If you have spent time the last few years looking through GolfWRX photos from PGA Tour events, you likely noticed more Tour pros are using professional launch monitors — such as Trackman and Flightscope — on the range on a regular basis. They’re using them as more than a fitting tool, too. The combined data they provide, which includes key metrics such as ball speed, spin rate and launch angle, present golfers with an accurate picture of how far they hit each of their clubs and what swing changes are giving them the best results.
Professional launch monitors are generally outside of the price range of most golfers. Trackman, the industry leader, ranges from $16,000-$25,000 while an entry-level Flightscope Xi starts at $2,500 and the Flightscope X2 at around $11,000.
But like so many other ways, technology has started to bridge the gap between amateur golfers and the pros, and affordable, personal launch monitors have been making their way into the bags of more golfers dedicated to improving their game.
Ernest Sports and the ES14 Launch Monitor
One of the companies leading the drive to bring professional quality launch monitor data to the masses is Ernest Sports. Based in Atlanta, Ga., Ernest Sports came onto the scene with its ES12 personal launch monitor. This past year, the company took it up a notch with the Doppler-based ES14, a $699 personal launch monitor that measures club head speed and ball speed. It also calculates spin rate, launch angle, carry and total distance. Powered by 9v batteries, it measures roughly 8-by-6 inches, making the ES14 portable enough to carry with you to the range and accurate enough to offer golfers valuable feedback.
The best products and companies are built by people trying to solve a personal problem in an area they are truly passionate about. For Joe Ernest, the founder and CEO of Ernest Sports, that passion is golf. After spending countless hours on the range and course watching golfers, including himself, pull the wrong club out of the bag, he set out to build a product that would give all golfers the confidence of knowing just how far they hit each of their clubs. He wanted to use Doppler radar technology, which is the same base technology as Trackman and Flightscope, to track both the club and golf ball. And he wanted this product to be affordable enough for almost any golfer to use.
“This is the future. Very soon there won’t be anywhere you go to hit golf balls where you don’t have instant access to your numbers,”
The company counts long drive, Champions Tour and LPGA players among their list of customers, but they do not pursue formal endorsement deals. For Ernest Sports, the ES14 is aimed squarely at improving the game of every day golfers.
The ES14 has two Dopplers, one that faces forward to capture the ball flight, and one that faces rearward to capture the club head. The measured inputs are club head speed and ball speed, which present an accurate smash factor. The spin rate and launch angle, as well as carry and total distance, are calculations. Even though they are not directly measured with the ES14, they are still quite accurate on solid shots.
The company assembles each unit at its headquarters, allowing control of every aspect of the assembly and testing process. They walked me through the assembly of the unit I would receive for testing. I like knowing each ES14 is hand-assembled, starting with the electronics, all the way to the final polishing of the unit before packaging and shipping.
Each unit is turned on and tested to ensure everything is working as intended. The testing is completed by Jeremy Schmiedeberg, a scratch golfer who also handles sales and marketing for Ernest Sports. He hits 30-yard wedge shots, which the company has determined to be the best indicator that the unit is working properly, until he is satisfied that the unit is ready to go.
A company made up of passionate golfers is not enough if the product doesn’t deliver accurate results. For personal launch monitors, this means accurate club speed, ball speed and carry distance. Ernest Sports has worked hard to ensure that even though the ES14 is $700 and not thousands, it still generates accurate data.
The company provided me with independent third-party testing comparing the ES14 against Trackman. The testing took place outside on grass at the Country Club of the South here in Georgia.
The results were impressive, considering the extreme difference in price of the two launch monitors, but most importantly, they were consistent.
No launch monitor, even the most expensive ones, will capture every shot and make every calculation perfectly. But when it comes to choosing a launch monitor, you want one that will provide consistent numbers.
Stacked up against a Trackman, the ES14 consistently registered slightly higher club speed and slightly lower ball speed. Carry distance was generally reported higher on the ES14. This is due in part to the difference between the ES14 and Trackman. Trackman captures the entire ball flight, which will be impacted by external forces such as wind. The ES14 on the other hand, captures the ball flight for the first 10 yards to make the final calculations.
