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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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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Is your driver the first “scoring club”?

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I was traveling Sunday and didn’t get to watch the end of the PGA Championship, so imagine my shock Monday morning when I read what had happened on that back nine. Like most everyone, I figured Brooks Koepka had his game and his emotions completely under control and Sunday’s finish would be pretty boring and anti-climactic. Man, were we wrong!!?

As I read the shot-by-shot, disaster-by-disaster account of what happened on those few holes, I have to admit my somewhat cynical self became engaged. I realize the conditions were tough, but it still boils down to the fact that Koepka nearly lost this PGA Championship because he couldn’t execute what I call “basic golf” – hitting fairways and greens – when it counted. And Dustin Johnson lost his ability to do the same just as he got within striking distance.

I’ve long been a critic of the way the game has come to be played at the highest levels; what we used to call “bomb and gouge” has become the norm at the professional tour level. These guys are big strong athletes, and they go at it harder than anyone ever did in “the old days”. Watch closely and you’ll see so many of them are on their toes or even off the ground at impact, especially with the driver. Call me old-fashioned, but I just don’t see how that can be the path to consistent shotmaking.

So, my curiosity then drove me to the year-to-date statistics on the PGA Tour website to dive into this a bit deeper. What I found was quite interesting, and I believe can be helpful to all of you readers as you think about how to lower your handicap this season. Follow me here, as I think there are some very helpful numbers from the PGA Tour.
I’ve long contended that golf is a game of ball control . . . let’s call it shotmaking. Your personal strength profile will determine whether you are a long hitter or not, and there’s probably not a lot you can do (or will do) to change that dramatically. But PGA Tour statistics indicate that accuracy, not distance, is the key to better scoring.

The Tour leader in driving accuracy is Jim Furyk, the only guy who is hitting more than 75% of the fairways. The Tour average is under 62%, or not even 2 out of 3. That means the typical round has the tour professional playing at least 4-5 approach shots from the rough. I’m going to come back to that in just a moment and explore the “cost” of those missed fairways.

The Tour leader in greens-in-regulation is Tiger Woods at 74%, almost 3-out-of-4 . . . but the Tour average is less than 66%, or just under 2-out-of-3. I believe enlightenment comes by breaking that GIR statistic down even further.
From the fairway, the Tour leader in GIR is Justin Thomas at 85% and the worst guy at 65%, three points better than the tour average for GIR overall. Hmmmmm. From the rough, however, the best guy on Tour is Taylor Gooch at 63.4%, which is not as good as the very last guy from the fairway.

But let’s dive even a bit deeper to better understand the importance of driving accuracy. Is it true these guys are so good from the rough that hitting fairways doesn’t matter? Not according to the numbers.

From the rough in the range of 125-150 yards – a wedge for most of these guys – the tour’s best hit it 25-27 feet from the hole and only 30 tour pros are averaging inside 30 feet from that distance. But from the fairway, 25 yards further back – 150-175 yards – the tour’s best hit it inside 21-23 feet, and 160 guys are getting closer than 30 feet on average. Even from 175-200 in the fairway, the best on tour hit it closer than the best on tour from the rough 50 yards closer.

So, what do you do with this information? I encourage any serious golfer to really analyze your own rounds to see the difference in your scoring on holes where you find the fairway versus those where you don’t. I feel certain you’ll find throttling back a bit with your driver and focusing more on finding the fairway, rather than trying to squeeze a few more yards of the tee will help you shoot lower scores.

If you have the inclination to see what more fairways can do to your own scores, here’s a little experiment for you. Get a buddy or two for a “research round” and play this game: When you miss a fairway, walk the ball straight over to the fairway, and then 15 yards back. So, you’ll hit every approach from the fairway, albeit somewhat further back – see what you shoot.

Next week I’m going to follow up this “enlightenment” with some tips and techniques that I feel certain will help you hit more fairways so you can take this to the bank this season.

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Opinion & Analysis

Hot & Cold: Where strokes were won and lost at the PGA Championship

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In “Hot & Cold,” we’ll be focusing each week on what specific areas of the game players excelled and disappointed in throughout the previous tournament. On Sunday, Brooks Koepka made it four wins from his last eight appearances at major championships, and here’s a look at where some of the most notable players gained and lost strokes over the four days of action at Bethpage Black.

Hot

While Brooks Koepka’s play off the tee was excellent at last week’s PGA Championship, the American utterly dominated the field with his deadly approach play. The 29-year-old led the field in New York for his approach play gaining 9.5 strokes over his competitors. In case you were wondering, this represents Koepka’s career-best performance with his irons. Check out the clubs Koepka did the damage with at Bethpage Black in our WITB piece here.

