On Saturday, Sept. 23, Fairbanks Ranch Country Club installed its first robot golf club member.
The Rob-OT uses artificial intelligence capabilities to give golfers the opportunity to improve their games and assist in equipment fitting in addition to playing a course itself—it can get out of bunkers, putt and hit any imaginable tee shot, including a hole-in-one.
Rob-OT is considered "the most accurate golfer in the world" and the first robot capable of going out onto the golf course. All major golf product manufacturers use the robots for testing –the US Golf Association also has two for qualifying equipment, as does the European golf body R&A.
At the Fairbanks Ranch event, the Rob-OT analyzed swings, went up against human members in a hole-in-one contest and participated in a kids' clinic alongside Rancho Santa Fe's Dean Reinmuth, a PGA Tour instructor and Sean Dynes, co-creator of the Rob-OT.
The Rob-OT couldn't find a better playing partner than Reinmuth, who has been playing golf since he was 5 years old, "By the time I was 9, that was all I wanted to do," he said.
Growing up outside of Chicago, the weather wasn't always conducive to playing so he often practiced by putting on his bedroom floor and chipping into his bed. His first job was as a caddie at the Naperville Country Club in Illinois, working his way to groundskeeper and working in the pro shop.
He then played professionally, touring the world for eight years on the competitive circuit before turning his attention to being a golf instructor, finding success with top-ranked junior players in San Diego. He started coaching a promising young golfer named Phil Mickelson when he was just 13 years old and he continued to coach the PGA pro though his high school and college ranks. Reinmuth is now recognized as one of the top instructors in the country and works with players on the PGA, LPGA , European Tour, Nationwide Tour as well as the Senior and Canadian tours.
Reinmuth's long career in golf also includes helping to start the Golf Channel in 1994 as one of its original TV personalities, founding the San Diego Golf Academy and working at the Crosby National.
While Dynes helped create the first golf robot, he has never truly played the game.The mechanical engineer started his company Dynes Unlimited Products 25 years ago, specializing in custom robotics and software development. Dynes partnered with Gene Parente of Golf Laboratories Inc to create the robot that has become the go-to device in the industry for testing clubs and balls.
The Rob-OT was designed for product development with its ability to test equipment with consistency that no human could possibly achieve—pounding golf ball after golf ball, hitting the same spot so frequently that it wore out the netting that manufacturers used and they had to switch to a Kevlar product.
Eventually they came up with the idea to create a mobile version.
"When people toured the golf club companies, the robot always was the highlight of the tour," Dynes said. "We had the idea to get one of the robots out on the course; it would be a lot of fun for him to play rounds of golf and take on humans."
"That was so much fun," Dynes said of the shot that sent the crowd of thousands into a frenzy. "It was like being a rock star."
The Rob-OT went on to compete in skills competitions against Japanese golfer Shingo Katayama and Rory McIlroy—the Rob-OT even teased McElroy about his endorsement deals and caused him to burst into laughter.
The longest drive Rob-OT has hit is 380 yards—the longest hitting PGA pro is Bubba Watson, who averages 313 yards. To hit like Bubba consistently, Dynes said they would have to bolt the robot down so he doesn't "swing out of his shoes".
Reinmuth was brought in to see how the Rob-OT could be utilized as more than just an entertainment vehicle but as an educational tool—he saw the potential the robot could have in instruction.
Reinmuth has coached his whole career based on simple physics, his "swing shaping" system focuses on making slight adjustments to the golfer's own natural swings as opposed to completely changing it.
"Your swing is like your fingerprint, it's unique to you," Reinmuth said.
Where the Rob-OT can make a difference, Reinmuth said, is that it can be programmed with the characteristics of a player's swing and demonstrate the physics necessary to consistently hit good shots, increase accuracy and distance.
"For me as a coach, it takes some of the mystique out of it," Reinmuth said. "It shows all swings can be successful…You can improve your game."
By analyzing a golfer's "swing fingerprint," the robot can also help figure out what golf equipment best suits your swing for optimal performance.
The players that have worked with the Rob-OT have seen immediate results and are impressed with the information it provides—Dynes said it is exciting to get the robot out onto the greens and provide learning opportunities for players of all ages.
The kids clinics are especially fun and engaging, "The best education comes when teachers can get kids excited," Reinmuth said, who sees the robot as being an ambassador for the sport.
Working with the kids, Dynes sees himself as being a bit of an ambassador for STEM as well.
"As an engineer, I love robotics and physics. This event shows kids the different kinds of careers you can have in golf besides just being a pro-golfer," Dynes said. "I think I have more fun than Tiger."
A video about Rob-OT can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbyYpJdvvAc