Golf Caddie

The challenge with most quantified self technologies – ya know, the hardware and software that helps you monitor how you move, what you eat, how long you sleep, etc. – is that while it collects and organizes our personal data, it most often fails to provide actionable feedback on what to do based on the findings. For example, I know I don’t sleep enough, or deeply enough when I am catching Zs, so a platform that tells me this is just quantifying something I already know intuitively. More useful would be tips to achieve better sleep and most importantly what kind of personal health and performance benefits could I expect if I achieve a prescribed improvement.

As Sarah Lacy is fond of saying, technology needs to be designed for the people we are, not the people we wish we were. Hence, technology needs help us maximize our inefficient and overly optimistic selves, and bribe or threaten us into performing better.

Enter PGA TOURCaddie, the latest piece of golf-centric athletic performance software which offers exactly this type of feedback. The iOS-only mobile app is produced in partnership between the PGA Tour and Shotzoom, a developer of sports performance mobile apps. PGA TOURCaddie relies on the GPS in a user’s iPhone or iPad to deliver standard golf GPS features like course mapping and calculating distance to various course features like a sand trap, a water hazard, a dogleg, or the green – the app supports more than 40,000 courses worldwide.

Where the app stands out from the competition, however is in its ability to learn about each individual user’s tendencies and in turn to offer intelligent club recommendations, much like a real flesh and blood caddie.

TOURCaddie users begin by filling out the details of the clubs they carry in their golf bag – something that’s different from player to player – and how far they believe they hit each. Then, during a round, the user uses the app to mark the beginning and ending points of each shot and the club used. From this data the app begins to learn each player’s tendencies, separating our fantasies of long straight shots, from the shorter and more crooked realities.

With enough data, the app can tell a player that he hits his 5-iron 175 yards on average, not the 185 yards that he believes, and that he most often misses 5 yards to the right, allowing the player to compensate accordingly – assuming he can get over his ego.

PGA TOURCaddie’s primary competition is from standalone handheld GPS devices – like those from SkyCaddie, Golf Buddy, UPro, Garmin, etc. – and dedicated GPS mobile apps like GolfLogix, GolfShot, Swing by Swing, and others. But none of these solutions gives real time performance feedback in the way that TOURCaddie does. At the cutting edge of golf technology is the wearable sensor technology introduced earlier this year by Game Golf, but at its best game golf makes the resulting data available after the round, not in real-time on the course (at least currently).

TOURCaddie isn’t without its flaws, and my biggest complaint with the product is in an area where Game Golf happens to excel. That is, TOURCaddie can be rather intrusive to a round of golf. Whether it’s a relaxing afternoon with your buddies or a competitive round with big money on the line, reaching for your phone before and after each shot to activate the necessary tracking and input the relevant data takes more time and attention than I’d like. Game Golf offer much more of a set it and forget it solution, although it requires dedicated hardware. It’s not that TOURCaddie’s user interface is well designed and intuitive to use. It is. The contrast between it and TOURCaddie is simply a consequence of a software vs. hardware solution.

But much like has happened with health tracking wristbands like Nike Fuelband, Jawbone Up, and FitBit Flex, hardware sensors and the data that they collect have become commodities. This is true whether these sensors are in our smartphones, tablets, wristbands, or belt-mounted fobs. The primary area of competition among these consumer-focused platforms will be around interpreting the data collected, making it accessible to the user, and ultimately empowering to act on it in an approachable and ultimately effective manner. For this reason, I’d say that TOURCaddie has the advantage currently.

So how about the dollars and cents? PGA TOURCaddie offers a free version, but it’s most advanced features, including club recommendations and 3D-flyover previews of each hole require a paid subscription to the PRO version of the app, which is priced at $29.99 per year and available as an in-app upgrade. This may be a deterrent to some users, but no more so than will the $250 to $500 price points of the competing standalone hardware products. And at this point, anyone in the market for one of these devices is likely to have a modern smartphone capable of running TOURCaddie (Android support coming soon), so it would take roughly eight years of PRO subscription to equal the price of a dedicated hardware competitor.

TOURCAddie doesn’t stop with club recommendations. The platform offers additional game improvement content and instruction through it’s TOURAcademy package. For an additional $9.99 per year, players get access to 150 tips and drills from leading PGA teaching professionals. TOURAccademy members can compare their performance in all aspects of the game to others of similar ability and thus discover areas demanding additional improvement. Further, players visiting a PGA Tour-owned TPC golf course for in person instruction can also tap into the historical data gathered within their TOURAccademy to more effectively target lessons.

TOURCaddie has been well received since launching in mid-June and has since crossed the 450,000 download mark with no paid customer acquisition, according to Shotzoom CEO Craig Prichard. The company does have the advantage of leveraging the PGA Tour’s brand credibility and its print and retail distribution. But the app appears to stand on its own receiving a better than 4-star iOS App Store rating with more than 450 ratings across all versions more than.

Golf is a sport in which participants often believe that they can buy improved performance. As a result, golf tech has its own viral aspect. If one player in a regular foursome has a new toy, be it a club, a piece of high-tech apparel, or a GPS device or app, so long as it seems to be working, everyone in the group is likely to go out and buy one. Then everyone at their golf club. Then their buddies at work and on the email chain from college. But, with new products coming out daily, this can be incredibly short lived, with only works when a product performs well.

TOURCaddie offers a compelling product, but in this highly-competitive and rapidly evolving category, it’s too early to predict whether it will generate meaningful business for the PGA Tour and Shotzoom. Where these two partners have succeeded, however, is in offering a model for what all consumer performance platforms should strive to be.

As we surround ourselves with an increasing number of sensors and hardware devices, data collection is quickly becoming a commodity. Those who are to win their respective quantified self categories will be the ones that go beyond simply collecting data and enable consumers to effectively act on that data to achieve meaningful progress in their areas of interest.

We are at the very beginning of what promises to be an transformative decade of quantified self innovation. Frankly, I can’t wait.

Disclaimer: In an effor to test the PGA TOURCaddie app, I accepted a complimentary round of golf at the PGA Tour-owned TPC Harding Park Golf Course in San Francisco. The round was valued at $155.

[Image via USGA]