McLaren Applied

The tech that changed the game of golf


The tech that changed the game of golf

Tiger finally did it.

One of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time. Tiger Woods' fifth Masters win is up there with the likes of Muhammad Ali knocking out George Foreman to reclaim the world heavyweight crown in 1974, and Roger Federer defeating arch-rival Rafael Nadal in 2017 to win his first grand slam after an agonising five-year wait.

Rewind back to 1997 and Tiger's first title at Augusta National saw him smash the record books as the youngest player to win the Masters aged just 21-years-old, while recording the tournament's widest winning margin (12 strokes) and lowest winning score of 18 below par.

R Kelly's 'I Believe I Can Fly' had just begun a three-week spell at the top of the UK singles chart – a belief we can only presume Tiger had after his victory. James Cameron's Titanic was months away from sinking box-office records, and McLaren's first Formula 1 title – since Ayrton Senna secured his third with the team in 1991 – was just around the corner.

A lot has changed since 1997, both on and off the golf course. And with Tiger burning bright once more as this year's Open Championship gets into full swing at Royal Portrush, there’s no better time to take a look at some of the tech that has changed the game of golf.

Join the club

Golf clubs have arguably evolved more than any other aspect of the game. Aerodynamics, reduced weight, as well as shaft material and construction, have allowed golfers to hit the ball further and with greater accuracy.

Aerodynamics now influence how the head of a driver is built, in an effort to minimise drag and to maximise head speed. It's not dissimilar to a Formula 1 car tearing down the straights at Monza. Teams run those skinny rear wings for a reason at the 'Temple of Speed': to minimise drag.

In golf, lightweight club constructions have opened the door to driver heads ramping up in size. Rules allow drivers that measure 460 cubic centimetres, which means there is far more margin for error when hitting the ball than when Tiger made history in 1997.

Minimising drag is something both Formula 1 and golf have in common
Minimising drag is something both Formula 1 and golf have in common

No two golf balls are the same

Okay, that's not strictly true. But there's more than meets the eye when it comes to golf balls. They now feature anywhere between one and five different layers – or pieces. A five-piece ball for example, consists of three layers of a compression core, along with an outer core and a mantle.

More layers should mean a top golfer can hit the ball further and perform utter sorcery with spin compared to us mere mortals. While fewer layers see golfers sacrifice distance in exchange for the ball flying straighter. The latter is best suited to beginners, while the very best professional golfers have the ability and skill to take full advantage of five layers. 

Shoe time

There was a time when golf shoes did little for the person wearing them, other than offer some semblance of grip thanks to spikes on the soles. The shoes were ugly enough to give Tom Ford nightmares in the Gucci design office (we presume), about as heavy as strapping concrete blocks to your feet, and as waterproof as a sponge.

Now, every fairway might as well be a catwalk. Not only are golf shoes lighter, more comfortable and effective, they are far more aesthetically pleasing to the discerning eye of Mr Ford and his fellow fashionistas.

Comfort is no longer an afterthought. Higher quality materials, more padding and support, and mercifully, water-proofing, mean walking 18 holes without agony or a water hazard accumulating between your toes.

Racing boots: the Formula 1 equivalent of golf shoes
Racing boots: the Formula 1 equivalent of golf shoes

Sixth sense

Internet of Things (IoT) sensors are becoming increasingly prevalent in the world of golf. You can now invest in gloves with sensors that track a number of metrics, from club speed to backswing length. They enable you to monitor and evaluate your performance in real time, and even see how you stack up against the pros – comparing your metrics with theirs.

Sensors can be found on clubs to provide swing analysis, as well as embedded in golf balls to give real-time data regarding speed, location and distance travelled. Even the ground beneath golfers, or at least the greens, are being kept in pristine condition with the help of sensors that measure temperature and soil moisture, ensuring they get the kind of green-fingered care Alan Titchmarsh would be proud of.

Living in a simulation

Golf simulators may not quite match the high-fidelity of the McLaren Applied Vehicle Dynamics Simulator, but they are certainly changing how we engage with the game.

The McLaren Applied Vehicle Dynamics Simulator is accelerating automotive development
The McLaren Applied Vehicle Dynamics Simulator is accelerating automotive development

Aside from making losing a golf ball impossible, they bring with them a host of advantages. While you may never get the chance to tee off with Tiger, golf simulators allow you to play the best courses in the world from the comfort of your own home.

And this is all while helping you to perfect your game, thanks to instant feedback and sophisticated swing analysis which can examine a myriad of metrics, including swing speed, face angle, launch angle, spin, and distance.

So please excuse us for a moment while we hit the sim, we’ve got the Masters and British Open to win…

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