Travel 21st May 2020 - 4 min read

Data is the new driver: in business and in golf

By Joni Lindes

By now, we all have heard the data argument at just about almost every industry conference and webinar.

Due to the data-intensity nature of travel management, travel managers are often the catalysts for driving new data-driven processes within their organizations. Talking about data-driven decision-making on panels is one thing, actually driving the use of data within your organisation is a completely different ball game (pun intended).

Driving adoption of data in a company is challenging. In a 2019 survey carried out by Deloitte, most executives don’t believe that their companies are insights-driven. Only around 37% of executives believe that their company is on the mature side in making use of data to inform decisions. This may be because most executives aren’t comfortable accessing or using data. A whopping 67% of senior managers or higher state they are uncomfortable accessing and using data in their day-to-day activity.

This is completely understandable. Changing the way that we traditionally operate is always going to be a process.

Another place where tradition and convention meets data-driven change is the golf course. Golf is a sport steeped in history, being played since almost time immemorial in some form or another.

Even so, golf was one of the first to adopt data-driven strategies and use them to improve golf courses, players’ skills and the games’ entertainment value.

Every single aspect of the game, from a player’s swing to their round strategy and even their equipment uses scientific advances, machine learning, cloud technologies and data analysis. Golf, as it happens, is one of the most data-driven sports.

How is data used in golf?

1. PGA Tour holds one of the largest databases

In 2003, PGA Tour partnered with CDW to create a ball tracking system known as Shotlink. Shotlink has a database of 174 million shot attributes and 80,000 hours of video over the past 20 years.

In golf today we see Shotlink’s technology and database everywhere. Players use the statistics from the system to analyse and compare their performance against competitors and improve their play. It has also improved golf’s entertainment value by making the ball more visible in television.

2. Smart devices and smart golf equipment

So much technology has been developed to capture and measure each element in golf. Some examples are:

  • TrackMan or K-Motion monitors granular variations in swing motion using a combination of HD cameras and microwave transmissions that captures what happens at the exact moment of contact with the ball.
  • Golf Integrated technology is used to evaluate the swing of golfers in relation to their joint length and initial posture as well as the speed, distance and spin of the ball. This produces expert interpretative biomechanical reporting on body, arm, hand and club motions, as well as balance and weight distribution for each golf swing.
  • Foresight Sports’ GC2 Smart Camera System captures ball flight and club performance data to determine the balls trajectory.
  • On the equipment side, Cobra Golf’s KING F8 club lines developed clubs with connected smart grips with sensors that track and analyse a golfer’s performance through shot tracking, distance calculation and location and provide the analysis in an app.

With all this data captured, how do golfers analyse it? In golf, the analysis providers are just as prevalent as the devices capturing the data.

3. Data analyses and benchmarking to improve performance

USGA makes use of its database of 2 million golfers and 50 million scores collected through the Golfer Handicap Information Network by developing an algorithm that creates a professional-style benchmarking ability at the recreational level. Golfers at all levels can compare their game against others to get insight.

Golf analytics websites like or the official PGA Tour website provides detailed data on professional golfers and tournaments. The Canadian site has a live statistical model that displays the probabilities of every player’s winning changes for every PGA Tour and PGA European Tour as they take place.

Professional agencies have emerged to take advantage of the need for analysis. The data from consultancy 15th Club now defines training strategies for over 40 professional golfers. Through 15th Club’s data analysis, these golfers have improved their stroke by +0.15 to 0.25 per round and subsequently seen a $600 000 average increase in earnings.

4. Data introduces new metrics to the game

A new metric known as strokes gained was introduced in recent years. Strokes gained is a better method for measuring performance because it compares a player’s performance to the rest of the field and can isolate individual aspects of the game. Traditional golf statistics, such as putts per green do not take into account the distance of each putt. Instead, strokes gained adjusts for the initial distance of the putt and other relevant factors to illustrate a more accurate representation of the golfer’s skill level.

5. Data for better golf course management

Data systems in golf do not only track golfer skill. They are also used to track handicap, age, gender, weather conditions, pace of play, tee usage and pin locations and provide a detailed understanding of the interaction between players and the golf course. Through analytics, golf courses can improve the golfer experience by analysing difficulty of each element. They can also reduce maintenance costs by optimizing the use of water and fertilizer in different parts of the course.

Does data yield results in golf?

Just one example of a golfer achieving better results through improved data is Dustin Johnson who used a high-tech Trackman device to improve his wedge game. The result? His approach shots improved from 50 to 125 yards. Four years later, he ranked fourth in his wedge game – a huge improvement over his previous ranking of 166.

There are so many other examples of data improving performance in golf and, similarly, in business. As business and golf often appear to be interlinked, they can in turn be inspired by each other. If data management has become such a game changer on the golf course, it can certainly drive better results in business. 

Joni Lindes
By Joni Lindes
4 min read

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