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Opinion & Analysis

Catching up with a pair of innovative companies ahead of the PGA Merchandise Show

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Golf is a game of numbers and statistics. Average driver “carry” yardage. Total footage of putts holed per round. FedEx Cup rankings. Three holes up, two to play. Number of majors won. Course and personal record low scores. 14 golf clubs. 9- and 18-hole courses. Par 72. Holes-in-one. $5 Nassaus…

Appropriately, numbers will permeate the 2019 PGA Merchandise Show, the game’s annual industry summit, when it occurs later this month in Orlando (Jan. 22 Demo Day at Orange County National Golf Center; Jan. 23-26 PGA Show Exhibits at Orange County Convention Center).

This will be the 66th iteration of what has become an international golf business event. More than 1,000 golf companies and brands will be on display within nearly 10 miles of show aisles. One million square feet of interactive exhibit, product demonstration and industry presentation space. More than 40,000 PGA Professionals, manufacturing execs, VIP retailers, countless industry leaders and decision-makers.

As fascinating and insightful, fulfilling and frustrating, useful and sometimes useless golf numbers can be (most golfers couldn’t care less about how many dimples are on a golf ball), numerical figures don’t capture the human stories behind product innovations in the game, or articles for sale displayed at the PGA Merchandise Show.

Inspiration is a funny thing. You never know when it will strike. It’s often random, a common sense “Aha! Moment.” When it hits, fasten the seat belts, because vigorous, passionate action typically ensues.

Such was the case for ClickCaddie founder Scott Danielson and Kyle Klubertanz, who grew up together in Sun Prairie, Wisc. Their golf accessory core product was founded based on an idea that percolated during a round of golf in Fall 2017. They had their phones in the golf cart cup holders and were using them to play music and for course GPS information. After buying a round of drinks, they moved their phones to the front compartments where they clanged around, and they couldn’t hear their music or access their phones simply. “We realized there was no good place in the golf cart to put our phones; to use for GPS, music or golf-scoring apps,” said Danielson, ClickCaddie CEO. “We thought there had to be a better way.”

And so there was, they concluded, and it lay in the ubiquitous golf ball holders. “Every cart has them. They’re seldom used, and they’re the perfect mounting spot,” said Danielson.

golf innovation, golfers, golf courses

Scott Danielson and Kyle Klubertanz, ClickCaddie co-founders

They started designing, and their first “proof of concept” consisted of a bulky phone holder bought off Amazon, with a golf ball duct taped to the bottom. It was around that time when magnetic phone attachments for cars caught their attention, which provided easy use and more accessibility. Fast forward through about seven designs and prototypes, multiple magnets, and ClickCaddie officially launched its patent-pending product design in April 2018.

golf cart, golf lifestyle, phone accessories

ClickCaddie is a solution to the frustration its co-founders experienced when using their phones for multiple purposes while playing golf.

The silicone black cover can be custom branded and printed upon, adding an additional revenue stream through the promotional product arena (golf course logos, corporate branding, commemorative golf event gifts, etc.).

Danielson said the company and product has “taken off” since last April. “We have consumers that have used our product in 49 states – Alaska being the exception – we have sold thousands of units, and we launched on Amazon in time for the holiday gift buying season. As we move toward our second year, we are excited to showcase ClickCaddie at the PGA Merchandise Show. It’s very relatable to golfers and buyers across the country, and we’re excited to take that next step into growing the B2B side of our business, while continuing with our strategy to engage our end users for feedback.”

golf clubs, golf industry, PGA Merchandise Show

Necessity was the mother of invention for the founders of ClickCaddie.

While Danielson and Klubertanz founded ClickCaddie to make the golf experience more enjoyable peripheral to the core activity of playing the game, Sal Syed co-founded Arccos through his love for golf and technology, and his belief that golfers accessing real-time data, shot by shot, could help them improve.

First launched in late 2014, Arccos’ patented GPS-based hardware and software system have led to company products that include Caddie Smart Sensors, Caddie Smart Grips and the Arccos Driver. In short, “they combine the power of Artificial Intelligence and the Microsoft Azure cloud,” said Syed, Arccos CEO.

In lay terms, Arccos products have automatically recorded more than 60 million shots taken by golfers playing on courses worldwide. By analyzing each shot in real time, the company provides data-driven insights that help golfers improve their performance by eliminating guesswork and using statistical facts and feedback. This has led Arccos to stake claim as “the leading provider of big data, advanced analytics and machine learning insights for the global golf industry.”

