The Giants Causeway on the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland has always held a special place for me. I was born just 8 kms from there and the hexagonal shapes of the rock formation made the volcanic outcrop wonderful stepping stones. Each connected column gave me the inspiration for my company name, Causeway Connections, and the hexagon used by many in the marketing of the highly connected Internet of Things (IoT).
In July, after 68 years, the British Open golf championship is returning to Royal Portrush, a beautiful, but gnarly links course just around the corner from the Giants Causeway. The course is a very traditional links course which means that the rough will be very rough, the wind could be blowing hard, or the well-drained fairways will make ball control a must have skill to win. After selling out in record time, the ‘Open promises to be an exciting, cheerful event that will highlight the hospitality of the region.
However, when we watch a sport like golf we don’t always appreciate the amount of technology that goes into making the experience as good as it is. The PGA Tour has embraced the IoT and Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and with the help of Microsoft Azure launched the PGA Tour Content Relevancy Engine (CRE) captures over 32,000 data points per event and have about 174 million shot attributes in its database. All of this is the necessary input to keep broadcasters fed with color commentary about a player, a course, or a tournament. So how are the data points collected? There are several sources, but perhaps the biggest belongs to Shotlink. In 2008, CDW became the official technology partner of the PGA Tour and powers Shotlink. Each golf course is mapped prior to the event so that a digital image of each hole is used as background information in order to calculate exact locations and distances between any two coordinates (e.g. the tee box and the player’s first shot).
Other data sources that are used by equipment manufacturers and clothing include Cobra Connect and its partnership Arccos who promise that you may never need a caddie again since all of your swings, both good and bad, will end up in the cloud with a layer of AI tips applied to them. Will this be the end of the ‘grip it and rip it’ swing J .
Golf courses are expansive amounts of land that require detailed management to make sure that the customer experience is the best that can be given. Knowing the state of the greens, the conditions of the fairways and the speed of play by the casual hacker, the weekend ‘play ready’ expert, or the corporate sales meeting at the opening tee all contribute to a profitable golf course. One company that uses IoT to improve the round of golf is FairwayIQ whose mission is to ‘equip every golf course with real-time information and insights to attract and retain more golfers, drive more revenue, and maximize course efficiency. (I also feel that there is a strong environmental sustainability message here). FairwayIQ is in the forefront of using low powered sensors (LoRaWan) from MachineQ (part of the Comcast family).
Finally, what about the ball? Why doesn’t it have a sensor in it? Think of the stress on the ball at the time of impact from a driver and quickly you see that putting the sensor in the ball may need some protection. Second, the size of the ball makes real estate a prime challenge for any sensor, although there are some very tiny sensors that could be squeezed into a ball. Third is consistency. The professionals spend hours and hours practicing their swing and they expect the ball to behave in a very consistent manner. There are some startups that have test products tied to simulators but nobody has gone into full production. However, there are companies that put sensors into balls that take a lot of beating – Green Fields Digital Sports Technology . By the fact that a major ball maker such as Titleist hasn’t come out with a ‘smart’ ball indicates that IoT might be tinkering with the Holy Grail of golf. Golf balls stir a healthy debate on whether or not the ball should be a uniform product (just like almost every other ball sport). Purists might say that it’s the choice and uniqueness of each player and the type of golf ball that they play with that makes the game so hard to be copied or players to be programmed. We say, to that argument, by putting a sensor into a golf ball improves the uniqueness of every aspect of the game while democratizing the details of what makes a great golfer great.
However, what is clear to everyone is that modern golf is kicking off lots of data that is being used by an elaborate eco-system to make the customer experience better for everyone. Enjoy the 2019 British Open! Sláinte