A golden rule for many golfers says to avoid hazards and stay out of the rough. Good advice for golfers also is good advice for the sport itself, which finds itself at a crossroads as a new generation considers whether or not to tee up.
For centuries, golf has withstood the test of time thanks to entrenched respect for tradition and history. As so many industries have already discovered, however, a tradition in the digital age can get one only so far. To appeal to modern consumers requires technology.
Fortunately, there have been huge advancements to golf technology since the days of handmade wooden clubs and balls — not the least of which is artificial intelligence. With AI in golf, sensors can scrutinize your swing to help you improve it and analyze terrain to enable 3D modeling by architects pursuing better golf course design.
It’s perfect timing: During the COVID-19 pandemic, people flocked to golf in droves because it offered a way to have fun safely outdoors. But with the pandemic waning and concerns about the sport’s environmental impact growing, some wonder whether golf has a bright future. Others see the sport evolving with the help of cloud-based technology, which can make golf more appealing to new generations.
Aiming for a New Legacy
On the golf course as in life, there are good days and bad days. On the bad days, a player shanks the ball left on a par-3 course, aims for the green but ends up in a sand trap or overshoots into a water hazard. Even when disaster strikes, however, there’s always another round to swing back into form.
Legacy golf organizations like TaylorMade and the United States Golf Association (USGA) know that the future of golf must swing towards digital technologies that bring players and fand deeper into the sport. It’s evident in the rise of golf tech and golf experiences powered by data and applications, whether it’s more data analytics during live matches or mobile applications that help players track and improve their swing. These are powered by IT and that increasingly means cloud computing.
USGA, which oversees the rules for golf and conducts 13 national championships, was an early cloud adopter. In 2008, it signed a deal for disaster recovery services in the cloud, backing up critical data every night and integrating a cloud backup to sync its internal email servers. Since then, USGA has greatly expanded its cloud investment.
According to former USGA CIO Andy Rhodes, USGA operates like a small business. Although it has the same needs as large enterprises — data storage and disaster recovery — it lacks the budget for a robust IT staff and on-premises data storage. With the cloud, it can cut costs to make room for investments that will help it grow the sport, like its youth-focused First Tee educational program.
“The cloud allows us to maximize our resources and more predictively manage our costs,” Rhodes said in an interview with Biztech.
“Leveraging the cloud to spin up and spin down capacity on demand provides us great value.”
In 2017, golf equipment manufacturer TaylorMade spun off from parent company Adidas as part of a private equity sale. Doing so required untangling a shared IT infrastructure — everything from emails to data storage — that had connected the two companies for 20 years.
TaylorMade’s IT department knew it needed its own database license, but didn’t initially consider the cloud.
“As our business needs continued to evolve, we required a more efficient way to seamlessly manage and scale our data management system,” TaylorMade Vice President of IT Tom Collard said in a press release.
At first, the team wanted to license the cloud only for disaster recovery to protect critical data. Soon, however, it saw the power of offloading data warehouse workloads onto the cloud.
Migrating its data warehouse workloads to the cloud brought substantial performance gains, according to Collard. In a 2019 interview with InformationWeek, he said TaylorMade generated reports 40 times faster using the cloud than it did using on-premises infrastructure. Tasks that used to take hours suddenly took minutes.
By freeing up bandwidth in its on-premises infrastructure, its investment in the cloud also allowed Collard’s group to expand its ERP environment.
“Over the years we’ve been able to realize our quest to get to one single global ERP,” Collard told InformationWeek.
“Now we have one place to go with highly governed, managed, controlled, harmonized data.”
This ERP environment helps better connect with customers through a more streamlined customer service dashboard.
With a new IT infrastructure in place, 43-year-old TaylorMade could focus on using new technology to push the boundaries of what’s possible on the course. It continues to break new ground with golf tech, including signature composite drivers and woods made from the same materials as Formula 1 race cars and space technology.
As in other industries, tech-powered customization is catching on with golfers. In early 2022, TaylorMade relaunched its app and announced a partnership with stat-tracking Arccos sensors. The cloud-powered tech provides invaluable insights for players of all levels who are trying to improve their game, which could make golf more appealing to young players who are just learning the sport. The company has also invested in augmented reality, giving consumers a chance to customize their clubs and test them out on a virtual course.
This holistic tech-powered approach ensures that TaylorMade will continue to reinvent itself and the sport.
Old television broadcasts of PGA Tours were slow paced, filled with gentle pans across manicured farways and even-keeled announcers almost whispering while players prepared to swing. But in recent years, these broadcasts became more engaging and elaborate. Now they rely on hundreds of cameras and a huge media library from which to pull on-demand highlights, making televised matches noticeably faster.
