The Origin of PAR Golf
If you have ever used PAR Golf, then you probably already know who I am. I am the developer and constantly in the chat answering questions, helping customers, and entertaining feature requests... but I am an avid golfer first.
Playing great golf is difficult. Swinging a golf club upwards of one hundred miles an hour while controlling the club face to be within a degree of the intended direction is challenging enough. Add in the difficulty of managing expectations, navigating self doubt, and making solid course management decisions… and you have the greatest game of all time. Roughly 9 years ago I began a journey to play better golf using analytics. This article describes that journey and how I’ve used analytics and now PAR Golf specifically to play the best golf of my life.
Falling in Love with Golf
I am a product of the Tiger Woods era. In the year 1999, I was 15 years old and Tiger was about to start what is probably the greatest run of all time. Tiger-mania was in full effect and my buddies decided to try golf and I was along for the ride. At the time, I was maybe 5’1” tall and weighed all of 60 lbs. I went out to the local muni with my dad’s beat up clubs and hacked it around for a couple hours falling in love immediately. This was hard. The ball isn’t moving, but I can’t seem to hit it. Better yet, my much bigger friends couldn’t hit it either. Unlike on the basketball court, they could not ‘out physical’ me here. We were on an even playing field. I began to pour myself into golf. My parents saw the passion and bought my first set of golf clubs, a set of Dunlop ladies clubs. The shorter and lighter clubs were easier for me to get around. That summer I spent countless days on the golf course at the nearby Air Force base. For $5 I could play Cypress Lakes Golf Course from sun up to sun down. I spent that summer learning how to scramble and break 100. I didn’t hit many greens, but my short game kept improving. That fall, I tried out for the high school golf team. I didn’t make it. I was the last one cut, which was disappointing, but encouraging. I had only just begun my journey.
The summer before my Junior year of high school, we were re-stationed from California to New Mexico for my fathers job. I was crushed… Who wants to leave Northern California? When we arrived in Albuquerque in the middle of that summer, I had no friends and nothing to do… but I had golf. Tijeras Arroyo was the military golf course and I quickly became a regular. I didn’t need friends to play golf. I would get paired with whoever was there that day, oftentimes many years my senior. I kept playing and I kept getting better. I started breaking 90 on a regular basis.
When school started that fall, I tried out for the soccer team (my second passion) to make friends. I didn’t make it. However, the soccer coach was also the golf coach and he encouraged me to try out for the team. That year, I made the team and while I was just an alternate on the JV squad, it gave me a chance to practice and play more competitively.
I was never going to be good enough to play in college, but it was just my luck that they were building a brand new golf course at Texas Tech my freshman year. When the course opened before my sophomore year of college, I was on the staff as a cart boy. This gave me access to a golf course that I never could have afforded as a broke college student. It also allowed me to see what good college players looked like with several opportunities to play right alongside them. By my Junior year, I had moved over to the maintenance staff and most mornings I would wake up before sunlight to head to the golf course to mow greens or rake bunkers before heading to class at 9 or 10 in the morning. I learned a lot about golf agronomy, but better yet, I maintained access to a great golf course in my time off.
It was at Texas Tech that I started to figure out how to hit the ball hard. I went from averaging 200 yards per drive to over 250 yards. Part of that was physically maturing and part of that was seeing the college kids swing hard. I started breaking 80 regularly and a couple times even sniffed par. I middled around that 5 handicap range throughout college while studying engineering. Then I grew up, got a job, and got married. My passion for golf continued even if I was playing less. In 2011, I made my first (and only) hole in one… and then in 2013 I had my first son. Life changed.
