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The future of the game: Arccos Golf

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Last Tuesday I met up with Arccos Golf CEO and co-founder Sal Syed to play a round at the Course at Yale and test his product. I’ll admit that prior to using Arccos, “the first ever, fully automatic, real-time GPS golf stat tracking system,” I was a bit wary, but I was also anxiously excited, which sounds extremely geeky — I’ll explain in a bit. Bottom line: I’m now obsessed with Arccos.

A few weeks ago, after a round of golf with a fellow journalist, a college professor and a USGA official, the conversation led to systems that track your rounds and your stats. We first brought up Game Golf, which you may have heard of as it’s promoted by PGA Tour pros, like Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell.

We discussed the pros of the concept of Game Golf — it’s like Shot Link for amateurs, which was why I had been so excited to test the product back in the spring. However, the behavioral change it required — tapping the end of the club where you stick the sensor to a device you wear on your belt before each shot — was cumbersome and I’d often forget. Game Golf allows you to go back on the computer after a round and “fix” the shots that weren’t registered or mis-registered. However, problem was, sometimes I wouldn’t be able to remember what club I’d hit or how many putts I took on, say, the 7th, 10th, 12th, 14th and 15th greens.

I tried really, really hard to get used to the tapping the sensor to the beeper-like device. I mean, I wanted to fall in love with Game Golf because I loved the concept so much. That’s why I played with it for at least 5-7 rounds, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember to tap on every single shot, especially on the putting green. Even once I tried to fix my mistakes on the computer after the rounds, it didn’t give me enough information for me to provide an incentive to continue pushing forward, so I eventually gave up on it. The sparks I thought would fly between Game Golf and I just weren’t happening.

Our conversation switched to Arccos, which my colleagues and friends informed me seemed to fix the shortcomings of Game Golf. Of course, there were still a few bugs, they said, but from their experience, the technology was superior.

Fast forward back to last week. So, on the day that it was my turn to test Arccos, I was psyched, but I wondered if it would disappoint me as its competitor had. Spoiler alert: It didn’t. Arccos was everything it promised to provide *and* more. It probably didn’t hurt that I was playing with Sal, the CEO and co-founder of the company, so he was able to easily walk me through everything and explain to me the stats it tracks, the detailed info it provides, the technology, his vision, etc.

First thing we did when we arrived at the Yale Course parking lot was (ironically) remove the Game Golf chips I still had screwed in at the end of my grips and replace them with the slightly larger “gumdrop shape” Arccos sensors. Then, using Bluetooth technology, you “pair” each club accordingly to the app on your iPhone. This allows the system to identify which club you’re hitting when you’re out on the golf course. The process was simple and quick — it only took five minutes, if that.

The Arccos app identified via GPS that I was at the Yale Course and I tapped the screen to download it — every course in the U.S. is mapped on the system. When I stepped up to the first tee, the app identified the length of the hole, so you see, Arccos acts as a GPS system, as well, providing you with your yardages (of course, they’re not 100% accurate in comparison to a range finder because they give you the distance to the middle of the green, but it’s close enough).

On the first hole, I was already pumped that I didn’t have to tap or push anything for Arccos to track my shots. One of the only “behavior changes” is that you have to remember to put your iPhone in your pocket while you’re playing, but I do that, anyway, so it wasn’t a problem for me. The main behavior change is that if you’re playing in a cart and you carry multiple clubs with you to your ball, you have to carry them upside down — or with the grip facing the ground. Otherwise, the system might get confused and register the data incorrectly. I didn’t find it a big hassle, but I did forget to do this sometimes.

“If you’re introducing behavior change — we’re introducing a little — but the benefits have to be 10x,” said Syed. “Behavior change, right now (with Arccos), you have to carry the clubs upside down. In the next evolution, that’ll be gone, but that’s where we’re starting.”

As Syed was thinking about developing the product, the first puzzle was how to get out of the way of the golfer. The biggest piece in that was to how to get out of the way of the golfer. The question was, how do you detect impact without the golfer needing to do anything?

“Originally, we had experimented with a button press solution,” he said. “We started trying it with people. The sensors had a button and we asked people to press this button before a shot, but then you offload all the burden onto the user. People forget by the second hole that they’re doing it and everybody gets frustrated they can’t do it.

“Even though it was making our job easier, it wasn’t getting us to the end goal. So we did it the hard way, which was how to do it automatically.”

Arccos will almost immediately tell you the length of your drive — and all your other shots — so if you really lay into one and hit it 300 yards, you can instantly brag about it to your playing partners (or send a graphic via email/text or to your social media channels). You can also share the entire hole. Here’s how I played the par-4 11th at Yale:

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While Arccos has no problem registering shots, sometimes you might encounter problems on the putting green. For example, your playing partner gives you a gimme putt or you give them one and whack their ball back at them. Well, with the app, you can easily “delete” and “add” putts in real time — I did this in between holes and didn’t find it a massive hassle at all.

