According to TheGrint founder Jose Torbay, the purpose of the phone-based application is “to make it easier to carry and maintain a handicap.”
I call it a handicap service with benefits.
Regardless, it started as most solid entrepreneurial pursuits do: a solution to a problem. It wasn’t the kind of solution that radically changed an industry or turned into a proprietary noun (e.g., Kleenex, ChapStick).
But it did result in more than one nasty gram from the USGA.
“TheGrint.” Say What?
Every company name has a story behind it. Some are mundane (see: Ford Motor Company). Others, like PING, provide meaningful insight to some piece of the company’s history. Seriously, if you don’t know why PING is PING, it’s worth a short diversion.
But before you grab a dictionary … spoiler alert. TheGrint isn’t a real word. It’s a fictitious term based on a side bet something akin to Wolf, 9-point, Chicago or Acey-Deucey. For Torbay and his cronies, the bet simply measured the number of holes played in par (or better). The golfers with the most qualifying holes at the end of the round won TheGrint.
So in 2011, when Torbay got the idea to come up with an easier way for golfers to track a handicap, the name more or less chose itself. But personal technology of a decade ago isn’t at all what it is today. Consider that in 2011, Amazon launched its first Kindle Fire and Netflix sat mired in controversy while trying to spin off its DVD subscription service.
“Apps were not really a thing yet so, at that point, our original idea was to install scorecard mailboxes at golf courses where golfers would leave their scorecards at the end of the round,” says Torbay. “We would then calculate and send them an index and stats.”
On paper, the idea had merit. Logistically, it presented some challenges. The idea could work on a small, local scale. And, to some degree, it did. But if Torbay really wanted to offer TheGrint to more golfers, he’d need a more efficient, less labor-intensive approach.
Door Cracked Wide Open
A year later, Torbay figured out that the USGA didn’t have a centralized computation system and “as long as you followed their rules, you could provide USGA handicaps to golfers without a cost.”
So, in 2012, Torbay launched TheGrint’s first website and followed it with Version 1.0 of the TheGrint app in 2013. Torbay stuck with TheGrint as the name in part because the domain name was available but more so because it sounded golf-ish enough without telling people too much.
“If you knew about it, you knew what it was. But if you didn’t, maybe you would want to.”
Check one box for novelty.
Basically, the TheGrint functioned as a series of virtual golf clubs. So long as you lived within 50 miles of an affiliated “club,” TheGrint could set up shop and provide you with a USGA-recognized handicap.
For nearly EIGHT years, TheGrint provided USGA-legal handicap services for free to its users. It was a “borrowing the WiFi from your neighbor” type of arrangement and for whatever reason, the USGA went along with it.
With the adoption of the revised World Handicap System, the USGA informed Torbay he would have to start charging a fee.
So What Now?
TheGrint and the USGA handicapping system couldn’t peacefully coexist forever. Really, that’s a good thing. No doubt, people don’t generally like to pay for something they previously received for free. But with the current arrangement, TheGrint users receive a Handicap ID which is the equivalent of a GHIN number.
Additionally, both systems can synchronize accounts so that, regardless of which interface you use, the information is the same. It’s like having two different doors leading to the same room. Ultimately, you end up in the same place.
TheGrint Features and Benefits
The whole carrying a handicap thing is pretty straightforward. For $19.99 a year, golfers can keep and maintain a USGA-recognized handicap. Rather than entering scores manually, TheGrint scans an image of your scorecard and uploads it into the system. In addition, TheGrint includes access to some game statistics and real-time live leaderboard functionalities.
For an extra $20 a year, TheGrint provides more advanced game and individual statistics. The primary difference between the premium and standard versions is individual performance benchmarking.
I’d be remiss not to mention that TheGrint does offer a free version of its app. This lite is pretty much what you’d expect given the relatively low cost for the paid-for options. It produces an approximate player handicap (NOT USGA legal) and provides access to basic leaderboard functionalities.
Score Versus Performance
Fundamentally, the golf industry is split into two types of personal tech companies: score-tracking and performance-tracking. There is plenty of overlap and no shortage of nuance if you really want to get into the weeds but we’re going to keep this relatively basic for the time being.
Providers such as Arccos and Shot Scope lead the performance-tracking charge. TheGrint isn’t looking to go toe-to-toe with anyone in this space. If your hill to die on is strokes-gained analytics and AI-generated caddie services, TheGrint isn’t the best fit. Torbay’s company does allow the golfer to track basic performance categories such as number of putts, penalty strokes and fairways hit. Based on this information, it can benchmark performance relative to other players in its database. For example, if you’re a 12-handicap golfer and you’d like to see the average number of greens-in-regulation for a five-handicap golfer, it can do that.
But, ultimately, the strength of TheGrint is that it is a USGA-approved handicap service that offers the opportunity to create a connected community of players.
It’s something like Twitter or Snap Chat for serious golfers. If the Progressive Insurance “becoming your parents” commercials are uncomfortably accurate, the concept of an online integrated handicap platform might be enough to make some Luddites a little queasy.
However, golfers are, at their core, social creatures. And social networks aren’t going away. In fact, one could argue that smaller social circles could increase the integrity of the handicap system. Think about it. Most golfers are either trying to benefit from a handicap that’s moving up or down.
A lower handicap speaks to the golfer’s ability while a slightly higher index may increase the odds of grabbing some bucks in net-score situations. Either way, the social pressure created when your trusted cadre of frenemies can see every score you post might not be such a bad thing. That is unless you’re the four-handicap golfer who always seems to be playing off an eight come member-guest season. You know who you are.
There are two primary types of golfers who are less likely to pick up what TheGrint is putting down.
Group No. 1: Traditionalists. As with every advancement, there are golfers who prefer the status quo. It’s a “no harm, no foul” contingent that is good with the current standard and doesn’t see any immediate benefit in changing. So be it.
Group #2. Competitive amateurs. If you’re the player who sets a playing calendar around USGA qualifiers and state amateur events, TheGrint is likely not the best option. The reason is that most state golf associations require a membership which is often included by establishing a USGA handicap through a local course. TheGrint is not aligned with any state golf association. So if you plan on playing in such events, it’s best to check the requirements of your state.
While 95 percent of TheGrint users live in the United States, Torbay says the company does “very well in the UK, Canada and South Africa.” A fun factoid: According to Torbay, TheGrint shows at least one score posted on a third of the courses in the United States on a weekly basis.
While he didn’t state exactly how many active users TheGrint has, suffice it to say Torbay is plenty happy with TheGrint’s growth trends and remains bullish on the future.
A good chunk of his optimism centers around the expansion of TheGrint’s mini-tour circuit which is active primarily in south Florida and Texas. Torbay said plans for 2021 include new events in 21 cities including Chicago, New York and San Diego
Neither the USGA nor the new World Handicap System is going anywhere. But what the TheGrint possibly offers is something that better caters to the competitive golfer who takes the game seriously but not trying to pay for the mortgage seriously.
Let us know what you think.
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