GolfBuddy, the GPS distance-measuring innovator, has launched its latest touch-screen World Platinum model, priced at £329. It also features many new functions and can store up to 40,000 courses from around the world in its memory. We talked to GolfBuddy's European geeral manager John Ennis about the brand's arrival in the fastest-growing sector of the golf industry.
When you were spearheading MacGregor's development 20 years ago I bet you didn't think that golfers would be using satellites to help knock shots off their game!
Well, for a start at that time the US government had effectively interrupted the GPS signal for anyone other than the military by using a ‘selective availability’ block.
SatNav had been authorized for civilian use in 1983, but the signal interference rendered it useless. It was only when President Bill Clinton turned off the block in May 2000 that GPS became part of everyday life. So no, we weren’t thinking about it then.
What's the history of the Golf Buddy GPS distance measuring device brand?
The very first GolfBuddys were developed in Korea by Harry Jung, now the company’s CEO. He took the first hand-held sets to the Golf Europe show in Munich in 2006 to seek international distributors but language barriers and a lack of contacts in the golf industry made it difficult to establish the business.
When I came on board, Harry had found development partners and investors in the USA and Korea but still required someone with good golf industry knowledge, especially in Europe, to help build the business. In the past four years the rate of product development and sales has been incredible.
GPS is surely the fastest-growing sector of the golf industry. Apart from up to a 40,000 course memory and free downloads what, in your opinion, sets Golf Buddy apart from other GPS devices?
We can’t underplay the importance of free GPS. We charge no annual subscriptions or individual course download fees, which over the lifetime of a device makes it incredible value.
We also preload devices with thousands of full course maps from our global database so they’re ready to go ‘straight from the box’. Ease of use is another critical factor. The new GolfBuddy World Platinum has a touchscreen which gives instant measurement to and from any point just by touching the screen. You don’t have to mess about with a fiddly button, everything you need is right at your fingertips.
Why have these devices been so successful in such a short time in the UK?
It doesn’t matter how good or bad a player you are, golfers always want distances to a target. Whether or not you’re able to find that target, knowing how far you are from a bunker or green is intrinsic to the sport.
What GPS has done is give golfers accurate information quickly, so they don’t have to work out sums from a printed course guide – or pace out from on-course marker posts or sprinkler heads. Everything you need is in your hand.
Are they as popular in the US or is it that they are built in to the golf carts that carry 95 per-cent of golfers around the courses?
Handheld GPS is more popular there compared to here. They have been using GPS for quite a few years already and they are now approaching 10% of the full playing population.
Once golfers have played with GPS there’s no going back – it makes a huge difference to your game. Not every course has GPS enabled buggies so owning a GolfBuddy, or some other device, has become very important in the US.
As someone who has been close to the professional game for many years, should rules change to allow them to be used during European and PGA Tour tournament play?
It doesn’t need a rule change - they are allowed for play under a local rule in any tournament if the event organisers decided to do so. So they could effectively be used tomorrow on Tour if someone had the desire.
They are used and seen in practice rounds on Tour, and they’re used increasingly in club competitions and in the competitive amateur game, so it is a shame we can’t see them being used in play on Tour.
Both Geoff Ogilvy and Laura Davies have recently stated their loathing for the pace of play on Tour and it would be good to have a ‘GPS allowed’ event to see what happens.
Critics say that using distance measuring devices slows the game. What your response?
How can they possibly slow the game down? You walk to your ball, look at your GolfBuddy to get a distance and hit the shot! Compared to the time it takes for a caddie to pore over his yardage book in a Tour competition, it’s much much quicker.
What kind of feedback do you receive from golfers who have used the GolfBuddy?
I had an email from a guy at GorstyHill Golf Club last week who has reduced his handicap from 25 to 21 since owning a GolfBuddy. He’s not practising any more than (turn to next page...)