Grober scores hole in one with sonic club

While the men and women’s golf teams are chock full of talented and proven players, the Yalie who might have the greatest impact in the golf world works in the Physics Department.

Physics professor and avid golfer Robert Grober has developed an electronic golf club, aptly named the Sonic Golf, that uses an audio response system to allow golfers to better understand the natures of their swings and how to improve their rhythm, tempo and consistency.

“Everyone who plays golf understands that knowing how to perceive what he or she is doing is one of the most difficult parts of the game,” Grober said. “If you can give them a way to understand what they’re doing when they’re doing it, it will naturally better their game.”

Grober said the biggest obstacle for most golfers in understanding their swings is limits of proprioception — the sense of the position of parts of the body relative to other neighboring body parts. Because golfers cannot see the position of the club and their body while swinging, it is difficult for them to pinpoint imperfections in their swing. Grober said the Sonic Golf remedies this problem by tapping into the ear’s capacity for pattern recognition.

“It’s hard to know where our body is [during the swing],” he said. “But if we can give [golfers] another external input, we can enhance this knowledge. It’s amazing all the different things you can hear in your swing but can’t see. [By producing different sounds] the club is a tempo trainer and allows people to change their swing by simply adjusting to this ‘audio soundscape.’”

The Sonic Golf contains a motion sensor — the same as those used in air-bag deployment — in the shaft of the club. The club then takes the signal from the sensor and converts it into a sound dependent on the velocity and power of the swing. The slower and lighter a swing, the lower the sound, and fast, powerful swings produce a high crescendo pitch. Grober said this real-time “soundscape” is a more intuitive approach to understanding one’s swing.

But the Sonic Golf Club is not limited to the audio response system. The club has a wireless data link both to headphones and a computer. As the golfer swings, data is also collected by the computer, which then displays statistics including the duration of the backswing and downswing, force of the release and swing–to–swing reproducibility.

Grober traces his company Sonic Golf LLC to his days working at the AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1992. From that time on, and through his time at Yale, he has been tinkering with electronics and golf clubs.

Recently, Grober has met with the Yale women’s golf team. Team member Carmen Zimmer ’07 said the Sonic Golf Club can help golfers make the jump from good to great.

“The biggest problem [golfers face] is consistency,” she said. “A great golfer is able to more consistently hit solid, on-target shots than a good golfer. This product directly addresses that problem by producing graphs and ‘swing tones’ of the speed and tempo of a golfer’s various backswing-downswing patterns.”

Captain Lauren Ressler ’06 said perfecting one’s tempo is key to excelling on the links.

“Better tempo is something that could benefit most people, especially during competition,” Ressler said. “It is one thing to be relaxed on the practice tee, but another out on the golf course.”

Coach Mary Moan expressed interest in regularly including the Sonic Golf into the team’s practices, but said administrative issues with NCAA regulations could hinder the devices’ implementation.

But Grober’s plans to promote his product have not stopped in New Haven. With a working prototype already in place, Grober has been touring golf courses and tournaments from New England to Hawaii, demonstrating his club. Grober said he has met with several golf pros and put on several clinics in places such as Maui and Pinehurst, N.C. He said this is a good start but plans to expand his promotional efforts.

“I am currently on leave at Yale, and it has enabled me to take this all over the place,” Grober said. “Right now we’re focused on offering clinics and trying to raise $2 million to develop these prototypes into marketable products. The product would include an insert that slides in the back of most any club, enabling sonifcation of the swing.”

Grober has already received national attention, including an article in an upcoming issue of Golf Digest Magazine. He said his primary short-term goal is to get his product into the PGA’s 2006 Merchandising Show.

“I would like to see it marketed through golf instructors, as it seems to be most valuable when used in conjunction with instruction from a professional golf instructor,” Grober said. “The club links the golfer and the instructor together, forming a much better line of communication.”

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