A brand-new golf app could change how you play the game

GolfNow Compete, developed with input from Rory McIlroy, offers GPS yardages, hole maps, multiple games to play and a place to fire up your friendly, competitive juices.
Rory McIlroy helped to develop GolfNow Compete for all levels of golfers.

SAN JOSE, Calif. - I've always felt like a choker - never a closer - on the golf course.

Maybe that will change now that I'm using GolfNow Compete, a new app that just might impact how you and I play and enjoy the game with our friends. GolfNow Compete launched in May with an introductory press conference by GolfPass co-founder Rory McIlroy, who was consulted throughout the app's development over several years.

"I think one of our big things starting off is: 'How can we make recreational golf more fun for people?'" McIlroy said. "How can we make it fun through competition and trying to bring that into the 21st century through technology and all the digital innovations that we've seen? So, yeah, I love the game of golf, but what I love more than anything else is competing at the game. And I just wanted to try to bring that level of competition to the recreational golfer."

I recently tested GolfNow Compete for the first time by setting up a friendly Stableford competition, the inaugural "GolfPass Brawl", with two GolfPass teammates, Tim Gavrich and Drake Dunaway. I've always been a casual player with a middling handicap, but my first experience battling two former college players was a blast. Even though I live more than 2,500 miles from my Florida-based comrades, the Brawl brought out the best, and worst, in my game. I felt the same nerves and pressure as if we were playing together.

Dunaway and I ended up tied for the title with 33 Stableford points, just nudging out the 32 posted by Gavrich. If you're not familiar with Stableford, every golfer gets three points for birdie, two for par and one for bogey (we played with handicaps). At the end of the round, the highest point total wins.

After 14 holes at the San Jose Municipal Golf Course, I made the mistake of analyzing the leaderboard to see how many points I needed to win. Rookie move. I proceeded to make my first double of the day at no. 15, followed by a sloppy bogey. My choking would have made Johnny Miller cringe. Then, magically, a birdie on no. 17 and a clutch, twisting 12-foot par putt on the final hole led to the tie. I fist-pumped like I had just won The Masters.

Funny thing was, Dunaway or Gavrich had no idea I'd just capped off an improbable rally. That's the beauty of GolfNow Compete. You can square off against your buddies anytime, anywhere. We each played different courses on different days and, yet, our handicaps and GolfNow Compete's scoring functionality made keeping track of the leaderboard simple and fun. We're already prepping for a rematch to see who ultimately prevails.

The first GolfPass Brawl using GolfNow Compete featured a crowded leaderboard.

How GolfNow Compete Works

Goal number one in the development of GolfNow Compete was to create social competitive play for small groups, offering the most popular games and formats for up to eight players. In addition to obvious competitions like Stroke Play and Stableford, GolfNow Compete offers new multi-level games with names like Pentagon, Hexagon and Octagon. These allow golfers to compete in five, six or eight games within a single round of golf. The app technology automatically tracks scores and does the necessary calculations, generating a live leaderboard. All you have to do is enter your hole scores.

For example, Pentagon features five games in one, posting leaderboards for the group for holes 1-6, 7-12 and 13-18, as well as for the par 3s and par 5s. To play these more complex games, golfers need to be playing the same course at the same time. I plan on testing it with some friends this weekend. With all these extra games within a single round, there's always time for the epic comeback like I pulled off in the Brawl. A competitor can always recover from a bad stretch of holes because there's always a game-within-the-game to try and win.

A virtual wagering component in the app lets golfers raise the stakes in the classic or multi-games formats. Golfers only need to set their virtual wager units, play the round and enter their scores. The app calculates the winners.

The ability to manage formal competitions is another important feature. GolfNow Compete handles everything from registration and live leaderboards to determining the final standings. This function is great for charities, golf courses and community leagues that want to host a competition. There’s also a web companion that allows users to set up and manage competitions and display live leaderboards on any device. 

“Golf has always been a sport where we love to put a little skin in the game, if only for bragging rights,” NBC Sports Next (parent company of GolfNow and GolfPass) Executive Vice President Will McIntosh said. “GolfNow Compete offers everything a golfer needs to make a round of golf more enjoyable, but also adds a little flavor with games that create more fun and excitement. Even if you’re the new or beginner golfer in your group, with the games offered by Compete, you’re never out of it.”

Tips On How To Get Started

Getting started in GolfNow Compete is easy, even for less tech-savvy golfers like myself. Simply download the free app from the app store on any iOS/Android device or at this link. After creating an account, any golfer can host a competition or play a solo round just to use the app's GPS capabilities or score-tracking components.

For golfers who want to experience a "tournament", they can make that competition open to everyone on the app or keep it invitation-only where only people they know can join. Setting the tournament time frame anywhere from one day to one month allows flexibility about when and where people play. When competing, however, it's critical that every golfer posts scores while they're at the golf course, ideally hole by hole during the round, but at the very least, at the end of the round before leaving the property.

The GPS component shares aerial views of each hole and yardages at more than 30,000 courses around the world, as well as sharing other key numbers like wind speed and direction. I've played "Muni" many times, so I didn't use the hole overviews much. When I used my rangefinder to shoot yardages to flags, I found the distances displayed on the app to be very comparable.

The GolfNow Compete app gives golfers an aerial view of the hole complete with yardage to the green, wind direction, elevation and more.

Tracking stats is also a nice feature. Golfers can record how many putts they hit, if they missed the fairway right or left and other simple data points that the app compiles and analyzes with graphics and pie charts. What percentage of fairways are you hitting? Scoring every round in the app could really help track some of your game's trends, good or bad.

Posting scores on your phone after every hole during competition might take some getting used to, but it wasn't too hard or distracting, a key point McIlroy said he emphasized during the app's development. It doesn't get in the way, unless you're a fool like me who's watching the leaderboard too early in the round.

McIlroy said he's been competing since he was small, growing up in Northern Ireland. This app fits everything he's ever learned about the game from the very start.

"My first memories of competing on the golf course are with my dad," he recalled. "We would go out and play a few holes and he would set these targets for me. So, the 1st hole at Holywood's (Holywood Golf Club) a par 4 and he probably made it a par 6 for me. And then the 2nd hole at Holywood's another par 4. We probably made it a par 6, so whether this was by design or not, or just by accident, but from a very young age I was very used to being under par. … I was probably three or four years old at that point, so I've been competing at this game for a long time. I've sort of learned quite a bit about it and it's been nice to try to put some of that knowledge into this GolfNow Compete app."

Want to ultimately compete against Rory? It won't happen on the PGA TOUR, but it just might by downloading the app, using it and bringing a few friends along for the ride.

"The best is yet to come," McIntosh said. "We're going to find very innovative ways to reward this audience for using the app. We've explored the idea with Rory of him hosting a competition every year for the most avid users of the app, which we think would be a really cool thing to reward our best members."

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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A brand-new golf app could change how you play the game