Game Golf

GameGolf LogoAs an admitted golf stat geek I was really excited a couple of years ago when these guys introduced this new GPS/RF approach to collecting personal golf stats on the course. I have been keeping golf stats for about 10 years in a database of my own using a custom scorecard to record the basics-Fairways Hit, Greens In Regulation, Bunker Up and Downs, PItch/Chip Up and Downs, Total Putts, Putts on GIRs, and putting success at distance ranges. What I have always been missing is shot distancing and waywardness of my shots.

I was hoping this would be a vehicle to upgrade my stat output as well as reduce the data collection toil. The requested commitment to the Game Golf Indiegogo crowd sourcing campaign seemed a worthy price to pay to become an early user when this thing got out of research and onto the playing field.

We got our units in February and I have been using it religiously since, determined to give this a full chance as a worthy replacement for my own stat program. After almost three months I have come to the conclusion that in spite of the rhetoric of their ads and their pro partners, this thing falls woefully short when it comes to providing worthwhile stats about golf performance that could help me improve my game.

Their first challenge was to come up with a technological platform for collecting on course information that did not intrude with the flow of play. They provide a GPS/RF Transponder that you clip on your belt and 18 screw on tokens that use RF to identify each of your clubs. Each shot is “marked” as you go with a touch to the transponder of the token screwed into the top of your grip. It is kind of a Fred Astaire Baton Dance move and this records the GPS location where you hit the shot. The marking of the subsequent shot allows calculation of the distance of the previous shot. This is done until you hit the last putt on each hole.

It took me a few rounds to get the Fred Astaire routine down and I found that once I got it built into my routine it was not that intrusive on full shots even though I still forgot to mark some shots or doubled marked a few in every round. On the putting green the extra routine seemed intrusive to me. Compared to my paper data collection, which only takes about 15 seconds to record during the walk from green to the next tee, the added work was a significant increase in effort on my part. I just rationalized it as the necessary price to pay to get the data collected.

At the end of the round syncing the transponder with provided communication software all the of marked shots for the round are downloaded to your personal account on their Game Golf website. Using the GPS they determine which course you played and plot all the shots on a Google Maps rendition of the course. There is editing of the round required so you must go through the downloaded information to correct any shots you marked more than once, shots you may have missed, penalty shots that need to be added, or simply marks where their GPS got it wrong. The accuracy of the GPS readings of full shots was about 95% in distance and maybe 90% in position which is within the statistically acceptable limit for me. The same cannot be said for putting information.

I found it took a solid 15 minutes to review and edit a round once it is downloaded. Compared to keypunching my custom scorecard results to my own database which takes only 2 minutes or less this download/review/edit component has significantly more overhead involved.

Stat calculation in Game Golf is done by processing the GPS markings collected to give you distances on each shot, Fairways Hit, Greens In Regulation, number of putts, average putts per hole, and scrambles (defined as any time you have one putt to save par or birdie on a hole you did not hit in regulation). There is no statistical rendition of the waywardness of shots other than your intuitive calculation of fairways and greens not hit. Once a number of rounds are downloaded you get similar stats across rounds including some club distance averaging.

There is a social media aspect to this where you can share and compare stats with your buddies or the Game Golf pro partners, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, and Jim Furyk.

The greatest disappointment to me is that the accuracy of the GPS is not fine enough to get real measures on length and positions of putts. Without this all Game Golf can give you is the number of putts on each green, nothing meaningful as to your success rate in putts of various lengths. My database system tells me my putting success rates at bands of 1 to 4 feet, 5 to 10 feet, 11 to 20 feet, and 21 feet and beyond and this is some of the most valuable information I get round to round. As to taking the putting analysis a step further to Mark Broadie’s Strokes Gained Putting, Game Golf could never do this since it does not record your putting lengths or success to compare to peer averages at the same length.

Game Golf never actually marks the position of the cup on the green so there is no measurement of proximity of approach shots. Once again this is a basic statistic you need to understand which part of your approach game needs work. There is no statistical rendition of the bias of wayward direction of your misses so you can only infer from looking at where each shot ended up on their map as to what towardness swing issues you need to work on.

A number of other issues evolve from their use of a Google Maps rendition of the course you are playing. The Google Map of my home course is over three years old and the changes on our course of tee box and bunker positions is significant enough
that there are a number of times where my drive is emanating from a grove of trees that used to occupy the space of our current tee box or balls they say have landed on the edge of a green are actually in a reshaped green side bunker. They do not mark the perimeters of the bunkers on the Google Maps so Game Golf cannot tell you whether you played a bunker shot or provide any meaningful stats on bunker recovery performance.

The use of the pro Scrambling stat for recovery play around the green is hollow for most amateurs because we rarely save par or birdie on a green side shot. We do get up and down for bogies and doubles which are very meaningful to protecting our scorecard but these do not fit the profile of a scramble so there is no statistical feedback on this level of recovery shots.

Unfortunately our expectations for course data collection systems have been set very high by what we witness on the PGA Tour each week with their ShotLink data collection system. Since 2004 the level of detail of statistical output the PGA Tour gets is very impressive and useful. A key component of their system that augments the accuracy of the GPS on the greens is a stationary tripod mounted laser operated by a volunteer behind every green. From that they get accuracy of putting information and proximity of approach shots down to inches.

No one at Game Golf wants to admit this, and I have had extensive communications with their customer services reps, but the GPS inaccuracy around the greens is something they are not likely to be able to get over without the full cooperation of the National Security Administration.

For me this is a real deal breaker because it is the one thing that would allow me to collect more useable data than I currently collect with my paper driven system. The considerable effort (and $249 price tag) required to collect and process information with Game Golf to simply get FIRs, GIRs, and Putts Per Green is just not worth it to me.

For this stat geek,  I am sticking to my homegrown system, it takes much less effort and I get equal or better statistical output.

May, 2014


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