It seems, that I am transitioning from mere human to robotoid – an enhanced version of me. Becoming Robby the Robot: A golfer’s journey from fallible flesh to digital design. My golfing arsenal now contains so many technological devices that I am questioning my humanity. The most recent acquisition is the Shot Scope H4 and it may well have tipped me over the edge. It joins my hand held laser, my Phantom GPS, and the MiScore app on my phone. Some folks might mention the term ‘overkill’ here but I find each of these devices offers something unique, as well as their shared abilities. GPS# ShotScope# AI# GolfBot#
Robotic Golfers Morphing Into Bobby
The Shot Scope H4 is the latest piece of equipment to accompany me on my competitive golfing forays. This device plots my round shot by shot and offers me the opportunity to analyse this data post round. The value of this information in such crystal clear formatted shape is yet to be ascertained but I suspect it will prove fruitful. However, learning to use this technological aid has definitely messed with my head. I have always thought that golfers look quite robotic from the perspective of the external viewer. We all wear similar outfits with caps and collared shirts, often emblazoned with brand names like Titleist and Callaway. In addition, we have pre-shot routines which appear robotic to the uninitiated.
Transitioning to Robby The Robot
It has been interesting to observe how difficult it is to amend my own golfing routines to include what is demanded by the Shot Scope device. The small hand held (can be worn on your belt) unit scans sensors located on discs attached to the butt of your golf clubs. The new protocol requires the golfer to bring the butt of your grip to the face of the unit prior to playing each shot. Remembering to do this without fail is harder than I thought it would be. Especially when you stuff a shot up in the bunker or wherever – who wants to record failure. Like anything I suppose it takes time to assimilate new behaviours.
The whole experience got me thinking about what is happening to all of us in the modern world on and off the golf course. We are all interacting with technology more and more throughout our lives. Smart phones and computers are everywhere and involving themselves in our everyday activities. Futurists are already predicting the enhancement of Homo sapiens via implants as the most likely way forward in our evolvement.
Returning to my demonic struggle with this new device during a competitive round of golf. Needless to say, I forgot to scan clubs at various times during my round. Plus, I felt very self-conscious about the scanning procedure in front of my four-ball playing partners. I made light of it and injected some self-depreciating humour into the situation. This was not hard because I felt like a fool forgetting to achieve these simple scanning procedures and putt counting at the flag after each hole. My playing partners joined in telling me that it looked like I was touching my dick all the time (the unit was centrally located on my belt). Actually, when I did relieve myself in the bushes the question whether I needed to scan something flashed through my head. Confusion and disorientation were circling their wagons around me on each tee.
Golf, as many of us know, is largely a mental game and how we deal with this keeps us obsessed with the struggle. If hitting a little white ball around a vast arena of manicured nature was easy, I suspect that most of us would not bother.
Therefore, what we do as golfers in and around playing strokes becomes important to the vigilant golfer. Introducing new behaviours can upset the apple cart. Repetitive scanning had me feeling like I was becoming Robby the Robot. It was like my humanity was slipping through my fingers to be replaced by a cold, digital design. I wondered whether my best golf was rooted in my passionate, animal self and, perhaps, I was doing a disservice to it via all these electronic devices? Robby the Robot: A golfer’s journey to the other side.
The upshot, however, was that I won A Grade on Saturday in my first foray out with the Shot Scope H4. The bloke who came second was the guy who introduced me to the device and was another transitioning to robot or golfbot status. Becoming Robby the Robot: A golfer’s journey is an uncomfortable experience in terms of diminishing the hot blooded ape within us. It may well be that it serves the cold and calculating nature of the game of golf. The old saying in golf is that ‘you don’t need to draw pictures on the scorecard.’ The score is only concerned with the number of strokes and not how you got there. Statistics are similarly confined to the facts of figures involving distances, stroke frequency, angles, and geographic pathways. Shot Scope is concerned with how you got there and helps you document the round exactly. Obviously, the device itself did not directly contribute to my golfing performance on the day. Especially, as I struggled with the whole experience throughout the round. Perhaps, to some degree it did begin to quarantine some of the negative emotions associated with misdirected strokes and their challenging outcomes on the course. It gave me a new thing to do prior to my pre-shot routine. I do find that all these technological golfing aids help fill in the time waiting between shots.
On a philosophical level, I ask myself what I most enjoy out of playing golf. Is it the glow of satisfaction following a well struck iron or fairway club? Is it the rewarding feeling accompanying good outcomes on the golf course? Is it the journey itself involving both highs and lows over four plus hours? The very nature of doing battle with nature and the elements? Or is it achieving personal bests and victories over the field? Is it the means or the ends? The reason I pose this question is to determine whether my technological enhancement risks my love and enjoyment of the golfing experience. Does Robby the Robot enjoy golf as much as the banana eating golfing monkey?
Related to all this AI stuff is another golf aid I dabbled in a few years ago, which involved brain wave enhancing sounds and hypnotherapy. Much of the focus of this approach concerned our understanding of the left and right brain hemispheres. The intel underpinning Pro Golf IQ identified the different parts of the brain involved in playing golf. Basically determining that our left side of the cerebral cortex processed the sensory data about course conditions and the type of shot needed to play. Whereas our right side of the brain executes the shot. This makes some sense in light of experience and when you don’t want too many thoughts running around inside your head whilst playing a stroke. The program involved golfers listening to mildly hypnotic instructions and brain wave enhancing sounds via earphones. The audio based program sought to establish pre-shot protocols which would improve performance. I found the information contained within the program to be sound.
I bring this up now because I am interested in how we process information out on the golf course and how it affects our ability to successfully perform. The many digital devices I carry with me today around the golf course are doing much of the mental grunt-work formerly done by the golfer. Determining distances to flags and greens is no longer a case of judgement for the golfer’s brain. Likewise, identifying distances to hazards around the course are the purview of the GPS unit and the laser. Measuring windspeeds remains illegal in competition but there are devices capable of doing this. Some say that the game of golf for the golfer has already been diminished rather than enhanced by these technological aids. The majority of golfers, however, are of a mind to say that the game is hard enough sans determining distances by human assessment alone. Human beings love technology and have always done so. Metallurgy gave the ancients bronze then iron and these were great technological shifts from the stone age. Golfers play with high tech golf balls and clubs, which have revolutionised the distances achieved via these materials in the game. Hickory shafted clubs and featheries will never grace the game again apart from novelty events. We do still, however, swing the golf club ourselves and no labour saving device has gazumped this aspect of golfing as of yet.
In fact, the transportation of golfers in motorised golf buggies around the course has, also, removed great swathes of the golfing experience and the data this provides the alert golfer with during the round. On the plus side it has made the game accessible to many older golfers and all those physically unable to walk the course.
The human inclination is to make things easier via technology and to profit from these advancements. Golf is an ancient game with its roots in early humans striking stones with sticks. How we think about stuff is being transformed by technologies in and around our daily activities. We embrace new technologies and they change what was there before. Becoming Robby the Robot: A golfer’s journey is well on the way to new frontiers. Warm bloodedness may be fading from the links before our very eyes. Robotic golfers trained and enhanced from their formative years are marching in four ball groupings across fairways around the globe. Every stroke is being recorded with the aid of Google maps to be displayed on devices and shared everywhere. The golfer is fast becoming an appendage of a program or is that supposed to be the other way around?
I wake up after this Terminator like nightmare and my GPS device blue lit screen winks at me across the darkened room. The silent network of devices surround me and await my next move.
Robert Sudha Hamilton is the author of The Golf Book: Green Cathedral Dreams, which is available via Amazon.