On the February 2nd episode of the Stick and Hack Show, the guys are joined by Harry Cloke from Shorehill Golf to discuss golf data and how that data can be used to improve golf courses. Listen here to hear Harry break down how he works to ensure that the vision of the golf course architect is achieved on the course. 

The following excerpt has been edited for space. Check out the full interview here.

S/H: You have developed a system which allows golf clubs to track every single shot played on their golf course in relation to handicap, age, gender, weather conditions, pace of play, tee usage, and pin locations. Measuring the information allows for detailed understanding of how golfers of all standards will interact with each and every feature on a golf course from which precisely considered recommendations can be made. So Harry, my first question and probably most important question here is what did i just read? 

Harry Cloke: We’re trying to understand exactly how golfers of all standards are engaging with specific golf courses. The reason for doing that is a golf course obviously costs a hell of a lot of money to design and build and maintain and manage and run day-to-day and you obviously do that to try and engage with golfers who play the game in such radically different ways as typified by the Stick and the Hack. 

So we’re trying to kind of provide some detailed insight into that so that we can review the golf course strategy, the architecture, maintenance practices, look at environmental practices, everything. Get down and drill down into the detail of the golf course and how players are engaging with it so that better decisions can be made. 

S/H: As I understand it Harry, you basically give the golfers a smartwatch and they go out and they play and that’s what’s bringing the data back to the clubhouse and tracking all that. Is that correct?

Harry: The end goal is that we can use smart watches to automatically track when shots have been hit. We have all your information online so we know your age, gender, handicap, and then we can link that up to QR codes on wrist watches so you can basically scan your phone with your account onto the wristwatch and put it on to go play. It tracks every shot you’ve hit, hand it back in, and all that data then feeds into our system which is a cloud-based system. 

We can basically review and analyze exactly how players are playing the golf course and we can filter by age, gender, handicap, weather conditions, and how the course was set up. We just want to ask pretty much every question we possibly can about the golf course. How are women playing the golf course? Juniors, over 25 handicappers, how are they negotiating the golf course? What happens if we put the pins in certain places? Stuff like that.

The other way we can track data which we’re soon gonna be releasing is like a survey-based system. We can have an ipad or a tablet set up either out in the golf course on a pole or in the bar afterwards where we can just ask you how you played the seventh hole today and you can input that data and it sends it into our system. 

S/H: You talked a little bit earlier about trying to get in the head of the architect. We’re curious about your approach there and what does it mean to try and find the purpose of each shot on a course? 

Harry: That’s been an interesting revelation for some people we’ve been working with and talking. There’s a lot of golf courses out there that kind of just evolved over time so they were designed in the first place and then often there’s a lot of like tree growth and bunkers spread and some are filled in and some are put in other places and you end up with this mishmash of a golf course. The reason we talk about that so much is because the stats we have, they’re not black and white and you can actually interpret them in a number of different ways. 

So what if 63 percent of golfers are hitting this green in regulation? That doesn’t really mean anything apart from the context of what are we actually trying to achieve with this hole and how is this hole is supposed to be played. It’s an interesting question that people need to start asking themselves about their golf courses. What are we actually trying to achieve? 

Why is that bunker in that position? If you can answer that question, we can tell you statistically, if you want this to be a bunker that the better players can carry, we’re going to be able to tell you it’s in the perfect position. Or if we move it by three yards in one direction, what impact is that gonna have? But without knowing the purpose of what you’re trying to achieve, it’s hard for us to answer that.

S/H: One of the things that you guys are trying to do is to showcase the architects strategic vision and what they thought was going to happen when they designed this course. You are trying to showcase that an architect’s strategic vision is realized by the data. I know this year was tough because of the pandemic but that is something you guys are trying to do?

Harry: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve always been really interested in golf course architecture and I find it fascinating reading about different theories on golf course architecture and a lot of different writings. I think there’s no practicing architect who doesn’t talk a really good game basically. I think everyone builds holes and courses with some sort of strategic vision and intent but it’s a tiny percentage of holes, only the really great golf courses, where when you’re standing on the tee, you can actually realize what the strategic vision is. 

Some golf courses take a lot of time. Like The Old Course at Saint Andrews, it takes you, 10- 20 -30 plays before you start to really work out what’s going on in terms of course strategy but there is strategy and you can understand that as a player. Most golf courses I think missed the mark and that’s for various reasons and digging into the data is trying to stop that from happening. 

S/H: What kind of recommendations have you made based on the data to golf course management? 

Harry: Each golf course is different and you see different things at different places. We are actually pretty popular with a lot of architects who’ve had to deal with golf committees and quite often you’ll get one or two people on the committee who play golf with the same people day in and day out. They kind of make the assumption that the way they play a hole or they and their friends play the hole is representative of everyone. You can’t really argue with the stats. 

You’ll have the captain of the club say, “No, that bunker’s in a really good position. Everyone goes in there.” Then you can pull up the date and say, “Actually it’s only you and your three playing partners that go in there. That’s the best thing. There’s definitely an element of being able to actually zoom out and look at the golf course as a whole rather than thinking they understand things because they play the golf course a lot. 

Listen to the rest of the episode here to learn more about the data technology that is changing the way golf courses are designed and renovated. Also join in to hear Adam, Mike, and Harry discuss which snacks are Stick and which are Hack!

Key Takeaway: Think about how you interact with the course and have a purpose for each shot.