Every Shot Counts
Anyone who has a family knows that juggling responsibility and a passion for golf is not always an easy task. Unfortunately golf is a game that can take 4-5 hours to play. Add in 30 minutes of warm up and 30 minutes to an hour of commute and it can easily take 6 hours to play a round of golf. Taking 6 hours away from the family is a challenge. Trying to squeeze in practice outside of playing is also a challenge, but you can’t improve if you don’t practice. Golf is not a game where long periods of inactivity help you play better. So I had to find a way to get better while practicing less. As luck would have it, in March of 2014 Mark Broadie would publish a book that changed my golfing life. Every Shot Counts detailed years of academic study on golf statistics and how to quantify golf performance. The book detailed how Tiger Woods became so dominant and exactly what parts of his game were elite and just how elite they were. Being an engineer and having an analytical mind, I was hooked. The book introduced me to the concept of Strokes Gained and changed my entire perspective on golf, opening my eyes to new ways to improve. The book is filled with tables and statistics for professional and amateur golfers. I read through it multiple times and I decided that in order to get better, I needed strokes gained. I quickly realized that all my years of tracking fairways and greens had not given me a path to improve. Advanced analytics was my ticket to finally becoming a scratch golfer.
Back in 2014, there were no shot tracking apps on the app store, at least none that did strokes gained. So I decided I needed a solution. Leaning on my engineering background, I designed a scorecard that would capture the right information while playing and then I wrote a script that would process the information from that scorecard and turn it into strokes gained. This script populated Excel spreadsheets for me to create graphs and analyze to my heart’s content. It was right at this time that my best friend (Ryan Hebert) was also taking up the game and while I was still around a 5 handicap, he was closer to a 20. I introduced him to my scorecards and spreadsheets to help with his game and he also got lost in the analytics… For a short time. It wasn’t long before Ryan got frustrated and tired of populating 90+ shots worth of information into detailed spreadsheets to get the results. It was frustrating and tiresome. It was around that time that we had the epiphany. The stats are great, but the work to get them is overwhelming. Everyone could benefit from the data, but it has to be easier…
PocketPAR is Born
It was late one night, likely after a rare golf trip down to Houston to play with Ryan, when we were having many of our talks about how we could play better golf. Swing thoughts, mechanics, grip, were often our main topics of conversation. In this particular conversation Ryan was talking about what he was seeing in his data and griping about having to enter the data and run scripts to get to the answer, when the light bulb went off… “What if we made an app? Nobody is going to do this much work to get better.”
I paused and thought about it for a moment. I had some experience writing code from college. Apple’s development flow was pretty open and cost nothing to get started. There were a ton of materials available on-line on how to develop an app. You have your phone on the golf course with you… That makes sense. I’ll write an app. That app became PocketPAR (Pocket Personal Analytics Recorder).
The early versions of PocketPAR were terrible. The user interface was awful and I didn’t yet have GPS capabilities. Effectively it was a table-based entry where you would enter shot by shot information as you played: what club did you use, how far were you before you hit the ball, how close were you after, what was your lie, etc. It would take roughly 30 seconds to enter the information for a single shot. Imagine doing that 90+ times. It was an improvement over Excel spreadsheets and scripts, but it was still too difficult. In version 2, I was able to pull in map data for courses and leverage GPS. This was huge as instead of the user having to log how far and how close, I could calculate it with GPS locations. Now the user would just tag the location of each shot. It also gave the ability to be a standard golf GPS for distances.
Over a period of 4 years, Ryan and I worked to improve the visuals and functionality. Our goal was to capture the data with minimal impact to your golf game. Fast forward to 2019 when the app got noticed by another company who reached out on a partnership. Owning the full development of the new app, I accelerated my backlog of features and capability and added new innovative features. That company believing in the vision and investing in the app pushed me to double down on my efforts. I poured my heart and soul into roughly 3 years of development and together we grew the new app to well over 150k golfers. Hundreds of thousands of rounds have been played and the app is a big success for golf analytics including winning the best golf app award for Apple Watch from NBC Sports. I learned a ton from that interaction in terms of how to run an app business, which led me to venturing out on my own and developing PAR Golf.
All these years later I'm still super passionate about helping people play better golf (including myself). I've learned what works, what doesn't, and how to simplify the message so that even the most data allergic can get something out of it. I'm building a platform. A golf app you can use on the course, use with friends, and use to practice. A golf platform that will accelerate your journey to the next stage of your golf career... So join me. Use the app. Follow me on social. Join me on YouTube. Let's play better golf.