By James A. Frank
If you’re not a fan of high-tech on the course—cell phones, GPS watches, swing sensors, and the like—then you might want to stop reading now.
But for everyone else, golf’s brave new world continues to evolve. Some very interesting people are rolling out some very clever and exciting products to bring the game into the modern era and, as with almost all of today’s most compelling ideas, to entice Millennials.
I recently had the opportunity to test-drive what is being called the “Shark Experience.” The shark, of course, is Greg Norman, whose company is spearheading a new, technology-rich way of bringing much-needed fun and entertainment into golf. And without making the hole bigger, throwing Frisbees, or kicking a ball with your feet.
Norman is collaborating with Verizon (wireless network), Club Car (golf cars), and GPSi (GPS systems) to, in their words, bring “connectivity, content, and customization” to the course.
Their vehicle for this is, in fact, a vehicle—golf cars and the video screens that are increasingly found in them at courses both public and private. Right now, those screens are used primarily to show how the hole looks and plays, and occasionally to order food and drinks. But Norman said he had a revelation while walking around a car-staging area at a club he frequents: Only about a third of the vehicles had those screens, which got him wondering how they could be put to better use.
That was more than four years ago, and it took him that long to convince the other companies that this was “virgin space” for a big idea that would help grow the game while also shaking it up.
What they came up with is a Club Car model featuring a high-definition touchscreen, built-in speakers, and Bluetooth connectivity, with streaming content powered by Verizon that includes dozens of music channels, video of live sports, highlights, news, other entertainment, instruction tips from Norman, and sophisticated yardage tracking plus other course information from GPSi. The platform also offers the golfer the chance to go cashless: Purchases are charged to an account associated with the car, providing a “member for a day” experience that does away with constantly dipping into your pocket or golf bag for money.
Those features will be available in the roll-out phase, which begins early next year when the new cars begin turning up at select courses. The next functions—which should be available by the middle of next year—include food ordering, hole-in-one competitions, and the ability to use Shot Tracer, following the track of your shots as they do on TV. “It’s a living breathing platform that will continue to develop,” said Jason Goldberg, who runs the media division of Norman’s company, as we were testing it out on the sporty and classic (circa 1896) Ocean Course at The Breakers Resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
So what’s it like? In a word: Fun.
The yardage information is dynamic, allowing you to drag a finger across the screen and see how far it is to or from any hazard or the green. Watching highlights of yesterday’s big game or live feeds of sports and other programming certainly fits the demographic and sociological profiles of most golfers I know, who already spend a good part of every round talking about other sports. And while there are some obvious Rules and slow play issues, watching Greg get out of the sand might help you do the same.
For me, the home run is streaming music. As a certified Baby Boomer, I’m used to music everywhere and have long wanted it on the golf course. I’ve tried, using portable speakers and such, but there were always drawbacks, starting with annoying other golfers. The Shark Experience has this licked.
As a number of the people associated with the product told me, they’re especially proud how the speakers fit in the cars—just under the roof and angled slightly down so the music (or whatever you’re listening to, and the Slacker streaming service has dozens of offerings) sounds great when you’re sitting in the car but is almost imperceptible when you step out. No bothering other golfers or your Led Zepplin clashing with their Willie Nelson.
The other great thing about music is how it makes the round more enjoyable. Conversation in the car seems easier, there are other things to talk about besides golf and your game (“Hey, put on Disco!”), and you’re likely to swing with better rhythm when listening to anything with rhythm. There are many studies that show music helps people be happier, more social, and more productive. I felt all of those, and more.
Sacrilegious? Some people may think so, but I’d argue that those same people should still be using brassies to smack at featheries. Golf could use a shot in the arm, a little life and levity, and while I don’t think attracting Millennials is the end-all and be-all of the game’s future, a more relaxed and social atmosphere ultimately will be good for everyone who plays. This certainly isn’t for use under tournament conditions and it would be great if more people walked their rounds.
But most golfers ride and they all want to have fun. That’s what the Shark Experience is all about.
What do you think about this new technology? Is it something you’d want in your golf cart? If you had it in your cart, would you use it? Let us know in the comments below!