Is Sportsbox AI leading golf’s next technological revolution?

Initial 3D app connects golf coaches, students, while the new consumer practice app benefits the DIY crowd

Former golf writer, broadcaster and blogger Stephanie Wei recalls walking down the practice range at professional golf tournaments a decade ago and wondering what all the technology fuss was about. 

She certainly can relate now as one of the co-founders of Sportsbox AI, an AI-powered technology company that develops mobile applications in the sports and fitness world using 3D motion analysis. Last summer, the company launched the Sportsbox 3D Golf coaching app for instructors and earlier this month unveiled the Sportsbox 3D Practice, a consumer app.

"Our product reminds me a lot of the launch monitor revolution," Wei says. "I remember talking to some of the top coaches in 2012 and asked 'What is this? Why do all the players have these things?' Oh yeah, and at the time people kept saying it was too much data and it’s not necessary, but now everybody uses it.

"We like to call our system, especially for students, a launch monitor for your body. You know what the ball is doing with launch monitor data because it has become so prevalent now, but how did you get there? What made your body do these things that causes you to do what you do to the ball? We’re kind of marrying the two things. I really like this analogy as a launch monitor for your body. That’s essentially what Sportsbox is."

SportsBox AI
Screenshots of the Sportsbox 3D Practice app, which was launched in early December 2022.

Sportsbox AI was founded in 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdowns with Wei teaming with her former Yale University college teammate and former LPGA golfer Jeehae Lee. The two wasted little time connecting the dots with their many golf contacts fostered over the years. The company’s stable of advisors/ambassadors/investors include renowned instructors David Leadbetter, Sean Foley, Mike Adams and Suzy Whaley.

"Stephanie and I have had the benefit of having spent all of our careers in the golf industry and we’re lucky enough that we have built these really good relationships," Lee says. “So yes, there were a lot of people who welcomed a call from us. And we decided to go down the path of building out the product first because we wanted to make sure we were building something that was valuable to the coaches who have students of all levels.

"Anyone who sees it immediately can see why it’s different. It’s unlike anything that has ever been out there. We are the only company in the world that can do 3D the way we can. And unlike the early days of the launch monitors, we're available (cost wise) to everyone right away."

So how does the Sportsbox app work for those of us who aren’t tech savvy?

Well, coaches and athletes can take a single 2D video from a mobile phone — with no markers or sensors — and turn it into a 3D avatar that can be viewed from six different angles to provide a full analysis of the swing, as well as track improvement using 3D biomechanical measurements in inches, degrees, linear and angular velocities.

"Some other 3D systems you have to put on a full suit and you have to calibrate the space — it’s a lot," Wei says. "With this, you literally put up a tripod or have somebody hold the phone really still from face on, and if you are not taking the video in the app you take a slow motion video. If it’s in the app you just point and shoot and it does the rest for you. There are some simple requirements like the height of the camera — 4 feet off the ground and keeping it still — but once you get that it’s very easy. It takes about 10 seconds to go from the 2D to 3D.”

And in a high-tech, high-priced space, it’s ultra affordable.

Coaches, for example, can teach up to 15 students for an annual cost of just $650. Up to 150 students the annual cost is less than $1,900.

Erika Larkin teaches at The Club at Creighton Farms and is one of the top golf instructors in the state of Virginia. She and her husband were one of the early investors in Sportsbox and were involved in beta testing of the product.

“We had a couple of things we stumbled on at the PGA Show a couple of years ago that we looked into that didn’t work out so when I brought this opportunity to my husband he was like ‘yeah, if you like it, let’s do it,”’ says Larkin of her investment in Sportsbox beyond using the product with more than 75 of her current students.

“What also sold me was seeing who was on board; that gave us confidence that it was going to be great. I can just see the potential in applications in so many different spaces beyond golf and where they are in development compared to their competitors was appealing to me. They are ahead of the curve and it’s nice to be first to market if you have a good product and a good team.”

Sportsbox technology is also mobile, which expands the client base and "connectability" for teaching pros.   

“For online lessons and remote lessons it’s going to be game changing for me,” Larkin says. “Sometimes in the past it has been challenging to give a good online lesson; I’m sort of guessing to what I’m seeing on video so having this aspect is going to be more accurate for me and hopefully deliver better results for the student. So remotely you can set watch list items now for your student with some measurable physical data to say ‘Ok, she told me to look at this particular thing and now I can see if I am actually doing it or not.’ It’s the same for in-person lessons but it’s just cool to have that option for somebody who is across the country or the around the world.”

“You don’t improve something that you don’t measure,” adds Lee. “You have to measure it if you want to manage and improve something. And then you have to be able to train with real-time feedback on whether you are doing the right thing or not. Just having the information of what you need to improve doesn’t make you better; you need to be able to have this feedback. We’re uniquely qualified to provide coaches and students that set of technology for everyone — not just elite players or coaches -- but golfers and coaches of all levels and backgrounds."

The new 3D Practice consumer app gets a bit more personal. With or without a coach, golfers of any ability can access data-driven practice guides, which focus on a specific area or swing goal defined by a watchlist, target practice and an assessment to measure your swing against the swing goal.

The consumer app is available in the app store to purchase for $15.99 per month or $110 per year. 

Whaley is one of the big players in golf. She became the first woman president of the PGA of America in 2018 and 15 years earlier became the first woman in 58 years to qualify for a PGA Tour event when she qualified for the Greater Hartford Open. So, having her in your corner was a huge get for Sportsbox.

“My career is all over the place but coaching has really been what I’ve been involved with the deepest over the last 15 years,” Whaley says. “I’ve always loved to coach and always am looking for something innovative to be able to offer, not only myself, but my students in the search and pursuit of getting better in a way that my students enjoy.

“I ran into JeeHae a few years ago and she said she wanted to run something by me and show it to me and get my thoughts on it. I instantaneously knew Sportsbox was the next step in coaching for professionals who weren’t necessarily able to afford high-tech technology. It was something that everybody who has a phone on their hand can literally use immediately in the pursuit of helping students get better. So I said to her, ‘I need to understand this, I need to learn it and I can’t wait to be a part of it and just tell me what you need.”’

Whaley didn’t hesitate when asked to be on Sportsbox’s advisory board.

“The Sportsbox team is constantly taking suggestions from those of us in the field that are coaching everyday about how we are using the platform and how consumers can access it on their own,” Whaley says.

Lee is excited about the inroads the company has made in less than two years, but insists that much more is yet to come in the Sportsbox world.

“We went mobile first because we want to be everywhere, wherever the game or the sport is being played, practiced and performed,” Lee says. “Truly, we want to be everywhere with the 3D technology — and for all sports. Golf is just the beginning.”