Many casual golf fans are familiar with how technology has changed equipment and training. We no longer use persimmon woods that look like they came straight from a tree trunk; golf club manufacturers now incorporate aerodynamic principles and complicated physics when designing their products. Even companies like Boeing are helping engineer clubs.
Training tools have also been completely revolutionized by technology. TrackMan, for example, is used by top players like Dustin Johnson and Jason Day to monitor and improve their shot accuracy.
But what’s not so obvious is how the PGA Tour is utilizing everything from ball-tracking lasers to Microsoft Surface devices so that fans all around the world stay informed and entertained.
GeekWire paid a visit to East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Ga., last week at the Tour Championship and got a behind-the-scenes look at what types of new technology the tour is using.
One the most impressive pieces of technology is the ShotLink System, which debuted in 2001 and uses a combination of lasers, 3D mapping software, and a staff of employees and volunteers to calculate exact locations and distances between any two coordinates. This lets the PGA Tour produce and track a wealth of statistics that are used to rank players based a variety of metrics.
There are up to 156 players at a given tournament, and ShotLink helps surface a multitude of data for every single shot — a ton of information otherwise unavailable a few decades ago.
That data, processed with the help of PGA Tour partner CDW, is made available immediately on a variety of platforms, whether it be the LED scoreboards at the course, on the live TV broadcast, or online at PGATour.com.
Employees inside the ShotLink truck, which is stationed at each tournament, analyze and verify the data that flows into the ShotLink system.
It’s innovative technology like ShotLink that has helped spur the creation of new stat categories. Perhaps the most influential is strokes gained, a relatively new but already often-used method of comparing a player against the rest of his peers. It’s being hailed as the new benchmark for how you measure performance.
The game of golf produces so much data that you can expect even more stats and ways to measure performance to come about in the future, particularly as technology enables new methods of tracking and calculating information.
“We are just on the tip of the iceberg,” said Tom Alter, vice president of communications for the PGA Tour. “Strokes gained is a deeper layer of the iceberg, but there will be something else that comes out that’s not just fairways and greens hit, or bunker shots, for example. There are other ways to look at things — maybe it’s consecutive birdies made, or bogeys out of the left rough.”
Steve Evans, senior vice president of information systems for the PGA Tour, told GeekWire that there can be many more ways to analyze performance.
“If we put all this data into a central cloud-based solution and run heavy-duty analytics and machine learning against it, what can you get out of it?” Evans said. “We’re envisioning all sorts of things.”
Evans added that there could be potential new ways for fans, particularly fantasy golf players, to take advantage this new data. Fantasy golf has seen usage rise on daily fantasy sports site DraftKings.
On the course, technicians operate the Protracer devices that are connected to broadcast cameras.
Back in the broadcast truck, PGA Tour employees analyze Protracer data.
Looking ahead, the PGA Tour is testing virtual reality technology as a new way for fans to consume content. At the Tour Championship, the tour was working with STRIVR Labs, a Palo Alto-based startup that develops virtual reality software for athletic training but is expanding to content, as CEO Derek Belch noted at our GeekWire Sports Tech Summit. Here were the VR cameras being used:
As you can see, the PGA Tour is utilizing all kinds of technology to improve the experience for fans and players. Check out the video above to hear from some of the more tech-savvy folks at the Tour Championship in Atlanta last week.