Most other launch monitors on the market, including those you would hit indoors at golf stores around the country, also base their distance calculations on a brief snapshot of data and not the full flight.
My Testing of the ES14
With the Trackman comparison testing completed, I focused my testing on the driving range and hit shots to specific pins measured with a laser rangefinder as well as my own GPS app designed for use on the driving range. I also set up the ES14 in my home hitting area to test how much space the ES14 would need to capture accurate data indoors.
Getting started with the ES14 was easy. While the free smartphone app for iOS (Android is also available) could use a design refresh, it was simple to use and provided at-a-glance access to the key data. You can take part in a skills challenge where you are scored on your ability to hit shots to specific distances, which is something that makes practice a lot more interesting.
Included in the box is an alignment aide to help set the unit up to capture accurate data. Because I was on the range hitting irons, I had to be aware that moving the ball too far outside a “circle” would influence the numbers. The image below shows the ideal position of the ball relative to the launch monitor. Anywhere inside this circle should produce accurate results, but positioning it directly where the alignment aide suggests will be best.
As I created divots, I needed to adjust the monitor. This is not a factor when hitting off a mat or a tee, but something to keep in mind when hitting on grass. Also, with the launch monitor in front and to the side of you, there is a slight bit of nervousness in the beginning that you’re one hosel rocket away from smashing it, but I never actually came close.
On the range, I went through the entire bag, but it was more difficult to accurately laser the exact landing area with longer clubs. I spent more of my time hitting to a green with a pin at 155 yards, which is a stock 8 iron for me. I was impressed with the accuracy of the ES14 and the ability to pick up each shot. I was seeing slightly longer carry distances of around 2-to-4 yards reported, but that is the kind of accuracy I would expect and want to have in a launch monitor at this price. I did notice that offline shots had a wider variance, which is expected. If I played a very large draw or fade, the numbers reported would be somewhat less accurate than a traditional shot with a smaller amount of curve.
Indoors with the ES14
The ES14 is a great companion for the driving range, where you can see the full ball flight and landing area. The results matched my expectations and previous knowledge about how far I hit different clubs. However, I also see it as an valuable tool to round out an indoor hitting bay. Instead of hitting into a net and relying only on feel and impact tape to recognize solid shots, the ES14 can provide actual data.
I set it up in my home hitting area with 8 feet of distance between the unit and my net. Once again, I hit shots with an 8 iron (as well as other clubs) and was happy to see the numbers were almost identical to those on the range. You do need to hit an actual golf ball for the ES14 to provide accurate data, and you need 8-to-10 feet of ball flight. Combined with other technology, such as a swing analyzer like Swingbyte, and slow motion video from your mobile phone, you can now have a pretty powerful indoor practice area and have the confidence you’re grooving a good swing.
The personal launch monitor space is heating up fast and Ernest Sports is just getting started. It has made great strides from the ES12 to the ES14 by including two Dopplers instead of one and delivering a wider set of accurate metrics. I believe the innovations they have on the horizon will continue to empower every day golfers.
While the ES14 will never replace or directly compete with all the advanced features of the more expensive launch monitors, the measured club head and ball speed data it captures paints an accurate picture of your true distance and will help you ultimately make better decisions on the course.
I tried the great Golfboarding experiment… here’s how it went
Corica Park Golf Course is not exactly the first place you’d expect to find one of the most experimental sports movements sweeping the nation. Sitting on a pristine swath of land along the southern rim of Alameda Island, deep in the heart of the San Francisco Bay, the course’s municipal roots and no-frills clubhouse give it an unpretentious air that seems to fit better with Sam Snead’s style of play than, say, Rickie Fowler’s.
Yet here I am, one perfectly sunny morning on a recent Saturday in December planning to try something that is about as unconventional as it gets for a 90-year-old golf course.
