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A New Solution for a Modern Tour

In 1999, PGA TOUR's data collection entered what is even now an ultramodern phase. The first stage (and the method by which data still is collated on the course) is handled by an application called ShotLink—another project coordinated with IBM—that took two years to develop and implement. This application depends heavily on the volunteer organizations that run each tournament.

The days are gone of passing only the scores and perhaps a brief description of the shots. With ShotLink, 250 volunteers are split primarily into two groups: walkers and laser operators. The walkers are in charge of recording each shot as it happens, using a Palm device with a data radio to send the information back to the ShotLink truck for real-time processing. Each walker carries a voice radio and headset in case he or she needs to talk with the ShotLink producer in the truck or the producers need to contact the walker for more information about a shot.

Data noted by the walkers includes where the shot was hit from, the player's stance, the lie of the ball (Good or Bad), the Stroke number of the golfer (how many shots it took the golfer to reach this position on this hole), and other attributes like penalties and drops. As soon as the club hits the ball, the walker presses a button on the Palm and the exact shot time is recorded. If the volunteer isn't sure how to record the starting point for the next shot, he or she radios the producers in the truck for further instructions.

After the ball is hit, the laser operators come into the picture. Two laser operators are assigned to each hole on the course, and each operator is given survey-grade laser equipment. One of the laser operators is positioned along the fairway. The other laser operator assigned to a hole is stationed on a platform beside the green providing a good vantage point for all shots on or around the green. A laser operator's job is to identify the ball belonging to each player, and then "shoot" the ball with the laser to get its x and y coordinates within the course. This information is transmitted to the computers within the ShotLink truck, which already has the x and y coordinates for every tee—the starting point for each hole. As the data from both the walkers and the laser operators feeds in, the computers calculate the real-time position of each ball and match this data with the other transmitted information on the player, lie, and more. If a volunteer forgets to record an important piece of data, the ShotLink software alerts the producers in the truck, who then radio the particular volunteer and ask for the missing information.

Once recorded, the data is immediately available to the 100 IBM ThinkPads placed within the hospitality tents, media center, and broadcast compound. The broadcaster's area also includes leader boards, bottom-of-the-screen statistics, player ranks for the entire tour, and more.

And for those who are not onsite, the data is transmitted to PGA TOUR headquarters. From there, it's used to publish automated scoreboards and leader boards to PGATOUR.com, but that's not all. This data is then translated into a very efficient form of XML and pushed out to the IBM on-demand center and the TOURCast application.

TOURCast is where things really get interesting.

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