“The PGA TOUR has done a great job of using advanced analytics to help its players practice and perform their best,” said Mike Downey, Director, Brand Partnership Engineering at Microsoft. “At other levels of the game, capturing the necessary on-course data has been a real challenge. Arccos has cracked that code and built a robust data set which they are deploying via the Microsoft Azure cloud to the benefit of golfers worldwide.”

That’s a lofty role in a roughly $80 billion industry, and Syed is changing the game for golfers of all skill levels, something particularly needed by non-professionals. But he didn’t set out to be a game-changer.

He was born and raised in Pakistan and didn’t start playing golf until age 14. Even then, he was more focused on other sports, namely tennis and cricket. Bitten by the golf bug after emigrating to America while attending Ohio Wesleyan University, Syed earned a BA in Computer Science and Mathematics and was captain of the tennis and cricket teams. His golf addiction was fueled by his ability to play for free at a course that the women’s tennis coach owned.

Syed selected Yale for his MBA in large part because it had one of America’s top-rated collegiate golf courses, a Golden Era of Golf Architecture masterpiece dating back to 1926.

The ongoing love affair with the game has led Syed to become a 1-handicap player, a Golf Digest Course Rater, and a genuine golf architecture nerd with true passion for CB Macdonald/Seth Raynor/Charles Banks designs (they collaborated on The Course at Yale). He has recorded four holes-in-one, three of which he credits to intelligence provided by Arccos data.

golf, technology, Artificial Intelligence, golf clubs

Arccos CEO Sal Syed married his love of golf and technology to co-found his company and its award-winning system and products.

During his MBA process, Syed became a Fellow at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, which set him on the path to combining his passions for golf and technology and to found Arccos. “We began with the idea for creating technology that tracks golf ball metrics to improve a player’s scores,” said Syed, “after a few trials, we realized it was very hard to do both technically and from a business perspective. We decided to change course and realized that if we could sense where you hit the ball and map it from there that we could be successful.”

Successful, indeed. A few Arccos accomplishments include:

  • earning placement in Fast Company’s “World’s Most Innovative Companies 2018” list (ranked No. 3 in sports category globally)
  • becoming the official A.I. and cloud computing partner of Microsoft
  • partnering with Microsoft to develop Arccos Caddie, golf’s first A.I. platform
  • garnering Golf Digest Editor’s Choice Award, Best Game Analyzer (2016, 2017, 2018)

And that’s the tip of the iceberg for Arcoss and Syed, whose vision is to connect every club and grip in golf and track every shot within five years. The company is on path to connect more than 50% of new golf clubs that come to market starting in Q1 2020, based on soon to be announced partnerships, according to Tom Williams, Arccos Executive Vice President of Strategic Partnerships.

A.I., golf tech, Big Data, golf products, golf industry innovation, Microsoft Azure Cloud

Product Data Points include 2 milllion+ rounds played with the Arccos system, 100 million+ shots taken by Arccos users, 40,000 courses mapped, and 3.79 strokes (the average Arccos user first-year golf handicap improvement).

Syed named Arccos after the inverse cosine function, an element of advanced mathematics that is featured in the Arccos algorithm. According to MathOpenRef.com, the cosine function, along with sine and tangent, is one of the three most common trigonometric functions. In any right triangle, the cosine of an angle is the length of the adjacent side (A) divided by the length of the hypotenuse (H). Therefore, an inverse cosine function. . .

Say what?

Suffice it to say, if golf innovation were a swimming pool, Arccos is diving in the deep end, while ClickCaddie is frolicking in the kiddie pool. Nothing wrong with that. Just two vastly opposite ends of the golf invention spectrum, and a microcosm for what all can be found at PGA Merchandise Shows.

Buckle up!

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A University of Maryland graduate, Dan is a lifelong resident of the Mid-Atlantic, now residing in Northern Virginia. Fan of the Terps and all D.C. professional sports teams, Dan fell in love with golf through Lee Trevino's style and skill during his peak years. Dan was once Editor of Golf Inc. Magazine.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Norman

    Jan 12, 2019 at 5:31 pm

    Just what we need. More phones on the course. Thank you. Here’s a thought- put your phone down Donald. No one wants to hear your lame conversations or listen to your music.

  2. RV

    Jan 11, 2019 at 7:30 pm

    Big fan of my arccos. Looking forward to the weather warming up to get some rounds with my new irons and let arccos help dial in my distances.

    • Daniel Shepherd

      Jan 13, 2019 at 1:01 pm

      Hope the dialing in goes great, RV. Nothing like achieving improvement in the often bedeviling game we love. Cheers!

  3. dj

    Jan 11, 2019 at 6:53 am

    “Suffice it to say, if golf innovation were a swimming pool, Arccos is diving in the deep end, while ClickCaddie is frolicking in the kiddie pool. ”

    Really?