Jordan Spieth finished T3 at last week’s event, and the Texan was streets ahead of anyone for the four days with the flat-stick in hand. Spieth gained a mammoth 10.6 strokes over the field on the greens of Bethpage Black, which is over three strokes more than anyone else achieved. It was the best-putting display of the 25-year-old’s career thus far, and Spieth now heads to Colonial CC ranked first in this week’s field for strokes gained: putting over his last 12 rounds.

Dustin Johnson came agonizingly close to capturing his second major title last week, and encouragingly for DJ is that he gained strokes in all of the significant strokes gained categories. Johnson also led the field for strokes gained: off the tee, gaining 7.2 strokes over the field – his best performance in this area this year.

Cold

Bubba Watson endured a wretched two days on the greens at Bethpage Black. In just 36 holes, Watson lost 6.8 strokes to the field with the flat-stick. Even more frustrating for Watson is that he gained 6.5 strokes for the two day’s tee to green. A tale of what could have been for the two-time Masters champion.

Phil Mickelson faded badly at last week’s championship, and it was a poor display with his irons that did the damage. Lefty lost 6.3 strokes to the field for his approach play in New York, which is his worst display in this area for 2019.

It was a quick exit for Tiger Woods at Bethpage Black, and though the 15-time major champion was far from his best off the tee (losing half a stroke), it was Woods’ putting that was his undoing. Woods lost almost a stroke and a half on the greens at Bethpage – his worst display with the putter since last August.

 

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Courses

Brough Creek National: The backyard course you wish you’d built

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever wanted a golf course in your backyard.

Of course you have.

Now leave your hand raised if you actually rolled up your sleeves and made it happen.

Among the very few people left with their hands in the air are Ben Hotaling, Zach Brough, Evan Bissell, and Mark Robinson, the driving force behind Brough Creek National. That’s right. These guys are building a golf course in their backyard. From scratch.

The true beginnings of golf aren’t well-documented, but one thing’s for sure: people were playing golf at least 400 years before the first working internal combustion engine. Long before golf course architecture was a multi-million dollar investment before the first dime of revenue trickled in, courses were laid down largely by hand using the natural movement of the land. In that same spirit, Ben happened to notice that there was one particular shot in their backyard that reminded him of the Road Hole at St. Andrews, as it plays over their barn and to a green situated right in front of the road to the property.

Ben ultimately convinced his roommate Zach, whose family has owned the land for some time, that they should clear some trees and put in a makeshift green for their Road Hole. That was in 2015 and, while that’s technically the genesis of Brough Creek National, it was in 2018 when they started sharing their ideas in No Laying Up’s online forum section that things escalated rather quickly. Bouncing ideas off their fellow compatriots revealed great natural setups for a Biarritz/punch bowl combination, a Redan, and more. Before they knew it, they had a 630-yard, 7-hole golf course criss-crossing through the three-acre property in Kansas City, KS.

Road Hole green at Brough Creek National

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Brough Creek National is that it has operated solely off of donations, which started with a weed eater here and a can of herbicide there and has since grown to a recent GoFundMe campaign of $15,000. These donations have allowed them to purchase grass seed and other vital equipment to see the project through. The community aspect of Brough Creek National is so important to what they’re trying to achieve that anyone who provides their name and address on the website is sent a free new membership packet (I happen to be member #209). Included are some stickers, a ballmark, and a welcome letter that states (among other things),

“We are proud to have you as a lifetime national member at our exclusive, member-owned (and maintained) club…The vision of Brough Creek National is to have a place for community golf modeled around fun for members and guests from all golfing backgrounds…Your dues will be assessed at the rate of $0.00 annually.”

Ben further emphasizes the importance of the community aspect by saying:

“I think Brough Creek stands for community. It’s like-minded individuals coming together and supporting something they’re proud of. It’s a smart, intriguing golf course, but it’s ultimately about making friends and that’s what matters. The quality of the golf course is almost inconsequential because the real purpose is to assemble this brotherhood of people who are passionate about the game of golf. We think it’s done in a way that sheds the elitist stigma that golf has often struggled with and we’re almost mocking that in a playful way.”

“I’m not going to tell anyone they have to experience the game a certain way, but we try to go above and beyond to be approachable and welcoming because we think that’s more important than status. Golf’s not a money-making business. It’s just not. So, why don’t we just take that out of it, come together as a community, and create something we can all be proud of?”

If we’re all having an honest moment, not even Ben and Zach know exactly how this project is going to evolve, but one thing’s for sure: an emphasis on maximizing fun for the highest number of the golfing community is never a bad place to start. Those who believe par and total yardage are irrelevant in determining the amount of fun available to them should be in for a treat. To watch the project unfold, check out www.someguysbackyard.com and follow @someguysbackyrd on Twitter and @someguysbackyard on Instagram.

Below is an overview of the course, narrated by Ben Hotaling

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