It’s called Golfboarding, and it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: an amalgam of golf and skateboarding, or maybe surfing. The brainchild of surfing legend Laird Hamilton — who can be assumed to have mastered, and has clearly grown bored of, all normal sports — Golfboarding is catching on at courses throughout the country, from local municipal courses like Corica Park to luxury country clubs like Cog Hill and TPC Las Colinas. Since winning Innovation Of the Year at the PGA Merchandising Show in 2014, Golfboards can now be found at 250 courses and have powered nearly a million rounds of golf already. Corica Park currently owns eight of them.
The man in pro shop gets a twinkle in his eyes when our foursome tells him we’d like to take them out. “Have you ridden them before?” he asks. When we admit that we are uninitiated, he grins and tells us we’re in for a treat.
But first, we need to sign a waiver and watch a seven-minute instructional video. A slow, lawyerly voice reads off pedantic warnings like “Stepping on the golfboard should be done slowly and carefully” and “Always hold onto the handlebars when the board is in motion.” When it cautions us to “operate the board a safe distance from all…other golfboarders,” we exchange glances, knowing that one of us will more than likely break this rule later on.
Then we venture outside, where one of the clubhouse attendants shows us the ropes. The controls are pretty simple. One switch sends it forward or in reverse, another toggles between low and high gear. To make it go, there’s a throttle on the thumb of the handle. The attendant explains that the only thing we have to worry about is our clubs banging against our knuckles.
“Don’t be afraid to really lean into the turns,” he offers. “You pretty much can’t roll it over.”
“That sounds like a challenge,” I joke. No one laughs.
On a test spin through the parking lot, the Golfboard feels strong and sturdy, even when I shift around on it. It starts and stops smoothly with only the slightest of jerks. In low gear its top speed is about 5 mph, so even at full throttle it never feels out of control.
The only challenge, as far as I can tell, is getting it to turn. For some reason, I’d expected the handlebar to offer at least some degree of steering, but it is purely for balance. The thing has the Ackerman angle of a Mack Truck, and you really do have to lean into the turns to get it to respond. For someone who is not particularly adept at either surfing or skateboarding, this comes a little unnaturally. I have to do a number of three-point turns in order to get back to where I started and make my way over to the first tee box.
We tee off and climb on. The fairway is flat and wide, and we shift into high gear as we speed off toward our balls. The engine had produced just the faintest of whirrs as it accelerated, but it is practically soundless as the board rolls along at full speed. The motor nevertheless feels surprisingly powerful under my feet (the drivetrain is literally located directly underneath the deck) as the board maintains a smooth, steady pace of 10 mph — about the same as a golf cart. I try making a couple of S curves like I’d seen in the video and realize that high-speed turning will take a little practice for me to get right, but that it doesn’t seem overly difficult.
Indeed, within a few holes I might as well be Laird himself, “surfing the earth” from shot to shot. I am able to hold the handlebar and lean way out, getting the board to turn, if not quite sharply, then at least closer to that of a large moving van than a full-sized semi. I take the hills aggressively (although the automatic speed control on the drivetrain enables it to keep a steady pace both up and down any hills, so this isn’t exactly dangerous), and I speed throughout the course like Mario Andretti on the freeway (the company claims increased pace-of-play as one of the Golfboard’s primary benefits, but on a Saturday in the Bay Area, it is impossible avoid a five-hour round anyway.)
Gliding along, my feet a few inches above the grass, the wind in my face as the fairways unfurl below my feet, it is easy to see Golfboards as the next evolution in mankind’s mastery of wheels; the same instincts to overcome inertia that brought us bicycles, rollerblades, scooters, skateboards, and more recent inventions such as Segways, Hoverboards and Onewheels are clearly manifest in Golfboards as well. They might not offer quite the same thrill as storming down a snowy mountainside or catching a giant wave, but they are definitely more fun than your standard golf cart.
Yet, there are obvious downsides as well. The attendant’s warning notwithstanding, my knuckles are in fact battered and sore by the time we make the turn, and even though I rearrange all my clubs into the front slots of my bag, they still rap my knuckles every time I hit a bump. Speaking of which, the board’s shock absorber system leaves something to be desired, as the ride is so bumpy that near the end I start to feel as if I’ve had my insides rattled. Then there is the unforgivable fact of its missing a cup holder for my beer.
