s obviously a big deal, but a secondary benefit of RCT is that it reduces the flight distance required to capture data reliably by 25%-30%. With the Pro V1 RCT, Trackman can get good spin data with as little as 8 feet of flying distance.
More accurate data with less space required. That’s a good thing.
Titleist Pro V1 RCT Technology
As far as the ball itself is concerned, There’s no RCT-specific mixture or chemistry. Every RCT starts as a mainline Pro V1 (or Pro V1x). Balls are diverted long enough for the radar reflective mark to be printed on the casing layers before applying the covers. The only thing the mark impacts is the weight of the golf ball, but the additional mass is so insignificant that RCT-infused Pro V1s still fall within Titleist’s standard tolerances for weight. Effectively that means you should expect Titleist Pro V1 RCT balls to perform identically to their mainstream counterparts. It’s worth noting that RCT balls are not only USGA conforming; no separate entry is required on the conforming list. The USGA considers the RCT version to be the same as the current retail Pro V1.
Trackman Tweaks and What’s In it For You
To maximize the benefits of the Pro V1 RCT, Trackman had to tweak its algorithms to work with an embedded mark (as opposed to a sticker). Support for RCT was rolled out with version 2.2 of Trackman’s firmware, so Trackman owners will want to install the update. Seriously, do it now.
It should be obvious what Trackman’s angle is here. The Titleist Pro V1 RCT and the related software upgrade address (and presumably fix) a significant weakness in its system. If the ball works as advertised, it brings the indoor playing field closer to level while further widening the gap between Trackman and its radar-based competition. The Pro V1 RCT also makes Trackman’s launch monitors inherently better for its indoor userbase. Happy customers are often repeat customers.
Forward-thinking a bit, if Trackman ever decides to enter the rapidly-growing consumer market, it would have an immediate and significant leg-up on its tiny doppler-based competition.
And about that competition …
In talking with both Titleist and Trackman, my sense is that both have been so focused on getting RCT technology dialed-in that neither has had much time to test the ball with competing devices. The belief is that RCT golf balls will likely improve the accuracy of other Doppler-based devices, though now would probably be a good time to point out that not all doppler is the same.
Without a complete understanding of exactly how RCT works, Trackman believes it will be difficult for its competitors to achieve anything close to the 99% spin capture rate with their systems. Still, RCT will likely improve the accuracy of those devices, even without software updates. Ultimately, the Pro V1 RCT could help golfers get more out of the radar-based personal launch monitors they already own.
What’s In It For Titleist
For Titleist, the value of the partnership is a little less clear. Realistically, it’s only going to sell a few thousand dozen Pro V1 RCTs a year. Even at $64.99 a box, that’s not going to shift its bottom line. That’s especially true given the technology has been engineered to return accurate spin data even after hundreds of shots. The balls are designed to last, and given the intended use, very few RCTs are likely to be dunked in water hazards.
There is something to be said for what Titleist’s VP of Marketing for Golf Balls, Jeremy Stone, describes as “flattening the seasonality of our business.” Basically, RCT gives Titleist ball fitters in cold weather climates the ability to fit year-round. As much as anything else, however, Stone says Titleist took on the RCT project because it likes challenges.
“The Pro V1 RCT showcases the strength of our research and development team and speaks to what goes into every Titleist golf ball,” says Stone.
The subtext there is that perhaps golfers don’t always appreciate ball technology as much as they do club technology. The RCT project provided an opportunity to show that Titleist is an innovator capable of creating products that advance the entire industry.
A golf ball that can deliver near-100% accuracy in indoor Trackman environments has never existed before. Given the popularity of Trackman, it seems inevitable that it will have a meaningful impact.
There are perhaps what I guess we can call psychological implications as well. It’s a safe bet that not everyone will be overtly aware of the Pro V1 RCT, but the reality is that, as of November 3rd, there’s a new standard in indoor fitting with Trackman. If you’re a fitter and you’re not (or if you’re a golfer whose fitter isn’t) using a Titleist Pro V1 RCT, you’re not getting the most accurate data out of Trackman. To best ensure the accuracy of Trackman indoors, the ball needs to be a Titleist.
In a perfect world, every golfer would get fitted for clubs using the ball they play every day. In our imperfect world, at a minimum, fitters should use the best available tools to get the best possible results for their customers. Assuming the Pro V1 RCT works as advertised, it absolutely should be one of those tools. Incidentally, while it might be a bit uncomfortable, this is almost certainly true for Titleist’s competitors as well. Trackman launch monitors in indoor hitting bays across Carlsbad will work better when the Titleist Pro V1 RCT is the ball being hit.
Only a Matter of Time?
We’ve noted countless times that golf is a copycat business, so it’s likely only a matter of time before one or more of Titleist’s competitors develops a version of the radar ball. The advantage for Titleist is that it worked directly with Trackman to develop technology specifically for that system. For its part, Trackman developed software to work specifically with Titleist’s RCT. I’d also wager there’s some contractually guaranteed exclusivity attached, so, in the short-term anyway, similar partnerships are unlikely.
It’s also worth mentioning that Titleist has several patents pending and some other trade secrets intended to give it absolute freedom to operate (presumably alone) in this particular space for the next little while.
In today’s golf equipment space, it’s exceedingly rare for any equipment brand to offer a market exclusive, but when it comes to precision indoor fittings with Trackman, for now anyway, Titleist is the only game in town. For Titleist, Trackman, and thousands of golfers who cross paths with Trackman launch monitors indoors, that’s no small thing.
Titleist Pro V1 RCT Availability and Pricing
Initially, retail availability of Titleist Pro V1 RCT (including Pro V1x RCT) will be limited to North America and Europe. Titleist hopes to have global availability in Q2 of 2022. Likewise, while Titleist’s indoor fitters will have RCT versions of both AVX and the Pro V1x Left Dash in their toolbox, neither will be available at retail – at least not at launch.
Titleist RCT balls will be sold through Titleist.com and by special order from any Titleist account. Some specialty retailers may choose to stock the ball, but you certainly won’t find it on most retail shelves.
Retail price for Titleist Pro V1 RCT and Pro V1x RCT golf balls is $64.99/dozen. Availability begins November 3rd.
For more information, visit Titleist.com.