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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 NoVa. Fan of 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 a newspaper journalist, editor of Golf Inc. magazine, then a PR professional specializing in golf people, places and things for 17 years, rising to Vice President in Billy Casper Golf's PR division. In 2018, Dan started his own company, Dan Shepherd Public Relations, LLC, catering to golf, travel, lifestyle, attractions of all types, and non-profits (www.operationsupportmilitarygolf.org).

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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