    • Daniel Shepherd

      Jan 13, 2019 at 1:03 pm

      That analogy doesn’t work for you, DJ? If you’re thinking it’s dissing ClickCaddie, it’s not. Rather, it was intended to show the spectrum of product innovation in golf – from Artificial Intelligence and algorithms to convenient phone access without spilling drinks on iPhones while listening to tunes. Cheers!

  4. Merde

    Jan 11, 2019 at 1:31 am

    No, actually, golf is not a game of statistics. YOU stat addicts may think that, but it’s not.
    All you do is hit a certain shot with a certain club and get it into the hole in as few shots as possible.
    They didn’t need stats to do that when Hogan and Snead were playing. They just moved the ball forward and in.
    Everybody stop wasting money on this stuff, you don’t need it

    • Dj

      Jan 11, 2019 at 6:52 am

      Your thinking is antiquated.

      • Daniel Shepherd

        Jan 13, 2019 at 1:21 pm

        I can respect that opinion, Merde, that’s precisely how the game should be consumed … however you like it best. But change and “progress” is inevitable; if it weren’t we’d still be using outhouses to relieve ourselves and Morse Code to communicate. That stated, there’s nothing wrong with your preference, just as there’s nothing wrong with those who value stats and tech to improve their game and golf experience. Cheers!

        • Kenny

          Jan 17, 2019 at 1:47 pm

          I don’t think I could survive in a world with out-houses or a cell phone. Technology is here to stay. Embrace it or risk being left behind.

          • Daniel Shepherd

            Jan 18, 2019 at 4:55 pm

            Good point Kenny. ClickCaddie doesn’t mean more cell phones on the course. They’re already there. It means more enjoyment for players who like to have their phone with them. Cheers!

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On Spec

On Spec: Interview with GOLFTEC VP of Instruction Nick Clearwater

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In this episode of On Spec brought to you by Golf Pride Grips, Ryan talks with GOLFTEC’s Vice President of Instruction Nick Clearwater about his history with golf, teaching, and how he and his team at GolfTec help golfers play better.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

From the GolfWRX Vault: The day I met Ben Hogan

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In addition to continuing to look forward to new content that will serve and engage our readership, we also want to showcase standout pieces that remain relevant from years past. In particular, articles with a club building or instruction focus continue to deliver value and convey useful information well after their publish dates.

We want to make sure that once an article falls off the front page as new content is covered it isn’t relegated to the back pages of our website.

We hope that you’ll appreciate and find value in this effort.

Industry veteran (and one heckuva writer) Tom Stites, who served as the Director of Product Development at Nike’s Oven, tells the story of how he landed a job as an engineer at the Ben Hogan Company and what his first meeting with Mr. Hogan was like.

Get a taste for Stites’ excellent piece from 2015 below.

Getting near my boy was the real reason I wanted to get to Texas, but the golf was a sweet attraction, too. With a perfect touch and timing, the Good Lord prompted the Hogan Company to advertise for a new product development engineer. On just the right day, I was changing flights at DFW and bought a copy of the Fort Worth paper. In the want ads I saw something like, ”Ben Hogan will pay you cash money to engineer and work on golf clubs.” So I applied.

My product development experience at Kohler got me the interview, but the Good Lord got me the job. It was truly a real miracle, because in 1986 I knew zero about club design and manufacturing. I was quickly made the boss of the model shop, and was to manage the master club maker Gene Sheeley and his incredible team of long-time club artisans.

Me as their boss? That was a joke.

I knew a few things about physics at that time, but these guys were the real deal in club design. I knew immediately that I was in over my head, so I went to Gene and professed my ignorance. I pleaded with him to teach me how to do the job right. At that, I guess he considered me harmless and over the next number of years he became my Yoda. His voice was even a bit like Yoda.

Read the full piece here.

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Opinion & Analysis

Why do Tour players prefer fades over draws from the tee box?

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There is a growing trend on the PGA Tour and other professional golf tours where some of the game’s best players favor a fade from the tee box. Amateur golfers often struggle with golf shots that slice away from their target. These shots can lead them out of play and have them eagerly chasing a more neutral or drawing shot shapes. Additionally, a large fraction of low handicap and professional golfers play a golf shot that draws repeatedly onto their target. These thoughts can leave you wondering why anyone would choose to play a fade rather than a draw with their driver.

The debate over whether players should fade or draw their golf shots has been intensely lobbied on either side. While this is highly player specific, each particular shot shape comes with a set of advantages and disadvantages. In order to discuss why elite golfers are choosing to play a fade and why you might as well, we must first explore how each shot shape is created and the unintended effects within each delivery combination. This article explores the ideas that lead some of the most outstanding players in the world to choose a fade as their go-to shot shape for their driver.

