Can Technology Replace A Golf Caddie?

May 19, 2017

I recently made a tee time online for an upcoming golf trip. Later the same day, I received a call from a guy at the golf course wondering whether I wanted just one caddie for our group, or if we needed one for each person in our foursome. Realizing quickly that I booked the wrong type of reservation, I admitted my proclivity for dumbassedness and told the guy we’d just need two golf carts. He said quite a few people make the same mistake and people rarely book a caddie nowadays.

Given the quality and availability of technology that, at least in part, gives any golfer access to what a caddie can provide, I can’t say I’m surprised. Don’t get me wrong — I’m sure a good caddie, intimately familiar with a course, is nearly invaluable to a decent golfer. There’s no way technology is going to fully replace the knowledge of a human in that respect. But, for my money, I’d rather invest in a few gadgets and skip spending four hours with a stranger in a white jumpsuit who carries my golf bag. During the past year I’ve done just that, and I’m amazed at the advantage a few pieces of affordable and portable technology provide. No more looking for the 150 marker, scanning the fairway for yardage on the nearest sprinkler head, or hoping you chose the right club.

Here’s any overview of what I’ve tried so far.

For less than $100 (though you can spend significantly more), you can pick up a GPS watch that tracks your distance from the green on pretty much any course in the U.S. A quick glance at the watch tells you how far you are from the front, middle and back of the green. I’ve found that it’s not spot-on accurate for yardage (though usually quite close) and signals are affected a bit on cloudy days, but it’s a great quick reference and will give most players all the information they need to calculate distance. Fancier models give hole overviews and distances to hazards as well.

More accurate, and typically more expensive, is a laser range finder. From as far away as the tee box, you can shoot the distance to the pin with an accuracy of less than 18 inches. The rangefinder I bought even has a “slope” feature that, if activated, will compute the effective distance of a pin even if there’s a change of elevation between you and the green. To me that seems like a little too much assistance, so I’ve never used it. I guess a guy has his limits.

More recently I downloaded an app called SwingxSwing that gives a detailed aerial view of any golf hole and tracks your position using GPS. To me, this seems about as close as tech will get you to having a caddie. You can see greens, trees, bunkers and water hazards, and a quick tap of the screen calculates the distance from you to any other point on the course. It doesn’t calculate elevation, or give the secrets of a course that only a caddie would know, but it provides an amazing amount of information for a $2 app-store purchase. A host of similar apps are now available as well.

Having played golf sporadically for quite a few years, and more regularly for the past couple, I can definitely say that this technology makes the game more fun for anybody and more easily accessible to the average player. Arming yourself with information that takes the guesswork out of which club to use and where you’re trying to put the ball gives you much more confidence when you step up to actually hit a shot. Unfortunately, there’s no piece of technology I’ve found that can fix the many, many flaws in my swing or that can guarantee I’ll make consistent ball contact, but I’m hoping it’s not far away.