Shooting for success

The shot tracking sector of golf is one of the fastest growing in the industry, with new technology providing data that would have been unheard of a decade ago. Andy Brown spoke to Gavin Dear, Chief Commercial Officer, at Shot Scope to get the lowdown on the company’s plans. 

One of the fastest growing markets in golf is shot tracking. The sector is helped by the seemingly never-ending development of new technology combined with more freedom to experiment than other areas, such as hardware. While companies have to ensure their products are legal for competition – and Shot Scope has been ruled as Conforming to the Rules of Golf and can be used in competitive play – the restraints on the sector don’t seem to be as tight as they are for hardware companies. For these brands to produce genuinely new and different products is harder and change comes more gradually; compare shot tracking products now to where they were five years ago and the change is startling.

One of the main people behind Shot Scope is Gavin Dear, a man whose playing background is enough to make even the most equitable of men jealous. Dear played college golf in America before returning home to Scotland and playing for his country in numerous competitions. “In 2008 we went down to Australia and we won the World Amateur Team Championship and then in 2009 I won the Dixy Championship against guys like Rickie Fowler and then I won the Irish Amateur – I  got up to tenth in the Amateur World Rankings,” says Dear casually, as if this is nothing special.

He turned out once for Great Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup and admits that the next logical step was to turn pro, but it didn’t all go to plan. “I went down to the Oxfordshire and led after round one but broke my driver on the second hole of round two and didn’t have a spare; it is a long course and I missed out by one shot,”  Dear explains. “I ended up on the Alps tour and finished fourth in The Order of Merit and went to the Challenge Tour and I kind of found my level; I played a few European tour events but couldn’t get to the next level. I was 28 and was spending the money that I was earning. If you look around the Challenge Tour there are some good players who are 45 with a couple of kids and that is tough, so I decided it was time to do something else and move on.”

Shot Scope Packaging F+B with Band

Ironically Dear had decided he wanted to do something away from golf but soon afterwards got a call from Shot Scope founder David Hunter – the two of them met, Hunter pitched the idea behind the product and that was it; he was sold and back into the golf industry. Dear says that when he was playing as a professional he was always very interested in whatever statistics related to his game he could get his hands on and that, for him, it was key that the product didn’t require an interaction from the golfer after every shot.

Put simply, for the product to work tags are screwed into clubs which sync up to a wristband which the golfer wears; every shot is tracked and the golfer only has to interact with the wristband at the end of every hole, not every shot. After the round the golfer has access to a veritable smorgersbord of data and statistics for them to look at and assess. Data is good, but while some average club players will be able to discern what all the statistics actually mean others are likely to drown in the data. Dear agrees with this point and says that is why there is one figure at the heart of their plans: the PGA Pro.

“We took the decision early on that this is a tool for PGA Pros,” confirms Dear. “Regarding the users – some feel they have the knowledge to look at the numbers themselves and others that they need to include an expert. What we try and do on the website is get it down to one number – so where you have a strokes gained system we came up with one that was a bit simpler called Shots to Finish. That allows the golfer to break down performance to one number. For example, if you take a seven iron you can look at it between the distance and the lie type and you start to see the effect of the lie type on how many shots it takes to finish from that point – so from a fairway it might be 3.2 but 5 from a fairway bunker. The numbers allow people to know exactly what on their game they need to work on, it is designed to allow people to make simple changes, but at its heart it is a great tool for PGA pros to work with, it is a good coaching tool.”

The company are a fairly new one and have expanded rapidly – Dear says he remembers when there were only a few members of staff squeezed into one room whereas now there are 19 of them across several rooms. They are starting to see traction in the golf trade and approximately 80 retailers have already committed to stocking the product. Dear thinks that part of the reason for this is that the product opens up a line of communication between the pro and customers, something that will only increase when the company launch their new coaching software.

“The Coaching Account will allow the pro to set up a connection with members and their peers, it will allow them to visualise what the members does. If a member turns up for a lesson and a pro asks ‘how have you been playing?’ then the answer is generally ‘OK’ which doesn’t really help. The pros said to us that it would be good if ten minutes before a lesson they could look at their members’ account to see their previous two rounds or look at the raw data numbers and see what they can extrapolate,” says Dear.

One of the benefits of the technology is that it has the ability to make golf more enjoyable, as players can set themselves different targets. For example, a club hacker might be getting a little tired of continually shooting in the 90s but if they can look at different areas where they have improved, such as percent of fairways hit, then all of a sudden the game can become a little bit more enjoyable. From talking to Dear it is clear that the pro is key to the business and that he understands that, with any new technology, such as the GPS market when it first emerged, ensuring that the education is there is key. “It is the type of product that when we continue the education to the golfer and the trade, once golfers understand the level of information it provides and how much more engaged you can become with golf, then I think it will fly.”

Dear mentions the segment flying and he has big plans for the brand – when asked about their future plans he replies, “We are incredibly ambitious and I think in the UK there is an opportunity for us to be market leader and being based in the UK gives us unrivalled access to the market. We are aiming to have 5-600 pro shop accounts by the start of next year and we have some upgrades to the statistics coming – we are in an area where there is constant development and we get so much feedback from users asking us if we can do certain things and we do listen. It is never ending innovation.”