Golf has undergone a series of significant technological advances in the last couple of decades – with the advent of metal woods, graphite shafts, cavity-back irons and super-efficient balls being just a few of the developments.
But a new computerised system invented by leading US equipment manufacturer TaylorMade that uses motion capture technology to analyse every element of a golfer’s swing has really brought the game into the 21st century. Despite the big leaps forward with equipment in recent times, golf has largely remained unaltered for the past 200 years or so.
The vast majority of golfers have never had alesson and, despite having built up a good knowledge of what works best for them, probably little understand the technicalities of their game, let alone the mechanics of their swing.
TaylorMade Performance Labs was created to offer golfers a state-of-the-art custom club fitting service, but in reality the revolutionary system provides so much more. Using 34 reflective sensors distributed around the body and an array of six high-speed motion-capture cameras, TaylorMade Performance Labs is able to completely deconstruct a golfer’s swing and determine the ideal club right through the golf bag, from driver to putter.
What’s more, the system is so good it has become undoubtedly the best teaching aid ever.
All the golfer needs to do is hit a few balls and the system breaks the swing down to clubhead path, swing and speed planes, centre of gravity, body line (shoulders, hips, knees, toes and spine), face angle, target line, ball position, head position, X-Factor – the relationship between shoulder turn and hip turn – shaft and shoulder plane, wrist cocking angle, shaft line, shaft deflection, posture lines, in/out and up/down path of the club, hand speed, clubhead speed, effective loft of the club at impact, ball speed, launch angle, back and side spin, ball trajectory and computed distance of carry and roll. It sounds amazing, and in practice, if anything, it’s more incredible than that.
I attended the launch of a new TaylorMade Performance Labs facility at the stunning Turnberry Resort on Scotland’s South West coast an hour or so from Glasgow. Turnberry is rightly renowned as one of the country’s pre-eminent courses after having staged the Open Championship no less than four times, lastly in 2009.
The complex’s excellent Colin Montgomerie Links Golf Academy makes a fitting home for the new TaylorMade system. Turnberry is one of just two such facilities in the UK – and only a handful across the world – with the other being at Wentworth. Former Scotland rugby captain Gavin Hastings was guinea pig for the day and soon found himself covered in the sensors, which were Velcroed into position.
Gavin was also handed a special TaylorMade driver complete with its own set of sensors.
The cameras were switched on with golf pro Ian Fraser from the academy taking charge of the session.
Gavin, as well as being one of the greatest full-backs rugby union has ever seen, is a very good golfer – a five handicapper and member at another first-class links, Gullane.
He hit around ten shots with the driver and the computer began building up a picture of his swing.
The graphics, displayed on a large screen in the roomy hi-tech teaching bay, revealed a very good swing that stood up to close scrutiny extremely well.
However, the accompanying statistics showed Gavin tends to hit the ball low (as might be expected of a links golfer), has a slight tendency to send the ball right and achieves an average driving distance of 250 yards.
Ian determined that a driver with a stiff shaft and a head weighted in the heel would significantly improve Gavin’s game and rapidly assembled a trial version withTaylorMade’s distinctive and hugely attractive matt white head.
Gavin hit a few more balls and it was soon apparent that the driver was a big hit – he was hitting the ball around 25 yards further and much straighter, to boot. Gavin said: “I’ve never been one for technology in golf but I have to admit that I’m very impressed with this system. I was expecting to get fitted for a new driver, but it turned into an amazing teaching experience too.
“It was a little bit scary to have my swing analysed to that level – every twist and turn was caught by the cameras – but I can honestly say that I have learned a lot about my game today. I’ve seen it from a totally new perspective. The new club felt great and I certainly felt that I was hitting the ball longer and straighter off the tee.” But the system isn’t just for the biggest club in the bag, it can also design the perfect irons and, remarkably, the putter. The system has to be seen to be believed and can quite honestly be described as the greatest advance in golf technology for decades. What coaches and golf pros used to do with the naked eye can now be done in far more detail by computer.
That’s not to say that the technology will make golf coaches a thing of the past as TaylorMade Performance Labs has to be used in tandem with an expert teacher such as Ian.
Gavin said: “The system gives the most accurate analysis of the swing I’ve ever come across.
Any serious golfer would benefit from going through the process, not least because they would get a set of clubs that have been literally tailor-made and also a much deeper understanding of their swing.
“I always knew I hit the ball fairly low and even though I’ve seen my swing many times before on TV or video, I wasn’t sure how it worked.
Now I know just about everything about my swing – what I do well and maybe not so well.” And it’s not just amateur players who are taking advantage of the new system – the professionals are too.
Former world number one Martin Kaymer is among a number of TaylorMade’s top tour pros to have had his swing analysed and had special clubs built.
Nick Robbie of TaylorMade said: “Virtually all of our professionals have been through the system now.
It’s enabled the majority of them to gain an extra 10 to 15 yards with the driver, which is quite a leap forward in technology that we have not seen for some time.
“A lot of pros are also having clubsspecially made for specific courses of conditions. They can use the technology to get the most from their game. “And it’s the same for amateur players too.
The system allows golfers to make their average worst shot much better; it lets people be the best golfer they can be.” Turnberry, with all of its history and reputation for excellence, is the ideal setting for this technological breakthrough as it is also one of the most forward-thinking of clubs with world-class facilities and courses.
It is also offering some very attractive packages to enable golfers to experience this mix of technology and tradition.
For example, the £195 package gives golfers a one-hour TaylorMade Performance Lab session with individual club fitting, a 30-minute golf lesson and a round on the Kintyre course.
There’s also a CD – containing all the graphics and swing analysis statistics – to keep. Turnberry is one of Scotland’s finest hotels, of course, and is well worth a visit. Completely refurbished before the 2009 Open, the hotel now features airy public spaces, a lovely spa and pool complex, vibrant bars, top-class restaurants and beautifully appointed guestrooms, all furnished in a comfortable yet neo-minimalist contemporary style. The rooms at the front of the distinctive long white building also boast some of the most stunning sea views imaginable with the huge granite edifice of Ailsa Craig in one direction, the brooding mountains of Arran the other and the rolling links in the foreground.
n Find out more at: www.turnberryresort.co.uk