METRO DETROIT — It used to be a faux pas to be seen checking your cellphone while playing golf, let alone having it in sight of your fellow players — a clear signal that the birds wouldn’t be the only thing chirping during this round.
But for many golfers, those days are long gone, thanks to Global Position Systems beaming straight to their smartphones.
Golf apps have taken over the fairways the past few years, giving players accurate readings of their yardages from anywhere on the course.
“Very few people play these days without some kind of range-finder or GPS,” said Charlie Beaupre, owner of Plum Brook Golf Course in Sterling Heights. “Once that technology came out, as far back as seven or eight years ago, it started.”
Beaupre said he’s had a handful of companies come out to the course over the years to take laser measurements of each hole.
That information is then used to map out the course. With the help of global satellites pinging a player’s phone, a quick calculation can be made as to distances from the front or back of the green, or even the bunker that inevitably swallows up your approach shot.
“There’s probably 30,000-40,000 golf courses that participate,” Beaupre said. “You just pull it up (on your phone; we’re right there, and away you go.”
Troy’s Sanctuary Lake Golf Course Assistant General Manager Dave Hug agreed that the days of phones being unwelcomed on the course are gone.
“I’ve been here for three years, and they are definitely prevalent. People don’t want to spend money on actual yardage guns, so they simply download the app and get the yardages that way,” he said. “Especially with the free ones, everyone that has a smart phone has it right there in the cup holder of their cart.”
The apps range in prices — from free to $30 — and in capabilities. Golfers can typically use the search option of their app to see if their home course is compatible with that particular app. Some of the more popular apps include SkyDroid, Golfshot, Swing by Swing and Executive Caddie: Golf GPS Pro.
J. William Crossman said he’s been using one for four years and that the difference in technology in the past few years is “night and day.”
“The first one I had would give you a general position where you were and how far from the middle of the green,” the Troy resident said. “It wasn’t very accurate. I remember being by a 150-yard marker and it telling me anywhere from 110 to 180 yards away.”
Now, Crossman said, his app offers much more than just yardage. It gives wind speed and direction, slopes of the greens, and offers the ability to check how far away a bunker is or the distance to carry water.
His also syncs to his home computer, giving him a read out of his shots and a map showing where he traveled on the course.
“So you’ll see the one hole where you drive it into the rough on the left, then shank it to the right, and then hit it over the green,” Crossman said with a laugh. “It just looks like a zigzag; left, right, left, right.”
Royal Oak resident Brandon Wolfe has also noticed the courses littered with phones giving back yardage readings.
“I feel like everyone but me has one at this point,” he said. “The technology has come a long way.”
Wolfe said he recently played a round with a friend who was using the technology and said he though it was a huge advantage.
“In my opinion, it just makes your misses that much better, and more often, you play better golf,” he said. “I’m also a big fan of the front and back of the green yardages. It’s the easiest way for a golfer to gain confidence and precision on the course.”
Though the apps have helped golfers with club selections, there is some debate on its overall effect on the game.
“I think that the game on a whole, pace of play is probably one of the biggest problems. That’s everywhere, and getting people to stop and check yardage every shot is doing nothing to speed that process along,” Beaupre said.
He added that when he plays, he personally prefers relying on the markers on the course.
“The way I play, if I’m 156 yards out instead of 152, it doesn’t make much difference,” he said with a laugh. “We’re a little old school when it comes down to that stuff. … I get lectured from my father all the time, ‘I don’t think Arnold Palmer ever used a range finder,’ and it’s true.”
Hug believes the apps have quickened the pace and are also helpful tools for new golfers who are still learning how far they hit each club.
“It’s not like it’s shaving a half hour off the game, but it’s shaving time off where, instead of finding a sprinkler head and pacing it off, it’s giving a number once you pull up to it,” he said.
Crossman said he mostly uses his app when he’s walking the course, admitting that his pace is slower with its use, but he believes that time can be made up by the decrease in strokes on his scorecard.
“I probably play faster when I’m not using it because I don’t take 15 seconds to check my yardage, but I do feel like when I’m using it, I play better because I’m taking it more serious and I’m more focused on the round,” he said. “It’s funny because, when I used to play before the apps came out, ‘I’m 160 yards or 140 away. Ah, it’s all about the same anyways. Chances are, I’ll hit right of the green anyhow.’”
Sports Writer Thomas Franz contributed to this story.