Microsoft’s three-year deal with the Professional Golfers’ Association Tour is much more than just another sponsorship deal.
Instead the software giant will use golf to showcase innovative use of its hardware, software and cloud services to change the way fans can experience and interact with the game and its players.
Many sports including cricket and golf are almost perfect test cases for big data solutions – individual games provide masses of data and statistics which can be analysed in different ways.
In the past this happened on paper after the event was finished, but cloud computing means it can happen in real-time during the event itself.
As weather conditions, player rankings and performance all change during the game so new analysis can give fans a better understanding of how the game is developing and strategy is changing.
Comparing current game play with past competitions can add insight and interest for those watching and even give players strategic tips to alter their play during a round.
Along with number crunching the Tour also has an archive of tens of thousands of hours of video footage of previous competitions – another gold mine for a big data solution.
Steve Evans, SVP and Chief Information Officer, PGA Tour, said: “Fans want to be able to see each drive, approach shot and putt in real-time and compare tournaments. Technology plays a key role in making that a reality across any digital device, but using modern day technology doesn’t stop with us providing interesting and fun user experiences. It’s also about using technology like Windows 10 to drive PGA Tour operations to deliver a better experience for our employees, our players and our fans around the world.”
Volunteers at the competitions will use hand-held devices and bespoke applications to track every shot and the changing condition of the course.
The ‘Walking Scorer’ app allows volunteers following the players to easily input shot and course information. This is instantly available to officials’
Every single shot is tracked to exactly where it lands by laser. Volunteers operate these lasers from towers behind the greens – approach shots and putts are measured and mapped.
This mapping data is fed into an app called ‘Laser Operator’ which runs on Lumia devices. This process was done by pen and paper which was both time consuming and limited who could access it.
A third app, called ‘Grid View’, allows volunteers to input shot positions if the laser view is blocked or unavailable for some other reason.
More than 300 volunteers on the course feed this data goes into the Shotlink system which tracks every single shot in every round.
By getting this data straight into the cloud it can be instantly accessed by back-end systems and can also be pulled down by apps accessed by fans as well as by course officials and commentators.
By adding big data analytics to this wealth of shot information the PGA Tour will provide fans around the world with a whole new way to experience golf.
Fans watching games from the course will get access to yet another app which will provide player locations on the course via a heatmap as well as a bird’s eye view of the whole course. The ‘Tournament Companion’ app also provides match statistics, leader boards and live feeds along with games they can play with other fans.
Although this will initially be aimed at those attending games it will be extended out to improve the experience for those following matches from home, or even from work.
The deal goes beyond just improving the experience for fans.
Microsoft is also providing back-end services to run the logistics and planning for all PGA’s staff and volunteers both on the course and back at headquarters.
They will get access to Office 365 and Microsoft Azure cloud services to support their daily schedules.
The Tour obviously doesn’t stay still for long so it provides the perfect showcase for cloud services which can bring supercomputing power to anywhere with a mobile signal.
Once the tough work of linking up all these systems to collect the vast amount of data created by every competition the future possibilities are endless.
Virtual reality could by used to deepen the experience for those watching at home while also providing displays of past competitions for comparison or past performances by the players involved.
Microsoft is also testing a golf training application which allows instructors to film their budding golfers’ swing action, upload it to the cloud in order to analyse and annotate slow motion footage of their students’ actions.