Golf, Big Data and the Power of Artificial Intelligence
Golf is a simple game.
Take a club. Whack a ball. Try to put it in the hole with as few shots as possible.
Simple… but not easy.
From the tee box to the putting green, every shot is a critical process that can mean the difference between tapping in for birdie and spending the afternoon moving from one bunker to the next.
For centuries, that process was aided by a caddie, a trusted advisor who would show their player the proper approach to each hole.
In the modern game, however, the caddie is all but extinct. Sure, you see them on TV advising the game’s top players, but today only 3% of amateur rounds are played with a caddie. Perhaps that’s why USGA data shows that the average player has improved their handicap less than two strokes over the past 25 years – even with all the advantages that modern equipment provides!
Before we get into the weeds, check out this overview from Arccos:
Fortunately, the situation may be changing thanks to a tech start-up that’s working hard to both democratize the caddie experience, and help players improve their scores. This comes in the form of Arccos Caddie, which has been developed in partnership with Microsoft.
Golf’s first artificial intelligence platform, Arccos Caddie works in sync with the Arccos 360 system to act as, well, a caddie on the course. The result is a finely-tuned game where optimal strategies are presented on every hole using a leading-edge combination of big data and machine learning.
How Does It Work?
By pressing the “Caddie” button within the Arccos 360 app, Arccos Caddie provides the optimal strategy – and alternatives – off the tee for a given hole. It also shows likely shot distance, your percentages of hitting the fairway and expected score.
Teeing off on a par 3? For those holes, Arccos Caddie allows users to adjust the pin location, shows the chances of hitting the green in regulation and predicts — get this — not only how likely you are to miss but where your “missed” shot will end up.
It might cause you to wonder: “OK, where does this app get the ego to tell me how well I’m going to shoot? This app doesn’t know me.”
The truth is, Arccos Caddie does know you. And that’s its genius. After you’ve played at least five rounds, the app learns each player’s personal performance data and combines that with more than 368 million geo-tagged data points on golf courses all over the world to dissect your chances at success on any hole. Throw in data for 120+ million shots taken by the Arccos community – along with elevation, wind speed and direction, precipitation, temperature and more – and you’re looking at the world’s most honest caddie.
That was the same conclusion Golf Digest reached after the magazine took a deep dive into the intersection of data and golf. “Arccos Caddie is golf coming face to face with Big Data,” wrote Senior Editor Mike Stachura. “A meeting that could change the game's future, in this case restoring the bond between player and trusted caddie, even if the caddie is artificially intelligent.”
How Can Data Help Me Improve My Game?
Let’s talk about advanced analytics (AKA Money Ball) for a moment.
In the world of sports, they’re everywhere – golf included. But what separates golf from other sports is that every shot is a discreet incident. In other words, there’s an expected result from a swing of the club that isn’t affected by any outside influence.
Take baseball, for instance. A pitcher’s job is to collect three outs each inning. But a fielder might fumble a ground ball, meaning the pitcher fell short of his job through no fault of his own. That doesn’t happen on the golf course.
Additionally, other sports use high-speed cameras to film the action and determine stats — yards gained, strikes thrown, free throws made. But in golf, that information must be collected using other methods, which brings us to…
Why Hasn’t This Been Invented Yet?
Data collection in sports has been around for several decades, and golf is no exception. But the process of collecting all that information is a huge undertaking. At each PGA Tour event, 350 volunteers work every day with lasers, tablets and headsets, plotting the location of each shot a player hits and categorizing it by shot type. Then, that data is transmitted to a satellite truck, where it’s scrubbed by analysts and loaded into the cloud for players, coaches, media and fans and access.
Over the course of a single year, recording and delivering this data and the associated analytics requires 10,000+ volunteers and an investment in the tens of millions of dollars. That’s why it’s only been available to the world’s very best players. Until now.
Arccos Caddie does essentially the same thing – at an even higher level – by deploying a system that features a tiny sensor each of your clubs, an app and your iPhone.
What Else Can I Do with It?
Besides using Arccos Caddie on the golf course, one of the platform’s coolest aspects is that it allows you to virtually experience private venues that would otherwise out of reach for the average golfer.
Using Arccos Caddie, you can “play” any course in the world while sitting on your couch. During the Masters, you can pull up the Arccos 360 app and see how you would fare in Amen Corner on Sunday using your personal shot data, while facing the exact same conditions as the pros.
You can also use the app on courses you’ve never played before. This is an ideal way to gain an advantage if you’re teeing off with co-workers or friends on an unfamiliar course. Use the app to learn about the course well before you hit the links.
Do I Need to Do Anything Special with My Phone?
Absolutely not. Arccos Caddie can only be used with a cell signal or Wi-Fi connection, but playing a full round of golf won’t leave you searching for the nearest phone charger. Currently, the app is only available in iOS, but Arccos hopes to reach Android customers soon.
What’s the Catch?
Essentially, the only thing Arccos Caddie has working against it is time. This product is revolutionary, but will be getting even better thanks to rolling updates Arccos is making. The first update has already been made, and we’ve learned that big things are coming for 2018.