The Golf Performance Center at Sea Island equips top-flight instructors with the best teaching tools in the sport to create a rewarding and fun learning atmosphere.
By Dale Leatherman
The world has changed a lot since the days when a wooden club and ball were the only tools needed for a day of sport. Early on, golfers improved their skills through trial and error, both in technique and equipment. Today, golf is infused with technology, from the machines used to craft cutting-edge clubs and balls, to the GPS that pinpoints distances and the sophisticated tools that make learning the game easier and more fun. No place is that more apparent than at Sea Island’s Golf Performance Center (GPC), where top instructors are surrounded by the latest equipment for evaluating and teaching golf skills.
“In designing and laying out the new GPC, we wanted to make sure we utilized what we believed to be all current, relevant technology while also planning for future technology developments,” says Craig Allan, the center’s director and master club fitter. “Over the past 25 years, golf instruction has changed in a way that definitely impacts the student. This change is primarily linked to technology and its impact on being able to more precisely measure swing trends, tendencies and student improvements. While 2D video is still an integral part of golf instruction, there is now more advanced technology like TrackMan for ball flight data, Gears 3D for club and body data, and Swing Catalyst Force Plates to measure ground forces. Being able to use these technologies on a daily basis, along with the experience of a world-class team, puts us in a great position to provide unprecedented service to our students.” Whether the student is a first-timer or a PGA TOUR player, the high-tech tools at the GPC are designed to help every golfer improve their game, from perfecting their swing to more precise putting.
Prior to the early 2000s, a lot of guesswork went into analyzing a player’s shot patterns. In search of a more scientific way to measure ball flight, Danish golfers Klaus and Morten Eldrup-Jørgensen teamed up with Fredrik Tuxen, a radar scientist. By 2003, they had developed a device that used Doppler radar to gather accurate ball flight statistics. TrackMan was an instant success in the U.S. and has become an indispensable tool in the golf industry.
Sea Island’s GPC is home to TrackMan 4, which uses a patented system called OERT. Short for optically enhanced radar tracking, it synchronizes an inbuilt camera to the unit’s dual radars to track both the ball and the club and produce massive amounts of data, which can be used to help determine areas in need of improvement for all players. TrackMan 4 is also the platform for a state-of-the-art 3D simulator that allows golfers to play many of the world’s greatest courses.
“TrackMan has always been dedicated to pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved with radar-based tracking technology,” says Matt Brown, TrackMan regional sales manager, Southeast U.S. “The TrackMan 4 is the most powerful individual training unit we have built—and we’re constantly finding new ways to unleash its potential. The Target Practice Range feature lets players practice and improve all aspects of their golf, while Virtual Golf 2 software has revolutionized what can be expected from a simulator golf experience. And we are continuously developing apps to make golf and training evermore rewarding and enjoyable. Our range solutions are activating club ranges and business facilities all over the world.”
In the teaching bays, Sea Island instructors use Swing Catalyst’s Balance Plates and 3D Motion Plates to help perfect how golfers hit the ball. According to Swing Catalyst CEO Tom Christian Lindvag, the Balance Plate depicts which parts of the feet are pressuring the ground throughout the swing.
“This means that you can easily spot whether you are leaning too far back (on your heels), forward (on your toes), on the lateral (or outside part) of your foot or on the medial (or inside part) of your foot,” he says. This provides valuable information related to the golfer’s ability or inability to produce certain ground reaction forces.
“The Swing Catalyst 3D Motion Plate is a unique product in that it measures both the pressures (balance plate) and three-dimensional ground reaction forces (force plate) acting between your feet and the ground,” Lindvag continues. “These forces can be broken down into three main components: horizontal or linear force, torque or rotational force, and vertical force.” He adds that it is critical for golfers to understand which of these is their main “force generator,” and the timing of the forces is equally important, as there is a sequence to their timing in most good golfers. It’s referred to as the “kinetic sequence” and it involves the peaking of the horizontal force first, then the torque and, finally, the vertical force.
Justin Parsons, an elite instructor at the GPC, explains that tools like TrackMan, Swing Catalyst and Gears 3D (which analyzes more than 600 images per swing) make teaching more precise: “High-tech tools give us a much more thorough and complete understanding of what a player and his/her ball is doing when they make a swing or play a shot,” he says. “The video, force plate and ball flight data we receive is like an X-ray or MRI in a doctor’s world. Once the diagnosis is done, the devices also help us with instruction. Videos show [how] a player changes in swing or what is ‘feel versus real.’ TrackMan helps them with the nature of their ball-striking. And Swing Catalyst gives them a real-time understanding of how and where their balance is and how they’re using their weight (or, as we say, using the ground) to achieve an athletic golf swing.”
