As Rory Mcllroy tries to defend his PGA Championship this Thursday morning, new technology by Turner Sports, the PGA, and Qlik are going to help fans enjoy the action at Whistling Straits like never before.
The flashiest addition to this year's PGA Championship will be drones flying on the course, but there are many smart uses of mobile technology you could see in sports coverage and perhaps in the enterprise in the near future.
The app for both home viewers and those traveling to the course live is called the PGA Championship Data Visualizer, powered by Qlik and it will go live at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 13, when the tournament starts. The app is intended as a second-screen enhancement to Turner Sport's coverage of the PGA Championship (not to be confused with the PGA's own mobile app), one of golf's four majors, and it promises to provide amazing digital coverage of the event.
The app allows people to follow marquee groups (threesomes of note from first shot to last, instead of the traditional coverage of golf that follows the whole field), but at the same time access data that has rarely been accessible to golf fans previously.
It will tie directly into the PGA's laser generated shot data so that viewers can check out stats like greens in regulation or putts made. Perhaps the most interesting, as the marquee group approaches a hole, you can access an overlay of the hole they are about to play with all the previous shots played on that hole.
The app promises to surface data never before seen by viewers at home. However, what's really innovative is what Turner and the PGA are doing for the viewing experience at the course.
Gary Treater, senior director of business operations for PGA.com said in an interview with InformationWeek that, "Golf is different because in most sports you can see all of the field. In golf, you are spread over 200 acres and most of the content isn't shown." Even the live experience usually only allows a viewer a view of one or two holes.
So Turner is using a new feature called "binoculars" to help the on-course viewer.
Perhaps you are sitting near the green on a given hole. You may or may not be able to see what group is approaching to play the hole next and you're wondering whether you want to stay or move to another location. Binoculars uses Bluetooth beacons to track the whereabouts of players so someone using the app can find out what group of players is approaching and where other favorite players might be.
Beyond binoculars, the app is designed to help people enjoy the whole experience.
"Some of these golf courses are very large," Treater said, "and after they walk a while, viewers might like to sit in one spot. There's a lot going on around you if you're sitting in one spot. So we have a minute-by-minute feature with pics, text, and social media, and bring it into a stream. If they're on 18 [the 18th hole] and hear a roar on 15 [the 15th hole], they'll know why right away."
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Another innovation being tried is to bring drones to the golf course. Sure, it sounds like a recipe for disaster with 200,000 people attending. But the drone operators and the PGA have a plan. Because of the unique setup of the golf course, the drones will mostly be able to fly above a lake, away from viewers.
The drones will only be used on the four holes closest to the lake: 8, 9, 17, and 18. It enables these beautiful shots of the course:
"Because of the close distance [drones can get to players], one of the things the PGA has asked us to do is pull back when golfers are hitting a shot," said Treater.
The digital experience isn't just an add-on either.
It creates a completely new broadcast using both the television feed and dedicated cameras.
Turner and the PGA even have their own dedicated announcers to provide commentary. "The marquee group is just special because we're devoted to these three guys," Treater said, "That's the beauty of a second-screen experience. It provides the avid fan with an immersive experience. We allow fans with the chance to decide what they want to do."
The whole goal, Treater added, is telling the best stories of the event with pictures and with data.
"With both the desktop and the mobile app, regardless of the platform, we look at how we can tell stories and how we can create the best experience," Treater said. "We've been looking at ways to not only improve our video product, but how can we use data to provide context around it."
With these types of innovations plus a great set of tournament storylines, the experience should be better than ever for visitors and viewers at home. You just might see these in future broadcasts of other sports.
"We're always looking at these technologies for our other broadcasts," said Treater. "How can we use it for March Madness or the NBA? Or how can we take innovations from those broadcasts and use them for the PGA Championship?"