AURORA, Ore. — As we approach the fifth hole at Langdon Farms, one of my playing partners asks me if I work for Intel. I do a quick scan of my shirt, my shorts, my shoes, and my golf bag. Nothing screams “I work for Intel,” which employs more than 17,000 people in Oregon.
“Why do you say that?” I ask.
“You’ve got that black thing on your wrist,” he responds.
Ah, yes. The Microsoft Band.
Last month during the U.S. Open, Microsoft announced that its Microsoft Band wearable fitness device would include new golf tracking features as part of an exclusive partnership with TaylorMade Golf. The functionality went live through a software update this past week.
The new addition enables the Band to measure yardage, tally shots, record scores, and get the heart rate, step and calorie tracking that already comes with the Band.
I don’t normally wear a watch or fitness tracker, but decided to give the Microsoft Band a try as I hit the links this week.
After two rounds and 36 holes with the Band, I’m still skeptical that the device can improve my golf game or experience — perhaps fewer 3-putts will do the trick — but I see potential.
My first few holes with the Band were not enjoyable. I did spend a few minutes reading the rather lengthly FAQ page for the new golf tracking feature before I arrived at the course, but felt flustered and confused as I prepared to hit my first shot.
How do I bring up the yardage? Where do I see my scores? How do I fix an error the device made?
These questions, I found later, had rather simple answers. But when you step on to a golf course, tinkering with technology probably isn’t the best thing to do during a game that tests you mentally more so than physically.
I didn’t know if the Band was recording my shots and couldn’t figure out how to check the distance to the green. (It turns out that pressing the ‘action’ button to the lower right of the Band display is the trick for showing yardage.) I triple-bogeyed the first hole and was ready to put the Band away, blaming the device for my poor play.
But I stuck with it, and strapped the Band on again the next day for another 18 holes. After getting over the initial learning curve, I’m actually looking forward to wearing the Band for my future rounds.
Here are some quick initial thoughts:
- Shot tracking is good, but not perfect. The Band uses a timer and motion sensors to group swings together — this lets you take practice swings before your actual shot without adding to your actual stroke count. But on one hole, the device said I recorded a 0, and on another, it said I had a 6 when I actually made a 4. This happened more than twice. For example, the Band recorded an 86 for me at Langdon Farms when I actually shot a 90. Recording putts also seemed spotty. However, I eventually found that it’s fairly easy to manually add or subtract strokes when you finish a hole by swiping to the left or right on the Band, so it isn’t much of a nuisance once you learn the functionality.
- Yardage measurements were accurate. The Band uses TaylorMade’s course data — which does not yet include every course — to detect how far you are to the front, middle, and back of a green from wherever you are standing on a given hole. For the most part, this data was accurate when I checked it against the physical yardage markers on the course. It’s particularly useful when you’ve hit an errant shot and aren’t close to said markers, or want to aim at the front, center, or back of a green.
- It doesn’t really get in the way. There were a few times where I had to readjust the Band or push it higher on my wrist when addressing the ball, but the device itself shouldn’t really interfere with your swing.
- Turn off your phone, text, and email notifications. Sure, it’s nice to have these notifications when you’re off the course. But you don’t want the Band buzzing as you prepare to hit a shot. It’s distracting.
- Learning how to use the Band takes time. This is especially true if you’ve never used a golf-tracking app or wearable device while playing. Not only does the physical aspect of the Band take getting used to, but knowing how to read yardages and fix scoring mistakes will take a few rounds to master.
My favorite part of this technology is, by far, the data analysis that Microsoft spits out after your round. Check out what’s available on the Microsoft Health mobile app and web dashboard, which shows hole-by-hole data, as well as stats from the entire round. These are stats from each of my two rounds. (Click the arrows to see all of the screenshots).
As you can see, the Band’s stats are certainly a far cry from the traditional scorecard:
While the data is fun to look at when your round is over, it doesn’t really provide much value as far as improving one’s golf game. Sure, it’s cool to see how many steps I took on the front nine or my longest drive of the day, but does that really help lower my score?
But here’s what I’m excited about. TaylorMade will soon provide a more detailed analysis of a given round, including stats like fairways hit and greens in regulation, proximity to the hole, strokes gained, as well as scatter charts and heat maps of your shots. There will also be stat breakdowns by club, so golfers can see how far they are hitting each shot. This is data that professionals regularly access and analyze, but it’s rarely available to people like you and me unless recorded manually.
Microsoft and TaylorMade certainly are not the only companies that sell wearable technology for golfers. Garmin, Bushnell, TomTom, and others have comparable devices that you can use on the course.
But these back-end analytics and the actionable insights are where the Band can set itself apart. On top of the other benefits the Band offers, like fitness tracking and notifications for calls, texts, emails, and social media, being able to measure your golf game makes the device that much more appealing.
If TaylorMade provides this additional analysis and adds more courses to its MyRoundPro platform, and Microsoft ensures that its Band hardware and software operate as seamlessly as possible, I’m sure at least some of the 80 million golfers around the world will find this new technology appealing.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that the Microsoft Band uses its own built-in GPS for yardage measurements.