But these are mere design flaws that might easily be fixed in the next generation of Golfboards. (A knuckle shield is a must!) My larger problem with Golfboards is what they do to the game itself. When walking or riding a traditional cart, the moments in between shots are a time to plan your next shot, or to chat about your last shot, or to simply find your zen out there among the trees and the birds and the spaciousness of the course. Instead, my focus is on staying upright.
Down the stretch, I start to fade. The muscles in my core have endured a pretty serious workout, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to muster the strength for my golf swing. It is no coincidence that my game starts to unravel, and I am on the way to one of my worst rounds in recent memory.
Walking off the 18th green, our foursome agrees that the Golfboards were fun — definitely worth trying — but that we probably wouldn’t ride them again. Call me a purist, but as someone lacking Laird Hamilton’s physical gifts, I’m happy to stick to just one sport at a time.
Review: The QOD Electric Caddy
If you want an electric golf caddy that doesn’t require that you wear a sensor or carry a remote — one that will be reliable and allow you to focus on your game, and not your cart — then the Australian-manufactured QOD is worth checking out.
The QOD (an acronym for Quality of Design and a nod to its four wheels) is powered by a 14.4-volt lithium battery, good for 36 holes or more on a single charge. It has nine different speeds (with the fastest settings moving closer to jogging velocity) so the QOD can handle your ideal pace, whether that be a casual stroll or a more rapid clip around the course.
The QOD is also built to last. Its injection-molded, aircraft-grade aluminum frame has no welded joints. Steel bolts and locking teeth take care of the hinging points. The battery and frame are both guaranteed for three full years. If you need a new battery after the three-year window, the folks at QOD will replace it at cost.
Its front-wheel suspension gives the QOD a smooth ride down the fairway, and the trolley is easy to navigate with a gentle nudge here and there. The QOD is always in free-wheel mode, so it is smooth and easy to maneuver manually in tight spaces and around the green.
The caddy also features three timed interval modes for situations where you might wish to send it up ahead on its own: when helping a friend find a lost ball or when you will be exiting on the far side of the green after putting, for example. The clip below includes a look at the caddy in timed mode.
Another area where the QOD excels is in its small size and portability. When folded, it measures a mere 17-inches wide, 15-inches deep and 12-inches tall, making it the smallest electric caddy on the market.
Folks Down Under have been enjoying the QOD for some time, but it wasn’t until a few years ago when Malachi McGlone was looking for a way to continue walking the course without putting undue strain on an injured wrist that the QOD found U.S. fairways. After first becoming a satisfied customer, McGlone convinced CEO Collin Hiss, who developed the product and oversees its production in Australia, to allow him to distribute and service the QOD here in the states.
The QOD has no self-balancing gyroscope, bluetooth sensor or remote control. Bells and whistles just aren’t its thing — though it does have a USB port for cell phone charging that can come in handy. However, if you are looking for a no-fuss workhorse to move your bag down the fairway, the QOD should be on your radar.
The 2018 model has begun shipping and will be on sale at $1,299 for a limited time. It normally retails at $1,499.
Review: FlightScope Mevo
In 100 Words
The Mevo is a useful practice tool for amateur golfers and represents a step forward from previous offerings on the market. It allows golfers to practice indoors or outdoors and provides club speed, ball speed, smash factor, launch angle, spin rate, carry distance and flight time.
It also has a video capture mode that will overlay swing videos with the swing data of a specific swing. It is limited in its capabilities and its accuracy, though, which golfers should expect at this price point. All in all, it’s well worth the $499 price tag if you understand what you’re getting.
The Full Review
The FlightScope Mevo is a launch monitor powered by 3D Doppler radar. With a retail price of $499, it is obviously aimed to reach the end consumer as opposed to PGA professionals and club fitters.