Before examining what makes each shot unique, golfers should be familiar with some common club fitting and golf swing terminology. Club path, clubface angle, impact location, spin-axis or axis tilt, and spin loft are all detailed below.

The curvature of a golf ball through the air is dependent on the backspin and sidespin of each shot. These spin rates are directly linked with each players golf swing and delivery characteristics. During every shot, each golfer will deliver the golf club back to the golf ball in a specific orientation. The relationship between the golf club face and the path of that club will determine much of how the golf ball will travel. A golf clubface that is closed to a club path will result in golf shots that either draw or hook. A clubface more open to the club’s path with create a shot that fades or slices. It is important that face angle measurements are taken in reference to the club path as terms like “out-to-in” or “in-to-out” can results in either of these two curvatures depending on face angle and impact location measurements.

Impact location should not be overlooked during this exchange and is a vital component of creating predictable golf shots that find the fairway and reach their maximum distances. As strikes move across the clubface of a driver gear effect begins to influence how the golf ball travels. In its simplest form, gear effect will help turn the golf ball back to the center of the golf club head. Impact locations in the heel will curve towards the middle and lead to golf shots with a more pronounced fading shape. Toe strikes lead to the opposite reaction and produce more draw or hook spin. Striking a golf ball from the upper half of the driver clubface produce higher launches and less spin, while strikes from the bottom create lower launches with higher backspin rates.

Spin-axis tilt or simply axis tilt is a result of the amalgamation of face angle, club path and strike locations. A golf shot will curve in the direction that its axis tilts during flight. Golfers familiar with launch monitors like Trackman and GCQuad, can reference axis tilt and spin-axis tilt measures for this measurement. Shots that curve to the left will have a leftward tilted axis, and shots to the right a rightward axis tilt. Golf shots tilting to the left and to the right are given names depending on which hand is dominant for that golfer. A draw or hook is a golf shot that curves in the air away from the golfers dominate hand. Right-handed players will see a golf ball hit with a draw spin from right to left in the air. Left-handed golfers see their draw shots spin from left to right. Fades and slices have the opposite shapes.

Spin loft is another critical component of creating and maintaining the flight of a golf ball. In concert with the spin-axis tilt of the golf ball, the spin loft influences the amount of backspin a golf ball possesses and will determine much of how stable that golf ball’s flight becomes. Golf shots hit with more backspin curve less violently than golf shots hit with too little spin especially in the wind. Spin loft is exemplified as golfers find themselves much more accurate with their wedges than their driver. More spin equals more stability, and this leads us to why professional players opt for their fade.

Modern drivers can be built to maximize the performance of each golfer on their best swings, but what about their misses? Golfers often lose confidence standing over their golf shots if they see the ball overdrawing or hooking too often. Overdraws and hooks create golf ball flight conditions that are unpredictable and lead to directional and distance detriments that can cause dropped shots and penalties. Because of this, elite right-handed players do not often like to see the golf ball going left from the tee box. By reducing their chances of hitting hooking tee shots, golfers often feel more freedom to swing the golf club freely and make smooth, powerful motions. This is never more evident than when watching Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson hit their drivers. While both players hit the golf ball both ways, their go-to shot from the tee is a left-to-right curving fade.

But wait, doesn’t a draw go further than a fade? While it is not inevitable that a draw will fly further or roll out more than a fade, the clubface and club path conditions needed at impact to produce each shape often lead to differences in spin rates and launch angles that affect distance. Less dynamic loft created by a closed clubface can lead to lower launch, less spin, and more distance. The drawback of these conditions is the reduced spin loft and decreased stability. So how much distance is worth losing to find more fairways? As we continue to see some of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour win tournaments and major championships distance is the premium.

Luckily, modern drivers and club fitting techniques have given players a perfect blend of distance and accuracy. By manipulating the center of gravity of each driver, golfers can create longer shots from their best strikes without giving up protection from their mishits. Pushing the weights more near the clubface of drivers has given players the ability to present more loft at impact without increasing backspin. The ability to swing freely and know that if you miss your intended strike pattern your shot will lose distance but not end up in the most dangerous hazards have given players better, more repeatable results.

While it can be advantageous for casual golfers and weekend players to chase as many yards as possible, players that routinely hit the golf ball beyond 300 yards can afford their misses to fall back if they will remain in play and give them a chance to find the green in two shots. More stability when things do not go as planned thanks to increased spin lofts and less violent curvature has allowed elite level golfers to perform consistently even under the most demanding situations and it is why we continue to see a growing number of players favor a fade from their tee shots.

 

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