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Fore-ward Thinking


| Oct 12, 2015

The USGA-supported “Learning Science Through Golf“ exhibit brings STEM education to life. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)


Perhaps no sport takes more pride in its traditions than golf. Dedicated to honoring and upholding these traditions, the United States Golf Association is also leading the game forward by selectively applying advanced technologies to ensure that the organization best serves the game as it evolves.

USGA innovation principally resides in its 20,000-square-foot Research and Test Center. A full-time staff of 17 annually tests more than 3,500 pieces of submitted equipment to assess their conformity with the Rules of Golf.

Engineers and technicians at the Research and Test Center use state-of-the-art technology such as a mechanical golfer that can hit golf balls at club speeds in excess of 125 mph, high-speed video at rates exceeding 100,000 frames per second that capture the ball’s behavior when hit, and an indoor test range that ascertains the aerodynamic properties of golf balls traveling more than 180 mph. One simple goal is paramount: to ensure that a player’s skill, not technology, is the dominant factor in determining success on the course.

“We are fortunate to work at the leading golf equipment testing facility in the world,” said John Spitzer, the USGA’s managing director of equipment standards. “We use the most advanced testing and analysis resources available to balance the innovation that can help a golfer, while also preserving the integrity of the playing experience.”

Enhancing the fan experience at championships is also a primary orientation of new USGA technologies. To serve a global audience following the association’s three annual U.S. Open championships on or, the USGA uses strategically positioned lasers in multiple locations at each of its venues to supply ball-position data, including distance to hole, accumulated statistics and performance trends. Using trained volunteers to recount and relay the data, the USGA passes real-time information to its websites to ensure that fans are consistently informed and updated.

“There’s an art and science to it,” said Ross Galarneault, who oversees USGA championship scoring. “It helps to have the game’s most cutting-edge lasers, but how the data is secured and how it’s interpreted depends on not just reporting what’s happening, but what it means to the fan. That’s when the technology really pays off—when it becomes more relatable and relevant.”

Looking to the next generation, the USGA has been a longtime proponent of leveraging technology for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. During this June’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, as part of its community-oriented Open For All™ programming, the USGA supported a traveling “Learning Science Through Golf” exhibit featuring technology designed to convey STEM principles: Turf and Water Retention (Science); The Flight of a Golf Ball (Technology); Motion and its Effect on the Distance a Golf Ball Will Travel (Engineering); and Determining the Volume of a Golf Club (Math).

Educating and informing golfers has long been at the forefront of how the USGA serves golf. Empowered by technology, the USGA is holding itself to an even higher standard so that it can lead into the future all who play, and love, this great game.