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A view from the drone. Via Turner Sports.

Technology has played a key role in each of this year’s major golf tournaments, and this weekend at the 97th PGA Championship is no different.

pgachampionship5432The world’s top golfers will face off at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin for the fourth and final major professional golf tournament of 2015.

Turner Sports, which operates PGA.com, is again in charge of this year’s digital content production, which ranges from live online streaming to new interactive features for mobile and desktop that include shot-by-shot laser-generated data from the course.

Two of the more unique tech-related features include the use of drones and beacons. Wisconsin-based production company Picture Factory, which has an FAA exemption to fly its drones, brought its 8-rotor CineCopter to Whistling Straits to capture live and pre-recorded video clips of the golf course itself. This marks the first time Turner Sports is using drones for its live golf broadcast — it’s the company’s 25th consecutive year for PGA Championship coverage — with footage being used online and on traditional TV.

Expect similar overhead views like we saw during June’s U.S. Open in Washington, where drones were used for FOX’s broadcast. Along with TNT, CBS will use the drone footage during its broadcast on Saturday and Sunday.

Via Picture Factory's Facebook.
Via Picture Factory’s Facebook.
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A view from the drone. Via Turner Sports.
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A view from the drone. Via Turner Sports.

In addition, beacon technology will be installed in each of the scoreboards carried by volunteers who walk with a specific group throughout the day. This data will be fed into the official PGA Championship app — on iOS and Android — for a feature called “Binoculars,” which lets fans find out where each group is standing on the course.

Again, it’s similar technology to what we saw at the U.S. Open in June.

“The beacon technology helps fans get closer to the players they want to see,” said PGA.com General Manager Gary Treater.

pgachampionship121Speaking of the 200,000 fans who will attend the tournament this weekend, they’ll again be able to bring their smartphones on the course and access the largest WiFi network at a PGA Championship to date. The PGA was the first to allow smartphones inside the ropes at a major golf championship in 2011. The U.S. Open, meanwhile, allowed smartphones for the first time this year.

Other neat features of the official app include live streaming video coverage of certain groups and holes, detailed leaderboards, video highlights, news, customizable alerts, and a new “Minute by Minute” feature that utilizes a number of on-the-course PGA.com content producers who will track data and provide live updates, expert insight, and related coverage.

With the exception of “Minute by Minute” and “Binoculars,” this content will also be available at PGA.com.

“We want to be on the front end of providing the live experience that fans are looking for and demanding,” Treater said.

TNT’s “Total Motion” technology will be used this week on the broadcast, which is essentially a super slow-motion camera that lets commentators analyze swings.

There’s also “GolfTrax,” which uses lasers to provide viewers with an animated aerial view of each hole with a player’s ball location.

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PGA.com is also utilizing live-streaming app Periscope before the tournament officially gets started on Thursday to give fans an inside look at the events happening beforehand.

This is worth noting after what happened earlier this season with Stephanie Wei, a reporter who had her PGA Tour credentials revoked after she used Periscope to live-stream golfers during a practice round at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship.

Wei is actually at Whistling Straits this week — the PGA Championship is run by PGA of America, not the PGA Tour — and was granted permission to use Periscope this week.

In a blog post, Wei wrote that she was allowed to stream a maximum of two live Periscope videos during Monday and Tuesday, which she said was a “little stingy.”

“But I’m not going to complain — kudos to the PGA of America for being open to new forms of technology and acknowledging that the way we consume content is different nowadays,” she wrote.

Treater noted that PGA.com is having its multimedia team use Periscope to offer fans live video on practice days and outside the live TV window.

“But you won’t see anything during the TV week,” he said. “It’s certainly not a replacement for television or digital live video.”

pgachampionship121Treater touched on the delicate balance of using new technology but also upholding the traditions of golf with TNT’s live coverage and the app itself.

“It’s a traditional game, but the fans, they’ve changed,” he said. “Some are on the go. Some are at the office. Some don’t have a lot of time. You have to use technology to service and cater to those fans, but we don’t want to use technology to change the core of the game and how we cover it.”

Turner Sports’ coverage includes six hours each day during the first two rounds on Thursday and Friday, along with three hours on Saturday and Sunday before CBS takes over for the bulk of the third and final round coverage. The app will live stream a pre-selected “Marquee Group” and the action at Par 3 holes each day, but you’ll need a cable subscription credential to watch what’s being broadcasted on TNT.

However, CBS won’t require a log in for its coverage on Saturday and Sunday, so you can watch the third and fourth round with the app for free. You can also access the online feed here.

We’ve seen similar golf-related technology like drones and laser trackers at this year’s three other major tournaments. Personally, I prefer the aesthetics of what IBM did for The Masters website and mobile app, but PGA.com and the accompanying mobile app seems adequate as far as providing today’s sports fan with appropriate content in a timely manner.

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