Pros: Combines GPS and motion sensing technology to track every shot with minimal disruption to the flow of the game. Advanced data capture lets golfers learn the true distance and accuracy of each of their clubs to formulate a better tee-to-green strategy.
Cons: The device itself does not double as a rangefinder, requiring players to carry a separate product to identify the distance to the pin. Less avid golfers, the kind that play only a few rounds a season, can probably get by without Game Golf’s more advanced features. There are more affordable options for players who only care about their average score and putts per hole.
Bottom Line: When released earlier this year, the makers of Game Golf promised to revolutionize how golfers play, compete, socialize and improve their game. It’s safe to say they’ve kept that promise intact.
Introduced with great fanfare at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando this past January, Game Golf has been one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise abysmal year punctuated by store closings, employee layoffs and shrinking participation. If the sky is falling, as many industry experts proclaim, Game Golf hasn’t felt it. The product was sold out shortly after making its splashy debut.
Like other technology apps that have come before it, Game Golf records your rounds and analyzes your performance. But it does this with unparalleled ease and sophistication. The device itself, which is smaller than a deck of cards, clips to your belt. A set of durable tracking tags are attached to your clubs. When you’re ready to address your ball, touch the tag to the sensor on the device. You’ll hear a subtle beep and the device will gently vibrate indicating that it’s ready to track.
When your round is over, connect the device to your computer. Game Golf will transmit your data to its website where you can review your match. Like other pre-existing shot tracking systems, Game Golf will crunch your fairways hit, greens in regulation, average score and other standard insights. Where Game Golf truly separates itself from its competitors is through its ability to calculate the mean distance that you hit each club and the tendency you have to leave shots short, long, left or right of the flag. While Game Golf isn’t quite ready to tussle with the undisputed king of shot tracking systems – ShotLink – the margin of separation continues to shrink as the platform evolves.
Game Golf sells for $249 and does not include any annual subscription fees. The device can be bought online or through participating Apple stores.
Data and Accuracy
There are literarily hundreds of shot-tracking apps in the marketplace. And all of them are nearly identical in being able to track your FIRs, GIRs, putts per round, scoring average, etc. For a golfer who only plays a few times a year, this is plenty.
As for the avid golfer, the kind who can explain the difference between static and dynamic loft – you better bring the heat. This is the sort of player that will pour over results to help themselves identify what areas of their game fall short of levels attained by elite amateurs and pros.
One of the criticisms directed at Game Golf early on was that it didn’t make full use of its shot-tracking data collection. Yes, the system has always been able to measure and display shot distances, accurate to within five feet of the actual landing area. And it can’t be overstated how important it is to know how far you can actually hit your ball to lowering your score. But it’s also equally if not more important to be aware how well or poorly you’re controlling your shots as the distance to the hole increases.
The recently released Shot Performance Analysis feature is a breakthrough in advanced analytics allowing golfers to view their both their tee shot and approach shot accuracy. The new component displays a visual pattern of all your tee shots, mapping the distance each shot has travelled as well as the direction relative to the center of the fairway. On approach shots the flag becomes the target, allowing you to gauge your proximity to the hole using different clubs and from different distances.
Game Golf developed the Shot Performance Analysis component based on feedback collected from tens of thousands of avid golfers engaged with the platform, but it’s worth understanding how Columbia University Professor Mark Broadie’s research on golf shot performance has been equally influential.
For those who not familiar with Professor Broadie, he developed the acclaimed Strokes Gained Putting statistic adopted by the PGA Tour. He has also theorized (and proved through quantitative analysis) that the quality of a golfer’s shots from outside of 100 yards have a greater bearing on score than the quality of shots around the green. Or to put it another way, an average golfer would gain about 9.3 shots per round having Tiger Woods hit all their shots over 100 yards out but only 2.2 shots with Woods doing all the putting.
“We believe Mark Broadie’s strokes gained analysis is truly transformative, and it has certainly influenced how we’ve designed our analysis features,” says James Wang, Vice President of Product at Active Mind Technology, the makers of Game Golf. “One example of this is how we created visualizations of shot dispersion and distance from off the tee; similarly for approach shots, we visually show shot dispersion from various distances and various lie types. The intent is to help users formulate better tee-to-green strategies armed with this data.”
Are you consistently slicing your driver, but hooking your 3-wood? If you lay up with an iron will the gain in accuracy at a loss of distance translate to a better score? The Analysis tab can help you identify patterns in your game and will ensure practice time is spent working on the right things to lower your score. You can also use this feature to test drive a new club and compare its on-course performance against your existing gamer. Savvy golfers and industry professionals will quickly realize the immense opportunity this tool has for improving the teaching and club-fitting experience.
Features and Usability
One of the best features of the Game Golf platform is the visual map overlay of your previously signed rounds. There’s nothing quite like being able to review a round of golf you’ve played hole-by-hole, seeing the flight of the ball superimposed against the course with club and distance information available at your fingertips. When combined with Game Golf’s other statistical tools, the visual map can help you ascertain some amazing discoveries about your playing ability – whether it’s on certain holes, certain golf courses or specific situations like those long carries over water where a 5-yard miscalculation can be the difference between being wet or staying dry.