The tools provide a wealth of information. Parsons says that the full diagnosis can lead to even faster solutions. “For example, a player swinging over the top will have a certain swing signature on video as well as a weight shift from the front part of the back foot to the back part of the front foot as seen on the Swing Catalyst,” he explains. “At the same time, the ball flight with too much slice will be picked up on TrackMan. I can help the player achieve a more athletic use of the ground, which shifts the swing direction, makes the forward swing look different, and results in the ball performing differently.”
If you think that the ground is moving underneath you in the GPC putting studio, it probably is. Nick Middleton, founder of the Zen Oracle golf company and designer of the Zen Green Stage, explains that underneath the shifting surface are high-powered actuators that are extremely precise and can move quickly to a prescribed position. Using a touch-screen tablet, an instructor can completely change the configuration, set up double breaks and even re-create putting scenarios from classic tournaments.
Middleton calls the late U.S. Air Force Col. Horace Templeton “the unsung hero” in the development of Zen Green Stage. The test pilot for the supersonic SR-71 Blackbird spy plane was also an avid golfer. He was the first to map the way balls would roll on greens, and in the 1980s, he published “Vector Putting: The Art and Science of Reading Greens and Computing Break.” Using engineering savvy and computing skills, Middleton carried the concepts to fruition.
“Putting is called a game within a game,” he says. “At first it is perceived to be simple, yet it ends up being incredibly challenging. It’s the easiest shot in golf but, especially under pressure, creates the most drama. What we’ve done is replicate the outdoor putting environment. If you can practice in a realistic environment, learning is a lot quicker.”
Zen Green Stage is not only realistic, it’s also fun and rewarding. “Making practice fun creates a cycle, an upward spiral that is full of motivation because you start to realize you can become a self-learner,” Middleton says. “The Zen Green Stage gives you a chance to figure things out. You start to see patterns and become reactive. It’s like learning a language and going beyond the meaning of individual words. You start to become fluent.”
PuttView adds another high-tech teaching tool to the Green Stage platform. The application translates slope data into a lighted path on the putting surface, following the break to the hole. An instructor can project additional graphics by sketching them on his or her tablet.
“PuttView is the mathematical model working on top of the physical machine,” Middleton says. “It allows you to see something that is invisible—the effects of gravity.”
“My co-founder, Christoph Pregizer, got the idea for PuttView during practice,” says PuttView Managing Director Lukas Posniak. “Being a golf enthusiast for almost 20 years and an engineer by training, he knew the ideal path of a putt can be calculated. However, he wondered why there was no way to display it to the player in order to provide instant feedback on his putt.
“Christoph and I started looking into how we could visualize the putt line and came across Augmented Reality Technologies,” Posniak continues. “Fascinated by the potential, we started developing PuttView in collaboration with the University of Hamburg and had a working prototype after our first year. The basis was, and still is, an accurate 3D model of the green, enabling us to calculate any putt on that surface. With that, and an overhead projector, we can support the player in all-important aspects of putting: We can visualize the slopes of the green and how those impact the ball, and show the ideal start line as well as the speed to make the putt.”
When Allan was planning the GPC’s new putting studio, he consulted with Phil Kenyon, owner of England’s famous Harold Swash Putting school. As a result, the putting studio at Sea Island bears a striking resemblance to Kenyon’s home setup, and the GPC director of putting instruction is Kenyon himself. The world-renowned TOUR coach has mentored players such as Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and Lee Westwood.
“The Zen Green Stage lets us measure students in the manner they’re going to putt outside, but in the comfort of an indoor studio and with the true context of different kinds of putts,” Kenyon explains. “PuttView adds an extra dimension, showing the path the ball will follow to the hole. The average student doesn’t appreciate the geometry of a putt—where the ball needs to start or where you need to aim to match the curve shown.
“When I put Green Stage in the UK studio … it had a big impact on our coaching in terms of enjoyment and what the student was able to get out of the lesson,” he continues. “We can do things in the studio we couldn’t previously, when we had to be outdoors and quite complex in the lesson setup. Now we’re able to enhance students’ experience and their learning opportunities. With recreational golfers, the experience is part of what they’re after, not just getting better. It’s incredible when people come into the new GPC and interact with the technology. It definitely has a ‘wow’ factor.”