Is golf the sport of the future?

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By: Jake Elijah Struebing
W&L Junior Golfer

sandWhether we golfers like to admit it or not, our sport is currently in a state of upheaval. According to the National Golf Foundation, for the third consecutive year, the number of golfers in the U.S. declined, falling 3.6 percent to 26.1 million in 2010. The numbers in 2011 indicate another, albeit smaller loss of participation. Even the continued parity at the top of the professional golfing world, between the fall of Tiger and the rise of Rory, and the corresponding drop in television ratings, reflects these trends. Similarly, the global economic recession is devastating the game in European countries plagued by high unemployment. The PGA of America has, to their credit, responded to these disturbing numbers, instituting programs such as “Play Golf America” and “Tee it Forward.” These initiatives attempt to grow the game by making the game more accommodating for the beginner golfer. But, as recently as last week, the USGA and R&A banned the anchoring of a putter for all golfers, even amateurs. This action makes the game more difficult for the average-joe and reinforces the negative reputation of the USGA and R&A as protectors of the antiquated, country-club tradition.

So where do we go from here? Golf can still be the sport of the future considering the scientific and technological innovations occurring both on the course and in the laboratory. I am proud to say that my brother, Jesse Struebing, the golf coach at MIT, is joining this golfing revolution. The MIT golf program is partnering with Robert Goldberg, a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience to develop a method for tracking stress levels on the golf course. This innovative new study was recently published in the Wall Street Journal in an article by Scott Cacciola.

Dr. Goldberg’s research resulted in a “wristband that measures stress in real time by shooting small electrical charges into sweat glands.” That data is then relayed via Bluetooth to an iPhone app, which displays stress levels in graphical form. The hope is that “golfers – and their coaches – can use that information to understand what triggers stress on the course and then go about unearthing solutions.”

phoneThe image to the right shows a spike in my brother’s stress levels after mishitting an approach into a sand trap. But the research also has everyday life implications. Anyone can use the device to monitor and manage stress. In particular, Dr. Goldberg plans on targeting groups who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in addition to a broader mix of consumers ranging from “pregnant women” to “tech geeks.” The device, called “Bandu,” is expected to hit the market in 2014. Jerry Yang, the co-founder and former CEO of Yahoo, is one of the lead investors on the project.

The device, by making the game easier and more readily understandable, has the potential to draw a diverse array of people into the golfing world. It brings scientists and academics into the sport, the technologically inclined into the golf business, and gives athletes a new to way to look at their performance. I can think of no way to better grow the game in the 21st century.

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