The Mevo device itself is tiny. Like, really tiny. It measures 3.5-inches wide, 2.8-inches tall and 1.2-inches deep. In terms of everyday products, it’s roughly the size of an Altoids tin. It’s very easy to find room for it in your golf bag, and the vast majority of people at the range you may be practicing at won’t even notice it’s there. Apart from the Mevo itself, in the box you get a quick start guide, a charging cable, a carrying pouch, and some metallic stickers… more on those later. It has a rechargeable internal battery that reaches a full charge in about two hours and lasts for about four hours when fully charged.
As far as software goes, the Mevo pairs with the Mevo Golf app on your iOS or Android device. The app is free to download and does not require any subscription fees (unless you want to store and view videos of your swing online as opposed to using the memory on your device). The app is very easy to use even for those who aren’t tech savvy. Make sure you’re using the most current version of the firmware for the best results, though (I did experience some glitches at first until I did so). The settings menu does have an option to manually force firmware writing, but updates should happen automatically when you start using the device.
Moving through the menus, beginning sessions, editing shots (good for adding notes on things like strike location or wind) are all very easy. Video mode did give me fits the first time I used it, though, as it was impossible to maintain my connection between my phone and the Mevo while having the phone in the right location to capture video properly. The only way I could achieve this was by setting the Mevo as far back from strike location as the device would allow. Just something to keep in mind if you find you’re having troubles with video mode.
Using the Mevo
When setting up the Mevo, it needs to be placed between 4-7 feet behind the golf ball, level with the playing surface and pointed down the target line. The distance you place the Mevo behind the ball does need to be entered into the settings menu before starting your session. While we’re on that subject, before hitting balls, you do need to select between indoor, outdoor, and pitching (ball flight less than 20 yards) modes, input your altitude and select video or data mode depending on if you want to pair your data with videos of each swing or just see the data by itself. You can also edit the available clubs to be monitored, as you will have to tell the Mevo which club you’re using at any point in time to get the best results. Once you get that far, you’re pretty much off to the races.
Testing the Mevo
I tested the FlightScope Mevo with Brad Bachand at Man O’ War Golf Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Brad is a member of the PGA and has received numerous awards for golf instruction and club fitting. I wanted to put the Mevo against the best device FlightScope has to offer and, luckily, Brad does use his $15,000 FlightScope X3 daily. We had both the FlightScope Mevo and Brad’s FlightScope X3 set up simultaneously, so the numbers gathered from the two devices were generated from the exact same strikes. Brad also set up the two devices and did all of the ball striking just to maximize our chances for success.
The day of our outdoor session was roughly 22 degrees Fahrenheit. There was some wind on that day (mostly right to left), but it wasn’t a major factor. Our setup is pictured below.
The results of our outdoor testing are shown below. The testing was conducted with range balls, and we did use the metallic stickers. The range balls used across all the testing were all consistently the same brand. Man O’ War buys all new range balls once a year and these had been used all throughout 2017. The 2018 batch had not yet been purchased at the time that testing was conducted.
You’ll notice some peculiar data in the sand wedge spin category. To be honest, I don’t fully know what contributed to the X3 measuring such low values. While the Mevo’s sand wedge spin numbers seem more believable, you could visibly see that the X3 was much more accurate on carry distance. Below is a quick summary of the percent differences between each of the parameters as presented by the Mevo and the X3 in our outdoor session when separated out for each club. As previously mentioned, though, take sand wedge spin with a grain of salt.
The first thing we noticed was that the Mevo displays its numbers while the golf ball is still in midair, so it was clear that it wasn’t watching the golf ball the entire time like the X3. According to the Mevo website, carry distance, height and flight time are all calculated while club speed, ball speed, launch angle and spin rate are measured. As for the accuracy of the measured parameters, the Mevo’s strength is ball speed. The accuracy of the other measured ball parameters (launch angle and spin rate) is questionable depending on certain factors (quality of strike, moisture on the clubface and ball, quality of ball, etc). I would say it ranges between “good” or “very good” and “disappointing” with most strikes being categorized as “just okay.”
