Technology helps golf get to grips with smarter future

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There you are on the tee. You have just given the ball a mighty thwack and seen it sail into the grey yonder.

You will be keenly anxious to know where it's gone. Is it in the rough or lying sweetly?

How, you wonder, does the shot compare with the last time you played that particular hole? Or the first time?

These currently are the mysteries of golf but not in the future.

For technology is being developed in laboratories in Germany to make these conundrums as ancient as a hickory shaft on a wood.

In the future you may be able to take out your smartphone or tablet computer and simply review the shot on the screen.

There you might see, as you walk up the fairway, a replay in the palm of your hand.

And you won't need to worry about finding the ball because its location will be there on the screen, to the inch.

All of this technology has been developed by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany.

Its engineers have devised small batteries and transmitters which can be put into golf balls, and withstand the impact - even measure the impact.

As the ball flies through the air, it transmits information like location and direction and speed of rotation.

Your phone or tablet computer connected to the web, would receive the data and draw the picture immediately.

'Never really lost'

At the moment, tracking devices can't really be exact.

Stefan Schmitz, the engineer who developed the new tracking system, says the ones used now involving video cameras can not capture all the detail in the way his device can.

"It can analyse the movement of a ball in a way that is impossible at the moment," he says.

"The ball itself sends the information rather than, say, a video camera tracking it from outside. And it means that the lost ball is never really lost."

The Fraunhofer Institute is Germany's big developer of technology (it invented the MP3, for example).

Image caption,
The transmitters in the balls can withstand the impact of being whacked by golf clubs

It is partly funded by government and partly by companies.

For the device to go into production, private funding from the golf industry is needed.

Companies have shown interest, particularly in the way the new technology helps golfers find lost balls.

A transmitter in a golf ball would be a very sophisticated embedding - literally - of technology in the sport.

Stronger alloys

Already, golfers have a range of other devices at their disposal.

The Callaway Golf company is bringing out a new handheld GPS device.

It will be pre-loaded with maps of 25,000 courses, and just like a GPS in a car, it will pinpoint the golfer and show the route ahead to the destination, namely the pin.

Image caption,
It is hoped the tracking system will be more precise than previous attempts at following the flight of a ball

It will be loaded with television-style pictures of each hole, seen from a helicopter.

There are also already golf courses which have transmitters in golf buggies so that the management can work out where the bottlenecks on a course are, who is slowing play up and how the jam might be unjammed.

So technology is jumping ahead on the golf course. The club is probably where you notice it most.

The trick is to find lighter and stronger substances because the distance a ball travels does not depend on weight but on the whip of the shaft.

Accordingly, lighter, stronger alloys are the way forward.

Some clubs, too, can be adjusted by the golfer.

At the headquarters of Adidas in Bavaria, the company has what it calls its Center of Excellence for its golf brand, TaylorMade.


At the centre, the manager, Manolis Nikitaidis, demonstrates state-of-the-art drivers, in which the slope of the face, the "loft", or where the centre of gravity lies can all be changed by the golfer using a small wrench-key.

He says that this makes clubs more "forgiving".

In other words, they might not do much for the very best golfers whose skill is supreme. But they can help ordinary golfers improve their worst shots.

But how do you stop the sport becoming simply a race of technology where the golfer with the latest and most expensive club gets the prize?

Rules are devised to stop that happening, or to stop it dominating.

Manolis Nikitaidis points out, for example, that with the clubs which can be altered by the golfer, adjustments are not allowed during the game.

Golfers must configure their club before the first shot and keep it like that until the 19th hole.

Sad to say, though - but technology can never make good an absence of skill.

"It can help you to a certain extent," says Mr Nikitaidis, "but still you need to swing the club."

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