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Scott Gutterman
Scott Gutterman, vice president of operations and product development for PGA Tour Digital, explains how the PGA Tour is using the Microsoft Surface to track shots and provide data to fans and broadcasters. (GeekWire photos / Kevin Lisota)

ATLANTA, GA. — Most NFL followers are likely now familiar with the Microsoft Surface, given that the device has become a mainstay on sidelines as a training tool that players and coaches use to review past plays during games. It’s part of the $400 million deal Microsoft signed with the NFL back in 2013.

But now the device is making its way into another sport: professional golf.

In November of last year, Microsoft announced a three-year deal with the PGA Tour, and we’re starting to see partnership come to fruition on the golf course.

PGA Tour Championship
The 18th hole at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Ga.

GeekWire is in Atlanta, Ga., at East Lake Golf Club this week covering the final tournament of the 2016 season, the Tour Championship. Microsoft set up small tent near the 16th hole where fans can check out how the company’s devices are being used in a variety of ways on the course.

Microsoft has developed a handful of universal Windows 10 apps for PGA Tour staff and volunteers that run on a ruggedized custom-built Surface Pro 4 — similar to what NFL coaches and players use — and Lumia 950 devices.

One app lets volunteers who are walking alongside players input ball position data during a given tournament. They record where shots land — left or right of the fairway, out of bounds, etc. — and that information is used to verify data from ShotLink, the PGA Tour’s laser-tracking system powered by CDW.

Another app on the Lumia devices helps volunteers keep track of basic real-time stats related to player and course information.

All this data processes through Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

“We are evolving our devices and platforms that we use for capturing that data to Microsoft platforms,” said Scott Gutterman, vice president of operations and product development for PGA Tour Digital.

PGA Tour Championship - Microsoft Surface
PGA Tour volunteers use an app on a custom-built Surface Pro 4 to track shots during a tournament.

Ultimately, the real-time player shot statistics are pushed out to scoreboards, TV broadcasts, websites, the PGA Tour Live app, and another app developed by Microsoft that fans on the ground can use in hospitality tents around a given course. The hospitality app provides a wealth of real-time information, like which players are on a specific hole and historical data about their past performance.

Fans at PGA Tour tournaments can visit hospitality tents and check out real-time stats with Microsoft's custom-built app.
Fans at PGA Tour tournaments can visit hospitality tents and check out real-time stats with Microsoft’s custom-built app.

Only a small handful of volunteers were using the Surface and Lumia devices on the course this week at East Lake, as the PGA Tour is slowly rolling out the products.

Microsoft is also developing a consumer app for Windows 10 that will debut later this year with similar features currently available on the hospitality app. It is built for the fan watching golf from their couch at home.

“A majority of our fans consume all of their content on a mobile device and no one really watches TV without some device in their hand,” Gutterman said. “Our goal is to have a fantastic second screen experience with these devices.”

Also in the Microsoft tent this week were folks from the Gregg Rogers Golf Performance Center, a Bellevue, Wash.-based company that utilizes the Surface during instruction. Fans had a chance to take a few swings in a simulator and demo the training technology that allows instructors to annotate swing video on the Surface, with files saved to the Azure cloud that can be accessed after an in-person lesson.

Microsoft’s partnership with the PGA Tour extends to other devices and platforms, too. Earlier this year we had a chance to demo a new app on the company’s HoloLens device that lets folks interact with 3D models of different holes overlaid with a bevy of statistics.

Microsoft is providing its technology to not only the NFL and PGA Tour, but other pro sports organizations like NASCAR. It’s part of the company’s recent push into the sports world, a strategy that both helps leagues use technology to improve their processes, and also exposes Microsoft’s products to more consumers.

“When we look at where we want our products to show up, one of the questions you ask is, what are people’s passion points?” Chris Capossela, Microsoft’s chief marketing officer, told GeekWire earlier this year. “A few of them really spike to be much, much bigger than all the rest. Sports is really high on the list.”

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