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.