In the coming years, it will be decided which system (radar or infrared cameras) will prevail in the measurement of golf shots.
Years ago, when they began to explore the exact flight curve of the golf ball, they immediately thought of the proven radar system. Thus, the flight of a golf ball should and could be tracked and measured exactly. This was only logical, because there was already enough positive experience with radar in many areas. The companies Trackman and Flightscope are the pioneers and best-known examples of radar-based golf ball flight tracking systems.
These devices were primarily used outdoors or in relatively large halls.
Then indoor golf simulators came onto the market. These are only 5 to 6 meters long and then the ball bounces against a screen. Thus, it is not possible to track the entire flight. Trugolf tried – quite successfully – with sensors embedded in the ground and microphones on the screen to measure the first meters of the ball flight and to calculate the rest – based on the initial data.
Golf simulators became more and more attractive and with them new vendors and new technologies came onto the market. Most of them used infrared cameras that recorded the first part of the ball flight at high speed (500 to 3,500 frames per second). With the help of image processing software, the entire flight curve was then calculated.
A big advantage of this technology is that you can see not only the ball, but also the golf club in the swing and this data is included in the calculation of today's systems. The good systems that use this technology have reached a quality standard that they can no longer be ignored even by golf professionals.
On the driving range, the radar system has the advantage that it can measure the actual flight very accurately. However, the system does not know which weather conditions prevail at a height of 30 meters and influence the ball flight. This makes it difficult to put the ratio of the golf swing and ball flight into a correct (weather-independent) result. This circumstance is partially compensated by entering the estimated weather data into the system and mathematically correcting the actual flight curve by these parameters.
The camera-based systems cannot measure the real flight at all, because they only know the data of the swing and a very short distance of the ball flight. Everything else will be calculated. This means that the golfer knows – regardless of weather conditions – that he can create exactly this ball flight with exactly this golf swing.
The camera systems also have the advantage that they are in a better position to the ball; right next to it or indoors diagonally above. Radar systems are always behind the ball on the ground. Furthermore most portable camera based devices come with a small display, showing the most relevant data of every shot. You do not need a link to an external device (smartphone or tablet), which makes the handling very simple.
What should the professionals on the PGA Tour do now, use the radar-based system from Trackman or the 4-camera equipped GC Quad from Foresight Sports? If you watch a big golf tournament on a practice day, you can see how the caddies carry the respective tracking system. Some still use one, some already the other and very often the caddies are on their way with both systems for one player. They just want to use the advantages of both technologies simultaneously.
For some time now, Trackman has also installed an infrared camera in addition to radar. There must be a reason for this.
Furthermore, Trackman has entered into an agreement with Titleist that Titleist produces golf balls with RCT (Radar Capture Technology). RCT golf balls have a kind of radar reflector built in, so that you can also determine the backspin with the radar system and thus have more precise data for the calculation of the trajectory. For many years, normal golf balls were good enough, since 2022 everything has changed. RCT balls are recommended by the manufacturers, in particular Trackman and Garmin.
With the exception of the Garmin Aproach R10 and the Fullswing KIT, all launch monitors that have been released in recent years use IR camera technology. Inside a Golf Simulator Fullswing is using only IR cameras. There must be a reason for all of that.
For me, as someone who observes the scene but is not necessarily a technician, this already indicates in which direction it should go in the future. Personally, I would therefore rather bet on camera systems. There may be other opinions, but I'll stick to mine for now.