First off, apologies that this is a lot later than I had intended, life sometimes has its ways of getting in the way, and it has done so to great effect over the last number of months.
(Photos will be added to this post later)
I need to say a huge Thank you to Skytrak golf for loaning me a unit for use in my Ben Hogan Ft. Worth review for this site previously, and this will now comprise my thoughts on the unit itself.
I intend to stage this the same as we would for our other reviews, so there will be a Stage One introduction, a Stage Two with the full report and then some space for updated thoughts over time.
So, without further delay:
I have been playing golf for slowly coming on towards three years now. If you want a more thorough overview, then you can read it in my Ft. Worth Black review (here), which was also the initial spawn to this review.
I am a self-taught golfer who wants to get as close to scratch (or beyond) as he can through a personal understanding of the game. I want to see if I can get myself there, ideally, so am intentionally working without a coach.
I have a background in sports, while I have always worked in technical fields with a particular interest in knowing subjects inside out. This was one of the initial draws of golf for me.
Golf is a sport, more than most, where performance can be improved significantly through the understanding of the physics and movements involved. You, a ball and a target, you have as much control over all of the input factors as you can in almost any sport, so learn the concept, learn the physics, and you should be pretty close to the game.
Why a launch monitor
Data. It really is that simple.
You can improve over time just by hitting balls on a range.
You can improve just by playing the game on a course.
Ultimately, though, there will be a limit to how quickly you can improve and even just how far you can improve if you’re eye-balling everything or beholden to the elements and the effect of chance found of a golf course.
To qualify that last statement, you can never control every element of a golf course: There is wind; you will get odd bounces; many courses the greens won’t run consistently. To this end, the aim should always be to minimise the random effects that are a factor in your game.
As Tiger Woods once said, on tour everyone’s A-game is incredible, they don’t work much to improve their best, they work to minimise their miss, to bring their worst up as close as possible to their best.
This applies equally to the amateur golfer, if not even more so. Many of us are capable of occasionally hitting the perfect shot, and we don’t need to be able to achieve much more than we are already capable of. What we need to do is get to the point where we can regularly perform at or near our best shots, rather than only seeing them occasionally.
It’s all well and good focusing on improving your swing speed, for example, but if your club-face contact is still tremendously random, then you’re not getting the benefit. Who really wants one 300+ yard drive down the centre, followed by two of 215 yards and well off the fairway?
What we should be aiming for is not adding 10 yards to your 7-iron, it’s reducing the radius of your 7-iron shot distribution and getting a consistent level of spin, so you know what the ball will do both in the air and when it lands. That is where we actually pick up our shots, knowing that our “bad” will still always have a chance of being recoverable and that our worst doesn’t come along too often.
Types of launch monitor
These days there are a lot of options in the launch monitor field, with a range of technologies and a wide variety of price ranges.
The core technologies are optical or radar-based ball tracking.
At the lower end of the market, price-wise, are options like the Opti-shot, which is not so much a “launch monitor” as a “launch conditions monitor” as it takes its reading from the club passing over an optical sensor rather than the ball.
Also at this end of the market are radar-based systems like the Ernest Sports ES12/14 units, the Flightscope Mevo and the SwingCaddy SC series. These are not “equal” units, but they utilise similar technologies, short-range Doppler radar to watch the first meters of ball flight and use information such as the ball speed, the launch angle and the club (you have told the system) you used to calculate probable spin, carry and total distances.
Most of these units should fall well into the potential budget of most amateur golfers and can certainly add some useful information for consistent practice, taking out some of the random factors and giving you consistent data to work against as you try to improve your game.
At the top end of the market are units like the Trackman devices, using multiple Doppler radar inputs to watch the full flight of the ball from launch to landing and also the club through the swing. It still calculates ball spin, but the volume of input and the full flight of the ball give better data points to allow for significantly more accuracy than the products at the lower end of the market.
There are also options like the Foresight GC2 and GCQuad, based on optical technologies. The GC2 with an HMT device added, and the GCQuad natively watch the ball at the point of contact, they see the launch speed of the ball, the launch angle and can read the spin rate of the ball at launch along with all of the club head data.
With both sets of devices, you get all of the information you need to be able to fine-tune your swing, knowing what the ball did, what your club did at impact and giving you plenty of information on how to change impact to provide the result you want.
There is a differentiation here in what you do get, though. The Trackman device should give you a very accurate recreation of what happened to your ball if you hit it down a full range, including the environmental effects on the ball. The GC devices will give you a recreation of what would happen to the ball in neutral conditions (or whatever conditions you have set for the system and software) regardless of external factors such as wind, but for this reason, the ball flight on screen and that you see in real life may not perfectly match.
There is an argument to be made here that purely for practice purposes the optical device potentially holds an advantage as it eliminates external factors allowing you to ignore things like wind, which continually changes and to know the spin-rate recorded is real and not estimated.
These devices, however, are costly, running into five-figures often even in reconditioned form.
Incredible units, they are, but they are out of the budget of most amateurs and really belong in coaching bays of local professionals.
Skytrak holds the middle ground in the launch monitor space.
An optical unit, offering the same approach to ball tracking as the Foresight GC units at a price far closer to an amateur’s budget.
The Skytrak promises accurate launch data to give a full-flight representation with close to Premium unit accuracy for a fraction of the price, along with the ability to be used as a full gaming simulator.
What Skytrak does not offer, that is available either as standard or an add-on to the premium units, is club-head data 1
What you should get is everything you need to be able to tune your practice towards achieving specific ball outcomes along with the option to create a home simulator to play full rounds of golf.
The ability to focus your practice on specific outcomes should improve practice efficiency significantly
There is one key point worth noting, however.
Skytrak requires a subscription for all but the most fundamental aspects of the device, so if you want anything more than a straight driving range, there is a yearly cost associated.
1 With the addition of a SkyPro device, which straps to the shaft of your club, it is possible to add club data for a more complete dataset.
The Skytrak unit comes in a very tidy, neat little box.
To be honest, there isn’t a great deal to it, what you get are the Skytrak device itself and a charging cable.
Additionally, you can have a protective case (included here) which has adjustable feet to change the height and levelling of the device and a stick on spirit level (which is quite useful for ensuring the thing is flat, so your data is accurate)
It’s a little hard to judge the unit on first impressions. It’s a neat, small box. The plastic finish is possible a little “cheap” for what the unit costs, but at the same time we need to keep one eye on the fact that we’re paying for what is inside and if it matches up to its claims of accuracy then the unit is cheap compared to its very high-end competitors.
Setup is simple: Charge the unit and download the app while you wait (this exists for Desktop computers, Android and iOS), then create yourself an account. Once the system is charged, you have the app and a valid login you’re headed to your hitting space.
Get the unit parallel to your strike area, turn it on and pair it to your device. The Skytrak has a built-in Wifi hotspot that you can connect to with your device of choice for a direct connection, you can use a USB cable for a physical connection, or finally, you can join the device to your Wifi and then connect to the unit via your home/local network.
Once the device is in place, turned on and you are connected to it you’re down to picking the mode you want to use and getting swinging, but I’ll leave the rest of this to the full review.
The provided software looks very much like an app, it’s easy to navigate, and if you go for the full practice package, then there are some handy looking tools available to you.
The first impressions overall are good. It would have been a boon for the unit to have a slightly more premium appearance for a device that costs more than a good laptop, but the setup and what is on offer as a unit can justify the price if it performs as promised.
A first run through the software and some practice strokes are enough to entice further testing, so let’s take some time and put this thing through its paces.