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Caddies are trying to make a comeback — albeit in a virtual way.

Arccos, a Stamford, Conn.-based startup that builds golf-shot tracking technology, today announced a new product in partnership with Microsoft that aims to help golfers score better on the course.

Called Arccos Caddie, the new software is built into Arccos 360, the company’s mobile app that pairs with sensors attached to the butt of a club grip and tracks each shot during a round while providing GPS-powered yardage information.

Arccos Caddie takes the app up another level with artificial intelligence and machine learning from Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform and Azure Machine Learning.

The new feature, which will be announced later today at Microsoft’s annual Build developers conference in Seattle, crunches an assortment of data — from your own past rounds, to the 61 million shots hit by the Arccos community and 386 million geotagged data points from 40,000 courses — to provide advice on a given shot, much like a caddie would. It also analyzes elevation data, wind speed, precipitation, temperature, and more.

For example, say you’re standing on the tee box on a hole at your home course. Arccos Caddie will crunch both your previous round history — your tendencies to hit left or right, your average shot distance, etc. — with the course condition information to give you advice for the optimal shot recommendation. Maybe you think your driver can carry the water and land on a narrow fairway, but the Arccos Caddie may tell you otherwise.

The idea is to provide golfers with data-driven advice on every shot in less than five seconds. It’s similar to having a caddie at your side, much like PGA Tour pros do, but in virtual form and perhaps even more efficiently than what a human could do.

“Caddies were an essential part of the golfing experience, but now only 3 percent of rounds are played with them,” Arccos CEO Sal Syed told GeekWire. “We are bringing back this concept of a caddie in a machine learning, artificial intelligence form.”

Arccos CEO Sal Syed. Photo via Arccos.

Microsoft became Arccos’ official cloud partner in January and now we’re seeing the fruits of that partnership. Syed said the idea for Arccos Caddie partly came about after Microsoft organized a hackathon with PGA Tour pro Bryson DeChambeau and Arccos’ engineers hacked together what ultimately turned into the new feature.

“Arccos Caddie is the first platform in sports that truly harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to help players make smarter decisions” Microsoft Sports Principal Evangelist Mike Downey said in a statement. “Through the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, Arccos Caddie instantly digests unique data sets and delivers actionable advice to any golfer, from beginners to pros seeking to make the PGA TOUR.”

As a golfer myself, I find it a bit troublesome to take out my smartphone for each shot. Syed and his team know this — “golfers are not out there to collect data; they are out there to have fun,” he said — but believe that the value delivered from the app outweighs a behavior change required.

“Pulling out your phone and getting a recommendation in three seconds is much less annoying than figuring out the wind, elevation, and other changes on your own,” he said. “Once you start doing it in three seconds, it becomes natural.”

Syed said golf is ripe for innovation in regard to data analysis because there are always constants: the starting location of the ball, and the ending location. Not only can Arccos Caddie help golfers on the course, but the data collected and analyzed after the round is just as valuable to show users where they need to improve the most. Syed said Arccos users improve 36X faster than the average golfer and shave 2.77 shots off their average score per season.

“We are able to isolate the weakest point in your game and break it down,” he explained.

Syed envisions a future where sensors are built into every club — Arccos is already doing this with Cobra — and a golf industry that utilizes technology in a much broader way than today. For example, he said internet-connected sensors on each club can help improve pace of play problems, course maintenance, and more.

“It’ll be a completely different experience in terms of making the game better, faster, more fun, more affordable, and a better experience overall,” Syed said.

Arccos Caddie will officially launch on May 22 and is available on a subscription basis to those who have played at least five rounds with Arccos’ 360 system, which retails for $250. Arccos is making the caddie feature available for free from May 22 through the end of the month.

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