olf may be steeped in tradition and loath to reinvent itself, but it is in the end no more immune than other industries to the forward march of time and technology. Over the past few years, courses, pros, amateurs and fans have been reshaping how we practice, how we play and how we enjoy this venerable game.

In 2015, the National Golf Foundation reported that participation in the sport had dropped from 24.7 million to 24.1 million players. The number of beginners, however, at 2.2 million, was the second-highest rate since the halcyon days of Tiger Woods in 2000. And the silver lining to the silver lining? The majority of these beginners were millennials, the demographic unicorn vital to the survival of most businesses, including golf.

In 2017, 23.8 million golfers teed it up on an actual course; when off-course participation — driving ranges, indoor simulators and facilities — was included, that number rose to more than 32 million. The two main factors that contributed to this increase in participation were less tradition and more technology.

“I grew up having to wear knee socks at the course,” said Duncan Simms, the head golf professional at Oak Creek Golf Club® in Irvine. “The rules are much more relaxed now. Denim is allowed at ranges and on some courses, shirts no longer have to have collars in the traditional sense, and they don’t need to be tucked in.”

Change isn’t limited to just sartorial sensibilities. Whereas 10 years ago, courses actively discouraged use of smartphones during play or even on the range, club managers today not only acknowledge the indispensability of smartphones, but they are now encouraging their presence on the course.

“Our carts are equipped with USB ports so that guests can stay connected,” said Simms. “We have an app that players can download; it gives them information about the course and provides information that the cart software doesn’t. If they want to play music during the round, I have no problem with that.” Oak Creek also offers Wi-Fi on the range, which, after dark, remains lively and busy thanks to state-of-the-art LED lighting that tracks ball flight, making it look almost like the Toptracer technology used during televised PGA Tour events.

“For some people, the golf course is a way to get away from it all and get back to nature,” said Rob Tanaka, general manager of Oak Creek Golf Club. “But that doesn’t mean the same thing it used to. You take technology with you now. Technology is helping to grow the game’s popularity, not only by speeding up the pace of play through the use of rangefinders and GPS, but also by allowing players to keep in touch with job and family during their round.”

In 2005, in Alexandria, Virginia, a company called Topgolf opened its first facility. Repurposing the traditional driving range model, Topgolf designed a high-tech indoor entertainment center that uses microchipped balls to hit toward targets at varying distances. To the delight of novices and seasoned golfers alike, the Topgolf range offered up a giant, stress-free dartboard. No more worries about birdies, bogeys or lost balls. Aim for a target, score some points, beat (or lose to) your friends, grab some wings and have a pint. It’s all in good fun.

Topgolf has 38 locations in the United States and three overseas and logs more than 13 million guests annually. A National Golf Foundation survey conducted at Topgolf facilities found that 23 percent of those who identified as new golfers and who now play on green grass golf courses began at Topgolf.

“The most important thing needed to grow the game,” said Robert Ford, general manager of golf operations at Pelican Hill Golf Club,® “is a commitment to making it even more fun. If I’m going to spend five hours with a group of friends, why shouldn’t there be music, videos or photo-sharing involved?”

On its two renowned courses, Pelican Hill Golf Club strives to do the same. The Resort’s fleet of golf carts are some of the most technologically advanced on the market; the food and beverage offerings are world-class; and Pelican Hill’s golf professionals and instructors employ cutting-edge technology like FlightScope, BodiTrak and MySwing 3D, the same technology used by PGA Tour players, in its teaching program. “Courses need to be built for the average golfer — not for the pros,” said Ford. “That’s why we have five sets of tees, expansive fairways and professional forecaddies. We’re removing as many barriers to entry as possible.”

Some pundits wonder whether technology will prove to be a disruptor and spur the reinvention of the game of golf, as it has in the retail and taxi industries. Judging from the latest industry statistics, the answer appears to be no. Golf will still be golf. But, will tech push the game to adapt and grow and stay relevant? Signs already point to yes — and there’s more, no doubt, to come.

“The most important thing needed to grow the game is a commitment to making it even more fun.” — Robert Ford

Golf Tech Superstars

Whether we’re talking equipment-related developments like laser rangefi nders, simulators, gaming and golf entertainment, social connectivity, instructional devices or the latest app, new technology is enhancing the 21st century golf experience.

V1 Sports Golf App

An old golf maxim asserts that “feel isn’t real,” which explains why fi xing your own swing can be so diffi cult. The V1 Sports Golf App makes it easier: Players record their swing on their cellphone, and the video is sent to a PGA professional who responds with world-class instruction via Telestration and voice-over. The app includes an extensive collection of professional swings for viewing and swing comparison. v1sports.com


Designed to “Surf the Earth,” this solo surfboard equipped with all-terrain wheels and a lithium ion battery carries everything one needs for a round of golf, including making travel between shots as much fun as the game itself. But it’s not just about fun. The Golfboard allows each player to reach his or her next shot quickly, thus speeding up the all-important pace of play. golfboard.com

Arccos Caddie Smart Grips

Who couldn’t use a caddie at times? Arccos Smart Grips are the latest tool to help golfers make better decisions using data from the game’s fi rst artifi cial intelligence-powered performance tracking system. Smart Grips feature Lamkin Crossline 360 club grips with a built-in sensor. Arccos users lowered their handicap by an average of 3.5 strokes last year; that’s 46 times the rate of improvement of the average golfer who owns a handicap. arccosgolf.com

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