As for the calculated parameters of carry distance, height and time, those vary a decent amount. Obviously, when the measurements of the three inputs become less accurate, the three outputs will become less accurate as a result. Furthermore, according to FlightScope, the Mevo’s calculations are not accounting for things like temperature, humidity, and wind. The company has also stated, though, that future updates will likely adjust for these parameters by using location services through the app.
Now, let’s talk about those metallic stickers. According to the quick start guide, the Mevo needs a sticker on every golf ball you hit, and before you hit each ball, the ball needs to be placed such that the sticker is facing the target. It goes without saying that it doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun to spend time putting those stickers on every ball, let alone balls that will never come back to you if you’re at a public driving range. Obviously, people are going to want to avoid using the stickers if they can, so do they really matter? Below is a table of data showing the percent difference between the Mevo’s data and the X3’s data of what we collected outdoors with a driver and range balls with and without the use of the stickers.
The FlightScope website says that the metallic stickers “are needed in order for the Mevo to accurately measure ball spin.” We observed pretty much the same as shown in the table above. The website also states they are working on alternative solutions to stickers (possibly a metallic sharpie), which I think is wise.
Another thing we thought would be worth testing is the impact of different golf balls. Below is a table of data showing the percent difference between the Mevo’s data and the X3’s data of what we collected outdoors with a driver and range balls as compared to Pro V1’s. All of this data was collected using the metallic stickers.
As shown above, the data gets much closer virtually across the board when you use better quality golf balls. Just something else to keep in mind when using the Mevo.
Indoor testing requires 8 feet of ball flight (impact zone to hitting net), which was no problem for us. Our setup is pictured below. All of the indoor testing was conducted with Titleist Pro V1 golf balls using the metallic stickers.
The results of our indoor session are shown below.
Below is a quick summary of the percent differences between each of the parameters as presented by the Mevo and the X3 in our indoor session when separated out for each club.
On the whole, the data got much closer together between the two devices in our indoor session. I would think a lot of that can be attributed to the use of quality golf balls and to removing outdoor factors like wind and temperature (tying into my previous comment above).
As far as overall observations between all sessions, the most striking thing was that the Mevo consistently gets more accurate when you hit really good, straight shots. When you hit bad shots, or if you hit a fade or a draw, it gets less and less accurate.
The last parameter to address is club speed, which came in around 5 percent different on average between the Mevo and X3 based on all of the shots recorded. The Mevo was most accurate with the driver at 2.1 percent different from the X3 over all strikes and it was the least accurate with sand wedge by far. Obviously, smash factor accuracy will follow club speed for the most part since ball speed is quite accurate. Over every shot we observed, the percent difference on ball speed was 1.2 percent on average between the Mevo and the X3. Again, the Mevo was least accurate with sand wedges. If I remove all sand wedge shots from the data, the average percent difference changes from 1.2 percent to 0.7 percent, which is very, very respectable.
When it comes to the different clubs used, the Mevo was by far most accurate with mid irons. I confirmed this with on-course testing on a relatively flat 170-yard par-3 as well. Carry distances in that case were within 1-2 yards on most shots (mostly related to quality of strike). With the driver, the Mevo was reasonably close, but I would also describe it as generous. It almost always missed by telling me that launch angle was higher, spin rate was lower and carry distance was farther than the X3. Generally speaking, the Mevo overestimated our driver carries by about 5 percent. Lastly, the Mevo really did not like sand wedges at all. Especially considering those shots were short enough that you could visibly see how far off the Mevo was with its carry distance. Being 10 yards off on a 90 yard shot was disappointing.
The Mevo is a really good product if you understand what you’re getting when you buy it. Although the data isn’t good enough for a PGA professional, it’s still a useful tool that gives amateurs reasonable feedback while practicing. It’s also a fair amount more accurate than similar products in its price range, and I think it could become even better with firmware updates as Flightscope improves upon its product.
This is a much welcomed and very promising step forward in consumer launch monitors, and the Mevo is definitely worth a look if you’re in the market for one.
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