Ryder Cup on course with technical overhaul

This week’s Ryder Cup organizers are leveraging a multi-year technology overhaul to deliver real-time golf scores and statistics, live crowd and course maps and other data services, bringing analytics advances in a sport linked to tradition.

Ahead of the three-day tournament, which kicked off at the Whistling Straits Golf Club in Wisconsin on Friday, technical teams from the PGA of America got down to work setting up the physical and digital equipment to provide the connectivity, the Wi-Fi and other underlying technological systems. site, including more than 450 Wi-Fi access points and 650 Internet protocol televisions.

“When we host a major championship, we build a small town to support it,” said Kevin Scott, group’s chief technology officer. “No one would ever think there was so much technology in golf,” he added, “but it’s a lot of things you don’t see on TV because the cameras are pointed at the players. . “

Mr Scott said the technological backbone of the event, coupled with its new cloud-based information technology system, is more reliable and offers a wider range of services to users than ever before. The tournament, which pits European players against American players, is expected to attract more than 40,000 spectators every day.

Mr. Scott joined the century-old Palm Beach Gardens, Florida association about four years ago as the first chief technology officer tasked with upgrading aging technologies to what he called ” very traditional IT organization ”.

In addition to the Ryder Cup, the PGA of America hosts a handful of professional championships each year for the men’s, women’s and senior circuits. But its broader mandate is to promote golf at the local level, in part by connecting amateur players with some 28,000 professional and member golf coaches at clubs across the country, among other initiatives.

Scott says his primary role is to provide access to the digital tools and services members need to do their jobs, from paperwork to introducing the game to budding new golfers.

One of its first moves was to do away with the group’s own legacy network, replacing it with a browser-based system protected by multi-factor authentication security. “When I started, half of the team members had the word ‘network’ in their title,” which meant their main focus was just to keep the organization’s computers connected, ”said Mr. Scott. Instead, he took a more customer-centric approach to IT, refocused on building applications and services tailored to specific user needs.

Over the past four years, it has moved all of the organization’s IT systems from its own data centers to a third-party cloud service. This move added the ability to tailor computing power as needed, while providing out-of-the-box and customizable software for more advanced functionality, such as a powerful search engine and artificial intelligence models. . “The cloud is more secure, faster, and things don’t go down,” Scott said.

To avoid fierce competition for tech talent, Scott brought in specialist freelancers using Upwork, an online platform that connects freelancers with employers. “In order to bring the championships to life, we ended up putting together teams that could go and do the work on site,” including independent developers and engineers, he said. The strategy has made it possible to launch new initiatives and bring them to fruition more quickly, while cutting average costs in half, he said.

Norway’s Viktor Hovland plays a shot at Whistling Straits on Friday.


Stacy Revere / Getty Images

A recent project was to create a dynamic online job site for golf professionals. Another was to develop an online search tool that allows golfers to find coaches in their area.

There are signs that these and other efforts are working. Gambling, which has been less affected by Covid-19 than many indoor sports, has grown in popularity. In the United States, golfers played 502 million rounds last year, the highest number since 2007, according to the National Golf Foundation. The number of non-golfers interested in playing rose to 17 million, up 1.5 million from 2019, the trade group said.

The use of digital technology is also growing. This year, the PGA of America allows players to use distance measuring devices for the first time at its three annual major tournaments. The devices, opposed by some golf purists, are used to determine the exact distance to the hole.

Many clubs and courses now equip golfers with GPS devices that track their movements on the course, using the data to help course operators identify areas of slow play and remove obstacles that cause backups. More and more players, including pros, seasoned amateurs, and newbies, are using sensors and data analytics to detect swing issues and improve their game, among other tools.

For the Ryder Cup, Mr. Scott’s team created a live spectator app, which helps users navigate the Whistling Strait route with walking directions, parking updates and information on restaurants and souvenir shops, while offering other features such as digital scorecards. faster cameras, mobile devices and computer speeds.

“We can see how the crowds are moving in real time,” Scott said. “We even have cameras on the concession lines. “

Write to Angus Loten at [email protected]

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