Daniel Forsgren was watching golf in 2006, and he wanted to know more.
He wasn’t able to see where the ball was going. Couldn’t get a grasp of the shot shapes and strategy involved on certain holes.
Thus, Protracer was born and the way we watch golf and appreciate players changed forever. Now known as Toptracer and owned by Topgolf, the technology continues to evolve with the help of social media and its obsession with “traj.”
With so many divisive issues such as course architecture, bifurcation and the distance debate, that’s one thing pretty much all golf fans agree on these days: more Toptracer.
Thanks to a new deal with NBC Sports, that’s exactly what we’ll see beginning at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Now as the exclusive technology for NBC Sports’ PGA Tour telecasts, Toptracer will be available on all 18 holes during every NBC Sports broadcast.
“When you work for a company, you do take note of what social media is saying,” Toptracer president Ben Sharpe said. “When a tournament is on, the fans love the tracer. When it’s there they say positive things, and when it isn’t there they say, ‘Where’s the tracer?’”
Whether or not to use Toptracer on a given shot will be at the discretion of the production crew, but for the first time they’ll have the option to use it on every tee box and fairway. That means more systems in place on the ground and more time spent mapping new courses, such as Detroit Golf Club for the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic in June and TPC Twin Cities for the 3M Open in Minnesota the following week.
“It’s a big effort,” Sharpe said. “Huge amount of work to make sure we can map out courses digitally. When you see the golfer and on the side you see an aerial image of the course, there’s a lot of work required to map those courses to make sure there’s great accuracy in what we do. Every time there’s a new course, that’s more work, but it’s a big effort and we’re excited.”
That means more soaring Rory McIlroy high draws off the tee, more Tiger Woods stingers and more 340-yard Cameron Champ drives, all summer long. It also means more Toptracer Range, which gives us a look at how the pros warm up live from the driving range ahead of their round.
That’s another area where Toptracer has seen big expansion of late. Topracer technology is available in about 10 Topgolf venues nationwide, with plans to roll it out across the entire network.
Toptracer Range has been put in at around 50 facilities since it started hitting driving ranges around the U.S. at the start of 2018. Sharpe expects that number to grow into the hundreds in the near future.
If the driving range has a covered bay area, the system uses two cameras to trace ball flights and can be used for individual practice or games such as closest to the pin and longest drive. On outdoor ranges players can view Toptracer on their cell phones or tablets and play simulated rounds on well-known courses such as Pebble Beach.
“We started as a TV-enhancement technology, but what we’ve found in the last two years in rolling out Toptracer Range and putting that in any range is that there’s a huge increase in participation, in engagement, in fun that people are having on the driving range,” Sharpe said. “They’re able to do what we see on TV. We will continue to roll out the Toptracer technology, because it really does enhance the playing experience.”
Sharpe believes the arcade-style games and practice enhancers provide a big opportunity to grow the game and hook new players with the immediate feedback and reward system on games.
“We’re getting them into the game of golf in a fun way,” Sharpe said. “From a 9-year-old kid who may not be able to hit balls very often, but when he does the screen congratulates him with a point. We’re finding through technology the real solution to growing the game and keeping people playing.”
That’s good news for established players too, who want to try and re-create different shot shapes and pull off iconic flight patterns such as Bubba Watson’s huge hook from the woods on No. 10 at Augusta National to win the 2012 Masters.
It’s even better news for avid viewers, who should soon notice a big increase in Toptracer during tournaments. With the tech now in use across the entire course, we’ll start seeing certain players and iconic courses in an entirely new way.
“With (NBC Sports’) willingness to partner with us, it’s clear they see this as a vastly important part of what they do,” Sharpe said. “I think we’ll see a huge amount more than we’ve done in the past.” Gwk