What seems unhurried and nonchalant on television is actually the opposite. Behind the scenes of the daylong broadcast is a fast-paced media team putting it all together. Within seconds, the team can search more than 6.4 million log entries spanning more than 100,000 hours of digitized footage to find the perfect highlight on demand.
The Tour began digitizing its footage in 2010. The process took a decade and created 5.8 petabytes of data. The oldest clips reach back to the 1928 LA Open.
In 2015, the Tour gained more control over its data by migrating its data system to the cloud-powered Viz One media asset management platform. The platform gave producers unparalleled access to search, log and distribute content at the rapid speeds required for a seamless broadcast. Platform creator Viszrt utilizes a private cloud infrastructure and allows the Tour’s IT team to easily scale its data needs as more highlights are added to the archive.
The private cloud enables increased access to content in Viz One from multiple locations and decreases the on-premises footprint needed to connect and power production workflows. With a high number of digital and network partners, equal access to their archive gives producers with different needs the ability to quickly access the highlights and shots they need.
That was especially important during the pandemic. Although Tour dates had to be canceled, there was still demand for golf content online and on TV.
“We were lucky, in some aspects, from an archives standpoint,” Michael Raimondo, PGA Tour’s senior director of media asset management and broadcast innovation, said in a 2020 interview with the Sport Video Group (SVG).
“We gave our network partners access back in 2013 and we gave all of our users access over the internet back in 2015. So as far as access to Viz One, it just became more people.”
In the preceding weeks, the Tour sent more than 200 hours worth of content to its international partners. The IT team worked to expand remote VPN access to all of its editors as the team scrambled to create packages for its TV partners.
In that way, the pandemic accelerated moves toward a more digital future of golf. As a result, the Tour now says it wants to move its media management entirely to the cloud. When it eventually does, the entire process — ingesting, logging, editing, producing and exporting footage — will all be hosted there.
“We were actually moving everything to the cloud already,” Raimondo told SVG. “We were preparing for that next step. What we learned from editing [remotely during the pandemic] will only help that cause.”
Another cause it will help is golf’s effort to attract a younger demographic, as Viz One also gives both the Tour and its partners access to highlights to cut for social media, where so many of those prospects reside.
On that note, CBS shook up its golf coverage last year, including its coverage of the PGA Tour, by modernizing its look with sharp new graphics, bold real-time analytics, and even an investment in drones and augmented reality. This fresh take on legacy broadcasting promises a new feel and a more exciting viewing experience.
Does the Future of Golf Looks Greener?
Golf course maintenance requires enormous amounts of land, water, fertilizer and pesticides. In the United States alone, over 2 billion gallons of water are used every day to irrigate golf courses that occupy more than 2 million acres of land. Studies show that heavy pesticides used to maintain the courses create high toxicity levels affecting local residents and ecosystems.
Because of their outsized impact on the environment, some conservationists have called for the conversion of private and public golf courses to nature preserves. Others want to utilize the land to address the nation’s affordable housing crisis.
Meanwhile, the golf industry in recent years has invested in green solutions that can benefit both the environment and the bottom line.
“I wouldn’t self-profess to be an eco-warrior, but I’m someone that doesn’t want to damage the environment,” pro golfer Rory McIlrory said at the 2021 DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, CNN reported.
“I live in a part of the world where hurricanes are very prevalent and becoming more and more prevalent as the years go on. I think we can all play our part in some way or another … We play on big pieces of land that take up a lot of water and other things that could be put to better use.”
In that spirit, some international golf course architects have adopted remote work by utilizing drones to create 3D models, which cuts down on travel-related pollution. Others are using data analytics to scrutinize the movement of players on courses, insights about which they can use to make improvements that decrease the costs and environmental impact of course maintenance.
“If sustainability isn’t at the top of your mind as a resort or community, you’re already behind,” Richard Hywel Evans, the architect behind St. Lucia’s Point Hardy Golf Club, said in a 2022 interview with Bloomberg.
As the climate crisis continues, environmentalists and the golf industry are increasingly turning toward tech-based solutions to fund a more sustainable game. Golf’s legacy is storied, and with its recent boom in popularity, the industry is turning toward technology to fuel its continued growth. Whether it’s legacy golf companies looking to modernize operations or a fresh take on broadcasting, cloud-powered technology is advancing and expanding the future of golf.
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Jacob Gedetsis is a contributing writer. His work has appeared in The Kansas City Star, The Post Standard and The Plain Dealer, among others. Find him on Twitter at @JacobGedetsis.
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