The best part of Arccos might be the stats you receive following your round. It tracks your fairway accuracy, greens in regulation, approach distance from the pin, shot dispersion, bunker conversion, up-and-downs, putts, etc. Using data collected on scratch golfers, it then takes the information from your round and provides you with a handicap breakdown for each key category of your game: Driving, Approach (Shots), Chipping, Sand, and Putting. That shows up on your dashboard immediately upon the completion of a round, along with a bevy of other stats. Here are screen shots from my round.

(Note: The handicaps aren’t a good indication of my actual handicap [my USGA index is a 5.1] because I’ve only logged one round. Once you get 3-5 rounds in playing Arccos, it provides you with a more accurate picture.)

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Yep, 7 three-putts. But the greens at Yale are really big and that’s actually a factor that Arccos will consider. I do need to work on my putting, but perhaps the problem is actually my irons because I’m hitting my approach shots too far from the pin. Syed discovered that was the case for him using Arccos. He kept practicing putting because he thought that was his weakness, but it turned out that his approach game was the problem. Once he figured that out, he was able to solve it and improve that part of his game.

“My putting handicap was pretty much a scratch, but my approach was the worst — it was an 8.9,” said Syed. “Then I started looking at the dashboard — we give you dispersion on approach shots and whether you’re short or long — and I was pretty much 50% short and right and I realized I was actually aimed right with a closed stance, so all I did was move my stance off a little bit and generally club up and that dropped my approach handicap. I never took a lesson. I might have gone to the range a couple of times, but my approach game went on fire. It was two little things.”

So, therein lies the second major component of Arccos: Making the data meaningful for golfers. The handicap system is the first piece of that puzzle.

“Once you get 3 or 4 rounds, you start seeing game in a new, deeper way,” said Syed. “You won’t just think of yourself as a five handicapper. You’ll think of yourself as an 8-handicap in driving, 3-handicap in approach — that level of depth isn’t available to amateur golfers. I think that will not only enhance but your understanding to play to your strengths, which will enhance your golf experience.”

I was surprised at my driving handicap, considering I hit 10 of 14 fairways and averaged over 200 yards off the tee. Syed explained that was likely a glitch in the system. Currently, they only have data from pro women golfers, so my stats were being compared to them, which explains the anomaly of why my driving handicap calculated to a 13.4, whereas in reality, it’s probably closer to a 5.

How else can you use the data for game improvement? Well, the app has a section called “Clubs,” where it shows you your average distance for each club, the standard deviation, longest, greens in regulation and usage. For each club when you tap it on the screen, it will also show you information, like the distance to the pin on greens hit and distance to pin on all approaches , along with how many you missed left, right, long or short.

Below is a screenshot of Syed’s Greens in Regulation for his 6-iron through 60-degree wedge. You’d expect with longer irons, your percentage for hitting greens is lower and as you go down the line, it increases. Well, Syed noticed an anomaly in his stats, where he hits less greens with his 7-iron than his 6-iron.

“My GIR percentage for a 7-iron is lower than an 8-iron, which it should never be,” he said. “As you start to get more and more data, you can pinpoint what club might have an issue.”

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He also saw that his average proximity to the hole with his 6-iron was 52 feet, while it was 75 feet for his 7-iron. Also, if you went down to his 8-iron, this number was 39 feet. So, something’s up with Syed’s 7-iron.

“I’m blaming the tool,” he said with a wry smile.

“This is tip of the iceberg in terms of the data collection. It becomes addictive.”

It sure is. I can not wait until my next round, so that I can continue to collect data and see the strengths and weaknesses of my game.

“When you get more data, it becomes more and more interesting,” said Syed.

Arccos is not yet approved by the USGA, but the company has been in close talks with golf’s governing body and is optimistic it will receive the green light.

Syed also hopes his invention will help keep golf relevant and attract more people to the game. While we were on the course, he talked about the concept of the “connected golfer.”

“Basically, everything is getting connected,” he said. “Golf’s kind of lagging behind. This basically connects golf to the rest of your social life, brings golf from the 1900s to the 21st century.

“There is a charm of golf being so disconnected, but it’s turning young people off. It’s certainly turning the millennials off because cell phones aren’t allowed at some courses.

“Right now, there’s no reason to bring your cell phone — it doesn’t enhance your experience…until Arccos. Now, (your phone) becomes integral to the game, just like it’s enhancing other aspects of your life. It starts enhancing golf. So you get what I call the ‘connected golfer.’

“People once they play with Arccos, they can’t stop playing, I’ve seen it over and over again.”

Count me as another one of those people who are now addicted. Now, the question is, can Arccos help make golf more popular? That’s Syed’s goal.

“I’d like to make (golf) more attractive,” he said. “There will be users who will use it to get better, but there will be users that play more because there’s something about this data collection, the ease, the immediacy, the depth, which will maybe make you challenge yourself.

“When I changed my (driver) grip, I couldn’t wait to get out to the course to see what impact that had. I was just curious, does this help it?

“It adds to your conversation after a round. It adds some level of excitement, which is missing and something certainly that the younger generation needs.”

Original article published here.


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