The Loop

New Arccos-Microsoft app can make you smarter on the course than a PGA Tour player

January 19, 2017

A caddie in the cloud sounds like a looper who’s been tippling between club recommendations or one who’s departed to that great bag rack in the sky. But Arccos has formed a new partnership with Microsoft to use its on-club stat-tracking system to develop a virtual caddie in the cloud that could make you a smarter, more strategic golfer for your next round.

The new feature, which will be free to current Arccos users, will be called Arccos Course Analyzer. Using the 50 million shots already tracked by players using Arccos club sensors and the GPS on more than 40,000 rounds, the new platform will provide player specific guidance on what clubs should be played on what holes and in what situations.

Arccos is a club-based sensor system that tracks the statistics of your round. Through its GPS platform, the lightweight club sensors (attached to butt of the grip) pair with your smartphone to record every shot and its place on the course.

The Microsoft Cloud is a “big data”-driven analytics tool and the arrangement with Arccos will utilize Microsoft’s latest Azure Cloud and Azure Machine learning, which is part of Microsoft’s Cortana artificial intelligence platform.

“Our goal is to create the most advanced Artificial Intelligence platform for golf,” says Sal Syed, CEO and co-founder of Arccos. “It will leverage a user’s personal performance history, all the shots ever taken by the Arccos community, weather, elevation, course features, equipment selections and much more. The resulting strategic advice will be smarter than anything that’s humanly possible.”

In simple terms, the Arccos platform, including its latest generation Arccos 360 version, provides the kind of data for average golfers that’s produced by the PGA Tour’s ShotLink system and technically even more (including distances with each club, driving and approach accuracy percentages, around the green performance and even putting). That data, along with all other users data, is managed through the Arccos Course Analyzer and the Microsoft Azure Cloud to help you select the right club or strategy for a particular hole. The constantly updating system provides personalized recommendations and strategies to play any course, whether it’s the site of your regular Saturday game or somewhere you’ve never been before.

But it’s more than just a listing of how far you hit each club. Using cloud analytics, the app might show how your 3-wood lands in the ideal position on the fairway on a particular hole because your tendency to miss right with your driver brings a pond into play. It might show you that on another hole laying back to 120 yards produces more greens in regulation for the majority of players than approaches from the 100-yard marker. Moreover, because the app is constantly being fed new information by you and other golfers, the analysis can change from round to round, even on your home course.

“The use of advanced analytics in golf is in its infancy compared to other major sports due to the tremendous challenges of collecting the required shot data,” says Mike Downey, director, principal evangelist for sports at ‎Microsoft. “The PGA Tour overcomes these hurdles with a team of 350 data collection volunteers at every tournament. Arccos is the first company that has truly cracked this code for amateurs by creating a virtually automatic sensor platform that seamlessly integrates into a player’s routine.”

The analytics tool will start out as part of the web-based Arccos Dashboard feature, which Arccos users access already to study their individual club distances and round statistics.

“I think you would use this data to help you prepare to play a new golf course you’ve never been to before,” Syed says. “It can help with the optimal strategy based on your tendencies and what others have done. But I think it also help you understand how you’ve been playing your home course and what strategic mistakes you’ve been making based on all the data.”

It will eventually be accessible through the Arccos app on your phone, too. While the majority of users will likely study the Microsoft Cloud recommendations prior to playing a round, the information from the Arccos Course Analyzer could be easily accessed during the round, as well. That information would not incorporate any data from that round.

While Arccos’s Syed says he has not yet officially submitted the Arccos Course Analyzer to the USGA for conformance purposes, he believes it would conform certainly for pre-round use. However, the USGA rules on distance measuring devices do preclude a device making club recommendations during the round. According to an explanation of the Rule 14-3 on distance measuring devices in Appendix IV, “Players are permitted to reference a chart of estimated distances you hit each club based on data processed from prior rounds. As a result, a device can include a similar function (e.g., display the average distances you hit each club), which still requires the player to make a decision in selecting a club. The device must not use data collected from the stipulated round to recalculate the average distances displayed.”

As of yet, the USGA has not officially ruled on whether using the Arccos Course Analyzer confirms to the rules of golf. Of course, it does seem that the Arccos device is nothing more than a really smart (albeit virtual) caddie with an analytical lean toward processing Big Data. If, for instance, printing out the Arccos Course Analyzer data for each hole before the round would be allowed (and it is), it seems slightly incongruous to make it nonconforming to access a web page that reports the same information. Given that a hundred years ago, nearly every round was played with a caddie, this modern version would only seem to reflect the natural progress of the same function with better technology.

The announcement of the Arccos-Microsoft partnership is set for Jan. 24 at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, and the Arccos Course Analyzer is expected to be available to download later this spring.