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TOURCast: A Real-Time Golf Coverage Application on Linux

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Can't afford the time or money to attend a PGA challenge? The PGA's TOURCast web application keeps avid golf spectators up-to-the-minute by Internet, following every movement of each competition. Dee-Ann LeBlanc describes this magic.

Many Internet-connected golf enthusiasts are keenly aware of TOURCast, the PGA TOUR's real-time window into every happening on the course. Any system administrator who thinks about what must be involved in developing and hosting such a tool begins to quickly appreciate the complexity involved. Here's an application that can be idle one day and accessed by tens of thousands the next.

Traditionally, the only solution to such a task is to build a collection of servers that you hope can handle the maximum predicted traffic, and then a bit more. Most of the time that system would be idle—a massive waste of money in reserved bandwidth and hardware. This is on top of the trouble of keeping users up to date with the very latest information about what's happening on the course.

There's a saying in fiction that the writer must keep asking how things could become worse for Our Heroes. How about having only a limited time with which to implement a cost- and resource-effective, friendly-to-use, comprehensive, and stable solution to the problem of offering tracking, analysis, and commentary for an entire golf tournament online—in real time?

This accomplishment is in fact no fiction, although it had a solid base to build on rather than having to start from scratch. If you visit the TOURCast site, you can see the results for yourself.

In the Beginning

Until 1983, PGA TOUR golf tournaments were tracked manually. The first scoring technology was introduced that year by the TOUR, introducing 13 electronic scoreboards onto the course. These new scoreboards were a big hit with the fans, offering up to date scoring and other informative information. As is the case today, golf fans had the choice of which of more than 150 golfers (or 18 holes) to follow over a span of 30 acres or more—allowing television and radio sports announcers to select who to cover at each particular moment—or hanging out by one of the scoreboards to try to follow everything. Even with this improvement, the scores were still captured manually.

This system allowed information to move far faster than the old way of doing things, but there was room for improvement. The electronic scoring process was streamlined and extended throughout the rest of the 1980s, but by the early 1990s the PGA TOUR realized that to really capture the best benefits technology could bring them, they needed a technology partner. The decision? Call in IBM.

These days, mentioning an information-sharing application that needs to offer access to as many people as possible almost immediately brings up the Internet. Although such a network existed in the early 1990s, it was still primarily the domain of researchers, students, and other such early adopters. The focus at that time was on local networks, so the initial IBM solution involved bringing 100 computers onto the course and networking them. For the first time the TOUR was able to offer their broadcast partners an automated feed of information for the telecast. Outside of the broadcast compound, these computers allowed fans and media access to the latest scoring information and statistics. But while 100 access points are better than 13, golf courses can still be 30 acres or larger. This answer could serve only a limited number of people. Worse, the computers had to be packed up and moved for each tournament, with the risks inherent in moving that much hardware around.

This base provided for PGA TOUR's needs through 1996, growing and expanding as needed over the years, but the solution became more and more dated. Meanwhile, technological advances promised the ability to bring more data faster to television, radio, and print commentators. The burgeoning Internet offered a chance to build services for those brave enough to venture its choppy waters.

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