Whether you access your Game Golf profile over the web from a desktop computer or through the mobile app, the visual map is rendered the same way. It’s worth noting that the map can be a bit sluggish when viewed from a mobile device but that’s a minor quibble.
Another potentially great feature is the comparison tab where you can measure yourself against other golfers within the Game Golf community. For instance, you can compare the average length of your drives against Lee Westwood’s and feel wholly inadequate (unless of course you’re a member of GolfWRX). The tab lets you filter by all the usual stats (Fairway Accuracy, GIR, Scrambling, etc.) in addition to limiting the result set by a range of rounds or by golf course. It might be fun to see how your friends performed over the same period of time, but for the most part the comparison feature is still very primitive.
Future updates to the compare tab might allow a golfer playing to a 15 handicap index to measure themselves against the average single digit player based on a variety of criteria. “I don’t want to give too much detail here, but yes, this is something we’ve thought a lot about,” says Wang. “We know that more tools for comparison will add a lot of value for our users and help them even more in figuring out what areas of their game to focus on improving.”
In terms of statistics, Game Golf has just about everything covered. They have recently added sand save percentage, correcting a glaring oversight. Putting statistics themselves could use a pretty big overhaul, but Wang assures me that a future update will contain more detailed stats that are simple, intuitive and seamless.
Active Mind Technology has tried to strike a balance between catering to the community’s desire to immerse themselves in advanced analytics while at the same time not neglecting simple, but critical usability enhancements such as improving the scorecard.
A new drop down menu allows a user to quickly access any hole and make edits. There’s also an overview screen where you can review your round at a glance, as well as add or remove putts directly instead of having to wade through each hole’s shot-by-shot view.
Having been able to try out the device over the past several months, I’ve only had one instance over the course of 18 rounds where a scorecard was botched while being uploaded to the site. And even then, the support team at Game Golf was able to recover my shot data within the same day.
Judging by what early adopters have reported, most of the problems with scorecards were due to rounds recorded at nine-hole courses. Platform updates have since resolved those issues and Game Golf is able to handle both 18 and nine-hole rounds, as well as partial rounds and situations requiring shotgun starts.
As far as the platform’s social sharing capabilities, they are adequate for now. Users can brag about their rounds through Facebook, Twitter or email without much fuss. Push notifications let you know when any of your followers have posted rounds of their own.
John McGuire, CEO of Active Mind Technology has often referred to the platform as having a “stickiness” factor, but the reality is that the individuals within the community are still very much disconnected from a broader and more engaging social experience.
Game Golf is compatible with Microsoft Windows and Apple operating systems. I have had the opportunity to run Game Golf on my MacBook Pro as well as on a laptop running Windows 8. The software runs flawlessly on Apple but has crashed on occasion on Windows. Even when it runs smoothly, data transfers with the Windows app can be a little slow.
Game Golf’s online media hub, which lets users view their rounds and stats, can be accessed through a web browser or iPhone app. Beta testing for devices running Android was recently completed and the app is now available for download from the Google Play store.
The Game Golf device is sturdy, compact and weather resistant. The device can store up to nine rounds of golf and go about 10 hours or 36 holes before needing to be charged. When charging, a user can either plug in the device to their computer using the provided USB cable or they can connect the cable directly into an iPhone wall charger.
Setting up the device itself is pretty straightforward. Register a profile on the Game Golf website and download the appropriate software for your computer. Plug in the device to your computer so that it can be recognized. At the same time, remove the tags from the packaging and screw them into the grips on your golf clubs. Once your online profile is setup you’ll be prompted to identify the make and model of each club you’re tagging.
Once you’re out on the course, turn the device on. Game Golf will automatically discover your location, usually within five minutes. A set of indicator lights will notify you when it’s ready to go. Since releasing the product in January, Game Golf has done an outstanding job mapping courses. As you would expect, the United States has the most coverage (over 18,000 identified so far). International courses are also well represented – a list that includes more than 3,000 in the United Kingdom and 1,700 in Australia alone.
Some golfers have wondered why the device doesn’t double as a GPS range finder or provide instant statistical feedback and analysis as you progress through your round of golf. The makers of Game Golf wanted to ensure that their product would conform to USGA rules for tournament use – which it does. From a more practical standpoint, everyone from Bob Rotella to Gary Player believe that having too much information at your fingertips not only affects the pace of the game but can actually wreck a golfer’s score.
So is Game Golf a slam-dunk decision for each and every golfer?
With the exception of a casual player who rarely tees it up outside of a summer scramble tournament, the answer is a resounding yes. The ability to accurately track your shot distances and analyze your misses is a must-have feature for anyone who takes their game seriously and wants to improve their performance.
It isn’t simply a matter of putting meaningful data into the hands of recreational players – other technology vendors will come along with their own take on stats. Game Golf has succeeded because it has taken an idea — tracking your score — and made it inherently simple. And like other award-winning products we see in other sectors, once we start using them we often wonder what we did without them.