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Golf: tradition meets tech innovation

November 28, 2019

Michael Cole   

CTO PGA European Tour

Golf is a sport that is rightly proud of its traditions and heritage, from the rich history of The Open Championship dating back to 1860, to the passion and sportsmanship of the biennial Ryder Cup. Yet, the modern professional game is increasingly breaking new ground through its innovative use of technology.

The European Tour is at the forefront of this through our commitment to Driving Golf Further. Every year we run up to 48 tournaments around the world, each one with up to five separate network infrastructures for public Wi-Fi, broadcast and TV, scoring, operational back-of-house, and the digital screens you see dotted around the course. Our ambition is to not just enable a truly connected course, but an intelligent one. So, a course that can help bridge the gap between the spectators onsite and armchair fans and provide us with new insights to improve almost every aspect of each of our events.

To help turn this ambition into reality, we introduced the European Tour Innovation Hub with Tata Communications.

“It’s a competition for start-ups and small businesses to develop creative new solutions and concepts to enhance the game of golf. The ideas might enable this truly connected golf course, bring fans closer to the game or enhance the Tour’s broadcast and production.”

Our plan is to develop the winning idea further, and then test it in action during the 2020 European Tour season.

My fellow judges and I are looking for ideas that catch the imagination of fans, players and our partners alike – by, for example, opening up new opportunities to create content that is unique and compelling, and deliver it to increasingly mobile, digitally-savvy audiences worldwide.

“Put another way, if the idea were a car, it would turn heads and be truly different to anything else on the road!”

One challenge that is unique to golf compared to other major sports is that the crowd at each event is essentially split across 18 separate fields of play. Based on proof of concepts we ran in 2019, it was  fascinating to see  how setting up geofences and tracking devices to understand how people are moving across the course could be further exploited. There could be scope for our marketing teams and our commercial partners to use this data to guide people towards quieter restaurants at peak times or target them with special merchandise offers.

The movement of the players is also something that would be interesting to explore through technology. So, for example, using IoT to monitor the pace of play and keep things running smoothly. The time for sophisticated player-tracking will come, but as of January 2020 we’ll be collecting more data from every stroke played by every competitor, increasing our data points from 20,000 per tournament up to 700,000.

Ideas combining ubiquitous connectivity and cloud computing could also pave the way for enhancing how each event is broadcast and produced. For example, cameras  no longer have to be hard-wired, giving us the freedom to conduct more real-time on-course interviews and offer more insight through new and compelling content types for different digital platforms.

“The adoption of 5G could not only make the Tour more efficient operationally but also further augment each event for fans, both onsite and at home. “

Whatever innovations come out of the Innovation Hub, one of the key requirements is that the idea can be created, robustly packaged and repeated across all of our events, whether they’re staged and promoted by the European Tour, through third parties or our co-sanctioning partners. That in itself is a sizeable challenge and one that’s only possible with the right combination of the latest technologies – whether that’s cloud, predictive analytics, IoT, AI, blockchain or VR.

Some of these technologies may need to mature before we can maximise their full potential, but we are on a journey to make golf one of the leading global adopters of innovation in the sports industry. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if one day the winning idea of the Innovation Hub will be a quintessential part of our sport – just like the many traditions that make golf special.

The shortlist of the European Tour Innovation Hub with Tata Communications will be unveiled on 4th December… in the meantime, check out the Innovation Hub website for more information about the competition.