Swinging into the Future - Golf and Blockchain Technology

Is it possible for Golf to be revolutionized by blockchain technology

About Golf and the current system:

For those of you who may not be familiar with the game of golf, below is a brief introduction.

Put simply the game of golf is played outdoors on normally two types of golf courses, links and parkland. The idea is to get the golf ball into the hole in the least amount of shots. Golf Courses are 18 holes and a par on the course is normally 72. The course would be made up of par 3, par 4, and par 5 holes. For example, a par 4 hole would mean that a scratch golfer(A player with 0 handicap) would be expected to get the ball in the hole in 4 shots.

Traditionally the golf industry has had this history of being exclusive and only rich people play. That appears to be changing as a broad range of players from all types of genders and backgrounds are taking part.

As part of the game up to now, players have been immersed in a world of joining the most exclusive club or having the best driver or putter. The brands like Titleist, Taylormade, and Callaway have pushed the latest clubs that will make you a better golfer and they come with a handsome price tag.

In a year there are 4 majors where professional golfers fight it out to join the majors winners list. The 4 majors are The Masters, The PGA Championship, The Open Championship, and the U.S. Open. This weekend sees the first major of the year at The Masters.

Billions are spent each year on the latest golf equipment. The prize money associated with the major golf tournaments is huge. This is a big barrier to entry for most players looking to enter the game. However, this has started to change in recent years with the advent of Golf Simulators.

Golf Simulators are run by two main companies Trackman and Top Tracer. The simulator allows you to play golf indoors against a screen projector. Not only does it have real courses, but it also has advanced technology for shot analysis. This is a game changer as it now allows people the knowledge of what they are doing wrong and the statistics that they should be obtaining to translate to becoming a better golfer.

Blockchain Technology and Golf:

Blockchain Technology could now be embraced by the golf industry to enhance transparency and for better statistics tracking, membership management, booking systems, and much more.

  1. Immutable Record-Keeping: Golf is very much about record-keeping. Tracking player stats, scoring, and handicaps and ensuring the storage and accessibility of this information. Capturing this data, when it is finalized, will ensure greater transparency.
  2. Membership Management: Traditional clubs have archaic membership systems and databases held locally. Renewing or accessing your information is simply not up to scratch(excuse the pun). A breach of the traditional systems is inevitable.
  3. Data Privacy: Privacy is of the utmost importance. If a player wants to join a golf club and play golf they should only be required to provide a name. There is no need for anything more. A username would even suffice. A public key attached to a username and a transparent record of the golfer's performance should be made available to all.

Examples of Blockchain Apps in Golf:

IBM and the PGA Tour developed a blockchain-powered platform to track and authenticate golf memorabilia, including tournament merchandise and player-signed collectibles. This was to prove the authenticity of items, reducing the risk of counterfeiting and enhancing trust among collectors and fans.

Several startups have emerged with blockchain-based solutions for tracking golf handicaps and performance metrics. These platforms leverage the blockchain's secure and decentralized architecture to record and validate player scores, ensuring the integrity of handicap calculations.

There are many more exciting opportunities going forward.

Utilizing blockchain technology:

There appears to be an area now to be exploited. The current handicap system which has only been rehauled recently still allows for manipulation. There needs to be more transparency when it comes to the World Handicap System(WHS). Envisaging a new system where results are kept on a decentralized ledger. Scores can be compared against thousands of players across the world based on age and ability. Handicaps could then be more accurate. Also, add in the factor of allowing AI to decide the appropriate handicaps for players. Currently, players can still play casual golf and not submit scores. The tracking of this should be done and scores should be submitted no matter how good or bad they are. There will always be bandits and cheats in any sport but a much fairer system should also reward the players who play by the rules and submit their scores. Golf was always built on good sportsmanship. Let's keep it that way.

There could be a new system where micropayments or tokens are applied to a player's account when they submit their scores. These could then be used to pay for items in the pro shop or bar.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Embracing New Technology:

Golf has always been associated with older white male gentlemen. This appears to have changed in the last 10 years. There are more women playing golf today than ever before. More young people are taking up the sport as they can now easily access a driving range or simulator near them. The latest Netflix series called 'Full Swing' has also had a huge impact on attracting more players to the sport.

Full Swing on Netflix:

Watch Full Swing | Netflix Official Site
This immersive documentary series follows a diverse group of professional golfers — on and off the course — during a relentless season of competition.

Embracing the new technology will allow for a more open and transparent system. New players will be encouraged to play their best for every hole to ensure they have the correct handicap applied. Up until now, there hasn't been much data analysis on golf. Players could play six months of the year and not submit any scores and all of a sudden they enter the main cup tournament of their local golf club and win.

The disadvantages are that some players may not like the new system and would just want to play casually. Now they would be encouraged to submit scores and embrace the new technology. This would be more of a challenge for the older players who are set in their ways.

Also envisaging that golfers should have a license with their handicaps and have to go for an annual test on the simulator to test their abilities and adjust their handicaps accordingly. This should be mandatory like an eye test to see how good you currently are and if things have deteriorated or got better.

A few questions that we may need to answer:

Who does this new technology benefit? Who is aiming to profit?

  • I believe as a whole the game will benefit from newer technologies. Players will have transparency on scoring and handicaps. Governance, where players and fans from around the world can decide on tournament locations and player matchups, is also a benefit to everyone.

Does this new technology remove the middleman or just replace them?

  • A new governance model would remove a great deal of middlemen. The direction of the sport should be voted on by the players, fans, and in the event of tokenization also the stakeholders. The voting could be weighted. Only recently Jay Monahan(Commissioner of the PGA TOUR) was quoted as saying

“Our business thrives when together we're all laser-focused on delivering for our fans. If we fail on that front, we fail on every front,” Monahan said. “They're tired of hearing about conflict, money and who is getting what. They want to watch the world's best golfers compete in tournaments with history, meaning, and legacies on the line at venues they recognize and love.”

Does he know and listen to what the fans want? This is the issue with centralized governance.

Is this new technology an improvement for the user or does it just digitise an already perfect system?

  • The current system is anything but perfect but with VR technology getting better every year soon as a fan you might be able to walk the course as a professional and see the shots from their angle. Digitizing or tokenizing different aspects of the game could present a new level of interest. For example, the caddies could be mic'd up and wearing VR technology. This could be streamed to millions of devices around the world allowing fans to see every aspect of the players game.

Future Implications and Opportunities:

There is a lot of promise for golf and embracing new technology.

It could result in increased engagement from fans. Fans could decide on tournament locations using a tokenized voting system. They could choose for example the Ryder Cup team players or the pairings for matchplay tournaments. They could have input on golf course designs.

Ownership of Golf memorabilia could also be tokenized to allow for less fakes and frauds. Fans could also possibly take a share in a golf course through tokenization.

Currently, there are two main VR games: Golf+ and Golf5VR. When the technology reaches the stage where it can be integrated with Trackman and Top Tracer this will make a huge move into the idea of decentralised tournaments. Virtual Reality golf could overtake real golf as more and more pressure comes from the need for land and the weather implications caused by climate change.

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The PGA doesn't appear to have caught up to the ever-changing world of technology. LIV Golf has caught them napping and swooped in to steal some of the main players and put their stamp on the future of golf. The governance system of the PGA is in jeopardy. This is why decentralization and good governance are important. Decred, a cryptocurrency powered by the stakeholders and with good governance is a shining example. The PGA may eventually lose its grip on the game and maybe we will see the tokenisation of Golf as a whole and the token holders will vote and have their say on how tournaments are run and how prizes are allocated. This will not only make the sport even better, but it also gives the fans a say in every aspect.