Depending on who you talk to, technological advancement is either the final frontier or quite simply the worst thing to happen to modern civilisation within the last couple of centuries or so.

However, no matter what side of the argument you find yourself on, it is difficult to deny that technology has enriched many different aspects of our lives and with scientific breakthroughs happening on a consistent basis.

Technology will continue to be an important part of our future whether we like it or not...

When it comes to the topic of technology, sport has undoubtedly been one of the main beneficiaries - "Hawkeye" technology has certainly gone some way to eradicate human error in sports such as tennis and cricket.

In addition, although VAR has been underwhelming so far with regards to football, goal-line technology has been so successfully implemented that it's easy to forget that it even exists anymore.

But what about other sports such as golf? Has technology been successfully implemented within the game and if so, what can we expect to see in the future? Does technology threaten to undermine the traditional values of the sport?

 

The Evolution Of The Golf Ball

In order to assess and discuss the way that technology has changed the game of golf, it's imperative to look back through the history of the sport.

Traditionally, the earliest versions of golf were played with wooden balls and as you can imagine, it took a fair bit of effort to get the ball airborne, never mind anywhere near the pin.

After this came the feathery - a leather pouch which was stuffed with chicken or goose feathers. Naturally, this was much more practical than a wooden ball but still came with its own problems.

For one, the feathery refused to retain its shape after a few good drives and what's more, the ball was often warped by the elements including water and extreme heat.

In order for the sport to grow organically, an alternative was needed and, in the mid-1800s, the gutty ball came along and completed revolutionised the golfing game forever. 

Over the next 150 years or so, many more innovations followed and your local golf shop will now be home to hundreds of different types of balls which are designed specifically to suit the conditions you're playing in and fit your ideal flight patterns and swing speeds.

The concept of the "SMART" golf ball has also piqued the interest of many companies, including OnCore, who are currently seeking funding for a ball which will contain a high-performance GPS system as well as a self-charging battery.

Along with apps such as Arccos which provides golfers with valuable information about their performances, technology has massively contributed to the evolution of the golf ball.

As a result, players are hitting the ball further and much more consistently than they did in years gone by.

 

The Changing Nature Of The Club

In terms of golf clubs, the general shape hasn't really altered all that much over the course of the sport's long and illustrious history.

Nevertheless, you could argue that golf clubs have arguably changed more than any other aspect of the game within the last couple of decades or so and this is in part due to a better understanding of aerodynamics.

The average modern day driver, for example, may weigh, on average, 50 grams lighter than previous versions and constant technological advancement in this area means that components inside the club are becoming stronger and lighter.

This is precisely why the heads on drivers seem to be increasing in size with every passing season and thanks to new materials, most drivers are much more forgiving when it comes to making less than perfect contact with the ball off the tee.

Although we're not doubting their power and ability, some of the smaller players on tour use the biggest headed drivers and continue to feature at the top of the driving distance lists, which speaks volumes about current club technology.

Rory McIlroy, for example, is 11/4 to land a major in 2019 and will undoubtedly be looking to use his extra yards to gain an edge over the competition.

Whether you're a hardcore golfing aficionado or just a casual follower of the sport, chances are that you'll be familiar with the term "hybrid club".

Hybrid clubs give players a greater loft opportunity when striking the ball thanks to the increased launch angle when compared to some of the more traditional irons.

As a result, hybrids are once again more forgiving than "normal" clubs and place less importance on the mechanics and specifics of ones swing.

Nike have been at the forefront of producing top of the range hybrid clubs and with proponents such as Tiger Woods back to winning ways, it seems that their investment has paid off.

Woods is a mere 8/1 to land The Masters title next year in 888sport's golf betting odds and will no doubt have a hybrid club or two in his armoury when he rolls up at Augusta.

In addition to this, the modern-day putter has also gone through many changes - modern technology has made putters more balanced and with different variations such as the "toe-hang" or "face-balanced" putter now available, golfers now have a much more improved chance of being successful on the green.

 

Drones, SMART Golf Carts And Augmented Reality

Drones have had an interesting journey over the last decade or so and have gone from multi-million pound pieces of equipment solely used by the military to run-of-the-mill the toys which teenagers regularly ask for as Christmas gifts.

In terms of their usefulness on the golf course, a quick drone flyover can give you an extensive view of the environment and highlight the pitfalls and dangers of any course.

Furthermore, drones can also alleviate the pressure and effort expended to find lost balls and can even calculate atmospheric pressure, temperature and wind speed.

Ever heard of a golf cart which can give you live music, TV and course GPS? No? Well you have now - golfing legend Greg Norman and Verizon have teamed up to produce an interactive golf cart which essentially houses an onboard computer and entertainment system.

In terms of taking the sport into the 21st century and beyond, the PGA have also got in on the act by launching an augmented reality app.

The app allows spectators to see 3D versions of courses being played at all around the world and the tour has vowed to have at least one hole from every tournament in the golfing calendar by the end of next year.

 

Controversy And The Changing Traditions Of Golf

As has been previously mentioned, where technological advancement is mooted, dissenting voices often follow and this has been seen throughout the golfing world.

The PGA faces constant battles with governing bodies over issues such as driving distances; the R&A and USGA concluded that the seven-yard increase in driving distance seen last year was "unusual and concerning".

As a result, there are apparent plans to reign in the effects of the "modern golf ball." With players such as Tony Finau effortlessly averaging well over 320 yards off the tee, it was only a matter of time before the relevant authorities decided to get involved.

Finau is currently 50/1 to land the U.S PGA Championship next year and with the ability to strike the ball further than anyone on tour, you'd like to think that it won't be long until the American breaks his major duck.

In addition to this, there has been controversy around the use of video technology within golf following the controversial decision to award Lexi Thompson a four-stroke penalty in the ANA Inspiration tournament back in April.

Governing bodies have recently made changes which allow course officials more flexibility and the power to apply common sense in certain situations.

It would be difficult to argue that video technology within golf is inherently bad for the sport but, at the same time, it's important that human players aren't held to account simply because they aren't capable of mimicking the precision afforded by video evidence.

Many golfing purists argue that modern technology is making the game of golf far too easy.

With the many changes that both clubs and balls have gone through in the last few decades, it's certainly true that modern-day equipment is far more forgiving when it comes to striking the ball.

Golfing greats such as Nick Faldo and Gary Player have voiced their concerns over the use of technology ruining the traditional values of the sport and reducing the skill sets required in order to be successful at the top level.

Whilst Faldo and Player are undoubted legends in the sport, one has to question whether their grievances stem from the fact that they would have loved to have modern-day technology available to them when they were playing at the top of their game.

What would these players have been able to do with a hybrid club for example? Who knows.

However, it's worth remembering that golf is now much more of a spectator sport than ever before, especially with the increasing amounts of money and sponsorship on offer.

As a result, fans want to see the ball hit harder, further and with more accuracy than ever before because it makes for a more exciting spectacle.

With the level that modern-day professionals play at, the margin between winning and losing is indeed finer than ever but, if the same equipment is available to all players, then the playing field still remains fairly even in most peoples eyes.

For now, the best and most consistent players over four-day tournaments still takes home the trophy and, until that changes, technology within golf can only be seen as a step in the right direction.

 

*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*

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888sport

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