5 Takeaways: North American Golf Innovation Symposium March 7, 2017 | Vancouver, British Columbia By Greg Midland, USGA

Close to 200 attendees from across the golf and technology landscapes gathered in Vancouver to discuss what is next for the game. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

The setting, in one of the world’s great cities, inspired collaboration and forward thinking. The participants, more than 190 strong from across golf and other industries, obliged, and the North American Golf Innovation Symposium provided a forum for a healthy exchange of ideas about how to advance the game.

Hosted by the USGA in conjunction with Golf Canada and the Mexican Golf Federation, the event was designed to share research and expertise with the in-person attendees and others following through a live stream. The agenda focused heavily on the symbiotic relationship between golfers and golf facilities, and the message was clear: It is time to deliver solutions to help solve some of golf’s most pressing challenges.

“I’m very excited about what happened here,” said Matt Pringle, senior director of USGA Research, Science and Innovation. “We want to make sure the USGA is relevant to all golfers, particularly the more than 16,000 facilities and 30 million golfers throughout North America.”

Here are five important takeaways from the symposium:

1. The golfer experience, and the health of golf facilities, are paramount to the future of the game. What does this mean? That everyone, from golf course architects to course owners to the USGA, needs to be focused on making the game fun and enjoyable and improving the long-term viability of golf courses. That effort was crystalized this week by a challenge statement issued by the USGA’s Rand Jerris, and is echoed by the comments of two symposium attendees:

2. Technology is leading the way toward better management of scarce and valuable resources. Perhaps the biggest news of the symposium was the unveiling of the USGA Resource Management tool, a new web-based product that provides golf course superintendents and facility owners an easy way to be more precise and efficient with their use of water, labor, fuel and other resources. The data will help facilities manage their maintenance practices in ways that reduce costs while also improving the experience for golfers. The USGA’s Pringle added, “We’re really focused on being able to deliver actionable tools to public-access facilities that can be used easily.”  

3. Big data is a perfect fit for golf. In just about every aspect of the golf industry, the collection and analysis of data will help advance the game. This is already happening through the USGA’s pace of play research and the technology that led to the development of the Resource Management tool, and is also evident at Topgolf, which presented their detailed audience study to the symposium. One of the highlights was the keynote conversation with Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang, an avid golfer who is bullish about the future. “Every question we ask in technology, about artificial intelligence, about automation, about robotics and whether it’s right for society or not, that will also happen in golf,” said Yang. “I think there are a lot of similarities between golf and other industries because these technologies are enablers, and that’s a good thing.” 

Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang joined the symposium to talk about the future of the game, and he's very optimistic. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

4. One of the coolest projects in the game will happen in Minnesota. What is a golf facility really worth? The USGA’s research partners at the University of Minnesota are about to find out, as they apply the principles employed by the Natural Capital Project to golf. This initiative will study the Twin Cities as a prototype to assign a value to the “natural capital” – greenspace, health effects, wildlife, aesthetic benefits – of a golf facility in an urban ecosystem. The result will be an accurate assessment of why golf courses are not just recreational jewels, but community assets.

5. Diversity and inclusion are foundations of success. The USGA’s John Bodenhamer, appearing on a panel with leaders from Golf Canada and the Mexican Golf Federation, said on the symposium’s second day, “Borders don’t mean a whole lot in the game of golf.” The game played in the U.S. or Canada is much the same as the one played in more than 170 nations around the world, and that spirit of international collaboration is a key to helping golf organizations lead. And here in one of the most diverse cities in North America, the symposium heard from four board members and the executive director of British Columbia Golf, representing five different cultural backgrounds.

Left to right: Patrick Kelly, Helen Jung, Jasvinder Dhaliwal, Michelle Collens and Kris Jonasson. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)