By John Strege
So you thought a ball marker was just a ball marker. Well, Tom Rapko wants you to think again. Rapko, an Air Force Academy graduate, novelist and entrepreneur, has introduced the Sensorstream Birdie, a ball marker that contains a microchip capable of storing a host of information.
"Basically it's a near field communication [NFC] microchip and antenna encapsulated in Dupont polymer and is the size of a quarter," Rapko said. The Birdie, which doesn't need a battery, works by communicating with any Android NFC-enabled device with the Birdie's free app.
"NFC is massive in Asia and seems to be radiating outwards," Rapko said. "Australia is really catching on. In the UK it is very popular, and in much of Europe it is standard for subway systems. It was intended for fast access and transactions to replace cash."
Its utility at a golf course, aside from marking your ball, potentially is manifold and limited only by one's imagination. "I don't like carrying my wallet, my keys with me when I'm playing golf," he said. "I get tired of carrying around business cards."
The Birdie can be programmed with your automobile's smart key codes, credit card and business card information.
"Right now virtually all clubs take credit cards and this is just the next logical step of having a portable marker to pay for things either on the course, at the pro shop, or even at the club restaurant," he said. "Probably the best use for private clubs would be to have a member's number programmed with an associated counter-pin to verify a transaction.
"From a course management system, Birdie is ideal. Rather than getting a paper slip, giving it to the starter, getting the hole punched, and then teeing off, a golfer could be given a pre-numbered Birdie, scan it at the tee box, and then tee off. It could easily be integrated to allow players to charge snacks and drinks from the [beverage] carts to their accounts, measure [pace] of play, and finally input the score.
"So for example, we play a round together [and] you are given Birdie 1225 and I have 1226. We tee off. A reader notes the time. A snack cart comes by on the third hole and I buy you a beer by scanning Birdie 1226. At the turn we grab a quick lunch of a couple hot dogs, which are also put on Birdie 1226. At the end of the round the course knows our pace of play, scores, how much we spent and what we bought.
"The whole goal of Birdie was to create something cool and useful on the golf course that could enhance the total golf experience without being too bulky, troublesome, or obnoxious. I wanted a fusion of cool, but with utility."
The ball markers come in six colors and will retail for $5. Rapko, an avid scuba diver who has authored novels on the subject, will roll out the Birdie in earnest at the PGA Fall Expo in Las Vegas next week.