News & Opinion

Path to holing putts becomes clearer

One in a weekly series of stories about golf gear to run each Wednesday.

Attention, golf purists. Shield your eyes and look away. Read no further. This means you, U.S. Golf Association and R&A. Another technology bombshell is coming to a green near you.

The USGA and R&A hate the green-reading books that professional players use to line up putts so much that they propose greatly limiting their use. So, the gatekeepers of golf will really hate Golf Scope. It’s a new app that reads putts for you. 

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For a $19.99 annual subscription, Golf Scope offers iPhone users a green-reading path to putting prowess.

COURTESY OF GOLF SCOPE
For a $19.99 annual subscription, Golf Scope offers iPhone users a green-reading path to putting prowess.

Green-reading maps and other green-reading apps feature arrows indicating slopes. They’re little topographic maps, really. Golf Scope is better. It uses your iPhone’s camera to scan the green, measure the speed of the putting surface and … tells you exactly where to aim!

I won’t pretend to understand how Golf Scope does this. Let’s assume there are subatomic Lego guys in the app with super speed who can construct a green model in a nanosecond – think Bob the Builder meets The Flash. Once a computer model is built, the app tells you where to aim your putt, just as a caddie would. 

I tried it out early one morning while playing on the dawn patrol at Pittsburgh National Golf Club. I already had downloaded the Golf Scope app from the App Store, so I clicked on the Golf Scope icon and “ready to play.” That enabled the iPhone’s camera. Golf Scope instructed me to stand behind my ball and move the phone “in and out” to scan the green. Then I focused on the ball and clicked the camera button to mark the ball’s spot. Next, I tilted the camera slightly up and slowly walked it along the line of my putt to the hole, where I focused on the cup and again clicked the camera button to mark the hole’s position.

Golf Scope informed me that I had a putt of 31 feet, 4 inches, uphill and I should aim 1 foot, 8 inches to the right. Earlier, I already had estimated the Stimpmeter reading of the greens’ speeds at the default number of 8.0. 

So, my putt was uphill and breaking 20 inches to the left? That seemed like too much break, but I played along. I stroked the putt online (or at least as close to online as I ever come) and watched it hook toward the hole, stopping an inch from the cup’s right edge. 

Dang. My new app caddie was better than my usual crummy caddie: me. Or was it luck? I tried again on the next green. This time, I had 21 feet, 4 inches, also uphill, and Golf Scope told me to aim left center. No way, but … I poured it right into the center of the hole. For a par. Yeah, I hit a lousy chip; what about it?

The next putt was an 8-footer, flat, at the right edge. I made another one. Golf Scope is my new favorite toy.

The next two greens didn’t go so well. I had 51 feet up and over a ridge. Golf Scope said to aim 2 feet to the right, and the putt broke right, which I clearly could see. However, it scolded me for not walking more slowly as I carried the camera to the hole, so that might have interfered with the app’s data-gathering. I got a misread and a scolding on the next green, too. So, it’s not perfect.

I made a 10-footer on the final green after being more careful with my camera approach. You know what’s more fun in golf than making putts? That’s right: nothing. Golf Scope is fun and very addicting.

But I had to ask Ryan Engle, the founder and chief executive of Golf Scope, based in Austin, Texas, the obvious big-picture question: Can I use Golf Scope for miniature golf?

Engle laughed and answered, “You wouldn’t be the first person to try.”

The actual big-picture question is whether Golf Scope is legal for tournament play. The answer: no. Engle conceded that the USGA’s new limits on green-reading maps, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, mean he doesn’t need a Golf Scope scan to know that his product is fighting an uphill battle, pun intended.

I’m not sure that it matters. I tested Golf Scope (and have continued to use it) while playing by myself. It would be problematic to use it in a foursome. When I explained how Golf Scope’s lining-up process worked to a certain fast-playing editor, he immediately roared, “You’d better not use that thing when you’re in my group or in the group in front of me!”

Yes, Golf Scope takes a little extra time to use. That’s probably not realistic in a foursome. Neither is walking the camera to the cup without stepping in another player’s line. So, Golf Scope may not be practical for recreational play. Although it would be incredibly useful in a scramble format where all four players face the same putt.

I see two uses for Golf Scope:

One is for tournament players. Let’s say I’m in the Masters. (Remember how I was passed over for an invite again last year? Yeah.) The four daily hole locations for all 18 greens at the Masters are pretty standard. In my practice rounds, I’d use Golf Scope to scan putts to each projected hole location from the four compass points and make notes, which still will be legal to use under the new limitations set to take effect Jan. 1. After several practice rounds, I’ve got a good bead on all lines. I could use that same concept to prepare for any tournament.

The other use is for beginners and higher-handicappers so they can gain a better understanding of reading greens. Most amateurs are nearly as bad at reading putts as they are at hitting putts on the intended lines. Golf Scope is a great training aid for that.

Golf Scope has a “putting history” function. It tracks putts, measures success and provides a rating for strokes gained putting on each green, which indicates whether the user is putting better or worse than average. What’s my strokes-gained-putting number? On the advice of my counsel – my sports psychologist – I decline to answer. 

Golf Scope asks its user to pinpoint where missed putts end up. This can help detect trends – missing every putt short and right, for instance – and spot potential alignment or stroke issues.  

Engle said one improvement in the works is making the phone able to scan the green from behind the ball without walking to the hole. That would make Golf Scope more user-friendly. 

Golf Scope (www.GolfScope.com) is available only for iPhones, and I like that I don’t have to buy a separate gizmo. I have my phone in the cart or in my pocket, anyway, when I play. Golf Scope is free for the first month, then it’s $2.99 a month or $19.99 per year.

I’ll definitely renew when I’m done freeloading. It’s fun, and it’s worth the money just to amaze other golfers with this cool new technology.

Also, I don’t mind the part where I make more putts. 

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle