CGA members have access now to yardages, statistics, games and scorekeeping – with more features to come
By Susan Fornoff
I won the math award in high school, so when I started playing little golf matches with friends, I’d be the nerdy one checking the men’s and women’s conversion charts to tell everyone what would be his or her course handicap if they played this tee or that tee.
Then I’d figure out how many strokes we’d each get from the player with the lowest handicap.
Then I’d carefully pencil in the dots at the appropriate holes.
By about the third hole I’d finally be able to look up from my scorecard and start thinking about my next shot. So no wonder I’m now leading the cheering section for the USGA’s new GHIN app, which can be accessed by the phones of all members of allied golf associations, including the CGA.
Now I just tell the app where I’m playing and what game I want to play, click on the names of the three friends who are playing with/against me and select their tees. From there I just use the app to keep our scores and it does everything from there, short of playing “Celebrate” when I win.
Oh, but there’s more. Much more. And more to come. Right now I’m clicking on something called “2022 GHIN Rewind” and it’s showing me a cute little graphic starting with my preseason handicap index and ending with my (higher) postseason handicap index. In between I see how many different courses (17) and scores (53) I posted in 2022, with a big trophy celebrating my best score (88). I’m already psyched up about my 2023 GHIN Rewind!
What’s behind the app?
Naturally, it was a thrill to talk to the USGA’s GHIN app development team. Gareth Londt, the managing director for product data and information, had a 3.8 handicap index when we talked, and Ainsley Kuppler, director of product for GHIN, was a 40. From both ends of the golf spectrum, they agree that all the fun starts with a golfer’s index.
“People shouldn’t be defensive about their handicaps,” Gareth says. “As long as you play quickly and follow some sort of etiquette, you can play with anybody, and your handicap makes that a little bit more achievable. It’s not just for the good players.”
“So many people think that you need a handicap index only for tournaments,” Ainsley says. “What’s been eye-opening has been tying my index into the app and using it so I can play with other people. It’s so much more welcoming. By using technology, we can all play together. I’m trying to get better, but most of the people I play with now are teen handicaps, and this allows us to go out and have fair games.”
Ainsley said she hasn’t won yet, but has tied, which is something that often happens with accurate course handicaps. Those are courtesy of GHIN – pronounced like the botanical adult spirit and short for Golf Handicap and Information Network.
We used to have to go into the golf shop after our rounds and post our scores at what the USGA calls a “kiosk.” Then in the 2010s we started using our phones to post. In 2020, the newly developed GHIN app put the kibosh on the kiosk and became the score-posting device of choice.
Thank Gareth and his team for that.
“It was an endeavor of four or five years to modernize the technology stack from the ground up,” he says. “We interviewed and surveyed golfers. We get ratings. We take all that feedback we hear from the marketplace to build in the features and functionality.”
Cool features every year
Londt gives Covid’s early no-touch policies some credit for turning 88 percent of us into app score posters, with 23 percent entering hole-by-hole along with details about our drives, greens in regulation and putts. He says the other most popular features are the built-in course GPS and the handicap lookup, where I can see that Kevin Costner hasn’t been posting many scores at his home course, Birnam Wood Golf Club in Santa Barbara, but Justin Timberlake is maintaining a 2.4 at Lakeside Golf Club in L.A.
“We pride ourselves in that each year we will launch two to six new features, based on feedback from our golfers, our clubs and our allied golf associations,” says Gareth. “GPS was the first one we’ve added. Now we have an Apple smartwatch application that syncs seamlessly with the GHIN mobile app, so you don’t even need to have your phone with you to keep score and track your stats.”
The stat-tracking, with reports showing percentages and bar graphs, can now show players what part of their game needs work. Gareth says it even helps players know how to shop.
“They can look at their data and now know they’re hitting their tee shots left,” he says. “And now they can get a fitting and a new driver to help with that.”
The developers say they’re careful, however, not to overload the app so that we’re staring at our phones constantly during our rounds. The USGA encourages players to care about pace of play, which Gareth says should actually improve once we get comfortable entering scores and stats in the app rather than on pieces of cardboard.
Which brings us to the “Games” feature, introduced at the end of 2022, which sets up matches for us and calculates the strokes. There will, say the developers, be more games for us to play in the future, but only games that relate to score posting, such as Stableford. “No Bingo Bango Bongo,” Gareth says. Remember, this is the USGA we’re talking about.
More features in the works
What’s ahead for 2023? Look for a fun friending feature, so that when we meet someone new on the course, we can add them to our list and follow their rounds. And, I mean, follow them in real time.
“So if Susan goes out and starts a round with Ainsley, I can see you guys playing at Watchung Valley here in New Jersey,” Gareth says.
I was thinking it would be nice to play with Kevin Costner, but, OK, Ainsley you’re on! Gareth and his 3.8 are home on the couch today, but, he says, “Now I have some reactions through emoji icons or something fun and engaging… It almost makes me part of the experience, even though I’m not there.”
Also in the works this year: limited GHIN app access for players who don’t have a GHIN number yet. It’ll be a marketing tease for the full features players will get when they join the CGA and other allied golf associations.
The CGA has enhanced the app this year for Colorado members by compiling a detailed calendar of events, seminars and tournaments. There’s a link to go to coloradogolf.org, so you can read this article from the app. And the @cologolf Twitter feed opens right there in the GHIN app, without ads and clutter!
I can already tell I’m going to spend the $39.95 for the “enhanced GPS,” which will give me approach heat maps of greens, putt break maps, and tracking of all of my many shots. Oh look, I can just click on the “upgrade” button here in the app. Done!
Too much information? In this game, can there be such a thing?
If you don’t have a GHIN number yet, sign up for an eClub membership and the CGA will get you set up. Or, join one of the CGA’s 500-plus affiliates around the state.
Veteran journalist Susan Fornoff has written about golf for publications including the San Francisco Chronicle, ColoradoBiz magazine and her own GottaGoGolf.com. She became a CGA member when she moved from Oakland, CA, to Littleton in 2016, and ghost-writes as “Molly McMulligan,” the CGA’s on-course consultant on golf for fun. Email her at email@example.com.