An Intensely focused man in pleated pants stands on the impossibly plush grass, peering first at his golf ball and then at the distant flag. The TV announcer murmurs, “He’s 147 yards from the green and needs to hit it to the back left corner of the green?that’s where the best scores on this hole have come from.”
At home you’re wondering, “How on earth does he know that?”
He knows it all thanks to a team of volunteers who walk along the course and use lasers, handheld computers, IBM laptops, a wireless network and geographical information system technology to report real-time data on every shot by every player in every tournament of the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour.
The PGA Tour has been working on this new system?called ShotLink?for more than two years to enhance golf tournaments for television and Internet viewers. “ShotLink allows us to tell a better story about competition,” says Steve Evans, vice president of information systems for the PGA Tour. “We have 250 more stats?including precise distance and accuracy and numbers on who the best putters are from 15, 20 or 30 feet.”
Volunteer “walkers” at each hole use wireless Palm devices that have pull-down menus to relay to the central data hub specific information about each shot: the player’s stance, the ball’s lie and exactly when each ball was struck. Other walkers with laser pointers also relay data about where shots land, and this data is combined with data from the geographical information system to determine the exact location of each shot.
The PGA Tour planned to include club selection information for each shot, but that idea was temporarily shelved when caddies and players protested. Some secrets of the game are meant to stay that way.