The Good and Bad of Golf Gadgets

With all the golf analysis technology players have access to these days, the secret to developing the perfect swing may have just been unlocked

From club speed to attack angle, the evolution of technology has allowed golfers to study every aspect of their game

TrackMan is just one of the many devices golfers are using to break down their technique

Technology can do wonders for a golfer’s game, but becoming too reliant on gadgets and computer programs can sometimes have a reverse effect

Technology plays a big role in the way Brett Saunders coaches. The golf instructor, who formerly taught PGA Tour pro Adam Hadwin and works out of Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, uses a great number of gadgets with his students.

There’s a putting studio with high-speed cameras, as well as Quintic Ball Roll—a putting-analysis software—and Biomechanics software. Of course there’s TrackMan, a radar technology that you’ll find in most top teaching facilities. But Saunders also uses FocusBand that measures brain activity while you play and practice, and connects to an iPad to show exactly how your mind is functioning. As well, you’ll find pressure plates that determine how the golfer is transferring their weight.

In all, there’s a technology to measure just about every element of your golf game.

Despite all the great advantages that come with all these devices and advanced programs, even Saunders recognizes that technology might have its limitations.

“It is a little strange though as I have access to all this technology in my coaching as well as a cell phone and I still choose to carry a notepad to write down notes, thoughts and a things-to-do list,” he jokes.

Saunders is typical of most contemporary golf instructors who use technology in an attempt to convey knowledge to their students. The game has seen an explosion of devices designed to help golfers play better or analyze their swings. The technology ranges from TrackMan (starting at $18,995USD) to gadgets like Arccos ($379.99), which connect to golf clubs and track statistics on every shot a player hits during a round. (Apparently, golfers can’t make a birdie putt without utilizing some form of technology.)

Phil Jonas, a former PGA Tour professional who teaches in Surrey and works with the likes of Vancouver’s Ryan Williams, a winner on the Mackenzie Tour/PGA Tour Canada, uses Flightscope, another radar device that captures significant data about the golf swing, from the path of the club to how square the face was at impact. The system, like Trackman, is often used in club fitting to determine whether clubs golfers are purchasing are suited to their swing.

The game has seen an explosion of devices designed to help golfers play better or analyze their swings. The technology ranges from TrackMan to gadgets like Arccos, which connect to golf clubs and track statistics on every shot a player hits during a round

Technology suits some areas of the game, as well as some players, better than others.

“Using too much technology can hurt some players,” says Jonas. “Where it does help is when you have a good player who thinks he’s doing one thing when he’s actually doing something else. You can use the technology to show exactly what he’s doing. Feel will fool people a lot of the time.”

In Canada, technology like TrackMan and Flightscope has garnered a lot of use because of the seasonality of golf. Even in Vancouver, but especially in areas of Canada where the game shuts down for several months, instructors work indoors, often in hitting bays that are 10 to 20 yards long. In those spaces, golfers can’t really tell the result of their shots. When connected to an iPad or laptop, Flightscope and TrackMan show the result of each shot. That means players can work indoors and see each shot, from a nice draw to a slice, and track their progress.

Rob Houlding, who works with Adam Svensson, a British Columbia star on the rise who plays on the Tour, says that technology has really changed his ability to teach indoors year-round.

“The question is whether you want to simply see a golf ball go into a net, or to see its actual flight,” says Houlding. “From an instructor’s standpoint you get a lot of buy-in from the students when they see the result of their shots. And for younger players it gives their brains some level of feedback.”

But Houlding says you have to be careful not to overwhelm golfers with too much information. Radar devices can provide dozens of stats on all elements of the golf swing, and Houlding says he often focuses on one key element with the student.

“Technology is more for the teachers than the students,” he says. “The art is to take all of this data and be able to use it in a way to make sure the player improves.”

Saunders says it’s easy to become too reliant on technology when teaching golfers.

“I often wonder if we are heading down a good path, to be honest with you,” he says. He explains that when he started his career in Australia, the head professional at his golf club wanted to see how well he could communicate ideas to golfers without the benefit of any technology. That meant using pictures and being creative in the way he spoke with golfers so they understood his direction.

Current coaches are now often judged by what technology they have access to, as opposed to their knowledge.

“I am noticing that the golfing public are convinced that a coach is only as good as the technology they have, and are forgetting about the coach’s results,” he says. “I might not even use it for certain players and other players may or may not even have access to their results or numbers.”

To illustrate his point, Saunders quotes Albert Einstein: “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” 

“Knowing when to apply science and technology to your coaching is also an art,” he says.

An art, it would seem, that continues to grow in popularity and infiltrate every part of the sport.