Review: Game Golf

Two facts about the game of golf. First: one of the most important pieces of information for any golfer is to know how far they hit each club in their bag. Knowing that you hit an 8-iron 130 yards means that when you’re faced with a 130 shot, you actually pick the correct club for the remaining distance. Golf is hard enough without making it more difficult by hitting a club that has no chance to get to the hole, or one that is nearly certain to fly well over the green.

The second fact: most golfers have no idea how far they actually hit each club in the bag.

That’s not to say they don’t have any idea — ask one of your playing partners how far they hit an 8-iron, and they’ll probably have a quick answer. It’ll also probably be wrong (and nearly ever time, they will over-estimate their distance). They might say they hit it 130 yards, and then wonder why they always come up short of the flag.

The problem here is data. You might be able to hit an 8-iron 130 yards…when you hit it really well. But more often you might hit it 120 yards. But since you don’t really keep track of the exact distance you hit every shot on the course each time you play, you’ll never know.

This is one of the problems that a new piece of golf gear called Game Golf aims to solve. Here’s how it works: You attach a small plastic disc to the end of each club in your bag — they screw in easily to the top of the grips on the clubs. Then, you clip a small plastic box to your belt and turn it on. It contains a GPS, and a chip reader that can tell which club you’re using when you tap the plastic marker to the box.

Once you’ve tagged the club, you’ve given the device two pieces of data: what club you’re hitting, and thanks to the GPS, where you’re hitting it from. After the shot, you head to wherever your ball has landed and do the same thing before your next shot. Voila! Because the system now knows where your ball ended up, it can calculate how far you hit the previous shot. Do this for every shot in your round, and every shot for every round you play, and you’re compiling a database of your golf game.

During my testing, I was impressed by the ease of use of the system. The belt clip for the GPS unit is sturdy and grips solidly, so that when you tag the clubs to it, it doesn’t move around. The unit also gives a little feedback when you successfully tag a club, vibrating to let you know that it got the info.

When you get home after the round, you connect the device to your computer via USB and upload the data to the Game Golf website. The shots are overlaid on satellite photos of the course you played, allowing you to see the shots you hit, and also allowing you to edit them.

Why would you need to edit them? Well, first and foremost, if you forget to tag the club before a shot. In one round I played, I forgot to touch the club to the belt unit, and was presented with data in which I supposedly hit a 430 yard drive. As nice as that would be, it was actually the combined distance of both my drive and my second shot. By going in and estimating where my drive had actually landed, I could split those into two shots, although not as accurately as it would have been had I tagged it correctly.

That possibility of operator error is perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the system. If you tag a club and then change your mind on what club to hit, you have to go in and edit the shot. Or you can tag a shot twice, and later remove one of them. It’s not easy to imagine a way around these issues, but it does limit the effectiveness of the system.

As you play more rounds, the site starts to calculate average distance for every club. It’s smart enough to throw out clearly mis-hit shots, like the 5-iron I shanked 40 yards during one round. Over time, you start to get a clear, realistic picture of how far you actually hit the ball when you’re playing — not the one out of every ten you might crush, but the average distance. Most golfers plan for the absolute best case when it comes to distance — just because you once hit your 3-wood 225 yards, you won’t hit it that far every time. In fact, using Game Golf, you might find that you average more like 190.

It’s a reality check, for sure, but that understanding of reality has real potential to improve your handicap.

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