Golf equipment truths: Will golf balls ever become trackable?

By E. Michael Johnson  

Illustration by Harry Campbell

We are lucky to have two of the most knowledgable golf gearheads in our office. And they are sharing their knowledge with you. Golf Digest's equipment editors, Mike Stachura and E. Michael Johnson, have covered the golf equipment business for decades, and there are few who know the equipment industry better. 

Are any major ball manufacturers realistically working on developing a way to track location (for finding stray shots or logging-rounds purposes)? On the surface, fewer lost balls would seem bad for sales, but I know many golfers who’d pay a premium for this kind of golf ball. 

The key word in your question is “realistically.” The answer, however, is yes. A few years ago, OnCore Golf made a presentation during PGA Show week about its GENiUS ball—a ball with a chip in the core that could track things such as location, distance and backspin in real time on a smartphone. The company had previously made a ball with a hollow metal core, so the idea of putting a chip inside the ball and being able to protect it from damage didn’t seem far off.

The product has yet to make it to market, but the company is still pursuing the idea. In fact, a spokesman said the ball could be a reality before the end of the year. Said CEO Keith Blakely, "OnCore has continued to work on the significant challenges that a trackable ball presents, not only with respect to developing the electronics and software capable of delivering useful information based on the ball’s flight characteristics—things like rotational axis and rate, velocity, aerodynamic lift and trajectory, etc.—but also performing similar to USGA-conforming golf balls with regards to distance and spin such that the balls’ playability and utility of the data being captured is of value. Furthermore, it has to be capable of being wirelessly recharged so that the ball has some useful life and able to communicate all of the important information back to the golfer in real time via Bluetooth protocols. Last but not least, it has to be able to withstand repeated hits off the tee with a driver."

Those are legitimate benefits and not insignificant challenges. That said, we have our doubts about the viability or, quite frankly, the need. While producing a golf ball that you can find certainly seems like a boffo idea, it’s difficult to see how such a ball wouldn’t be compromised in some manner performance-wise. You’re taking out performance technology and replacing it with golf-ball-finding technology. That doesn’t seem like a trade worth making. Of course, getting in-game diagnostics from the ball might make for an interesting TV broadcast enhancement. As opposed to, you know, the actual golf tournament.

Of course, the cost also is likely to be prohibitive and if you sink it in the water on the 15th at PGA National no ball retriever is gonna reach that sucker. We also have doubts about it speeding up play. Anyone paying that premium for a ball is going to hunt and hunt and hunt for that sucker like it’s Andy Dufresne escaping Shawshank. Sure, you might find it faster. But enjoy those three whacks to get it back in the fairway from the jungle habitat that your GPS golf ball found for you. Doesn’t seem faster when you would have just dropped one and went from there. We’ll never say never, but we’re thinking it will be later rather than sooner.


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