Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Transforming the Course

The world of golf is rapidly transforming and big data has a large part to due with it. Gil Hanse a world-class golf course designer used analytics, topography and logistics to help him design and construct the Rio de Janeiro Olympic golf course. Hanse along with Microsoft’s cloud team used data from more than 10,000 courses analyzing everything from map data soil and climate data to understand the ground conditions throughout the year. This is so specific that Hanse could even identify different trends in different courses, like possibly seeing that the sun shines in people’s eyes at a certain time of the day in a certain spot on the course.

Initially I was drawn to this article solely on the fact that I’m an avid golfer, but as I began reading I began to understand the magnitude of how this can change the game. This can honestly be a huge move for the PGA if they use these logistics in their company. This could give the PGA endless possibilities of uses of this technology. With the help of Microsoft the PGA could increase the level of difficulty of golf. They could possibly play with position of pinholes in certain tournaments to make holes harder at certain times of the day. This could make the sport much more entertaining and draw a lot of attention to the game. Another way the PGA could use this technology is in the design process of building a new course. Course architects can now fabricate an entire course with the use of a new technology called 3D mesh. 3D mesh uses drones and aerial photography to create this high resolution “map”.

Data analytics are also transforming the course is through the use of Fightscope. Flightscope is a swing tracker that uses 3D Doppler tracking radar to measure the 27 different components in your swing and ball flight. This technology has been implemented in PGA telecasts to show viewers the exact swing stroke of their favorite golfers. This can help golf trainers show their clients the flaws and highlights of their golf swings throughout a lesson and can help clients know the perfect form that is needed to hit a solid shot.

I believe the evolution of golf is right in front of us and that data analytics is going to have a lot to do with it. The demand for new technology is at an all time high especially in consumer markets. The PGA is fully embracing the new technology and has added it to it’s telecast to help provide users with the best viewing experience as possible. They are trying to make the sport as realistic to its viewers as they possibly can. This is just the beginning of the many uses that Data Analytics are improving the sport.

Christopher O'Neill



  1. I would agree with Chris, that utilizing big data and data analytics could revolutionize the game of golf. I was particularly interested in reading this article because database management and information systems is something that makes sense to me. After learning how to use it, I understand the benefits of big data during a research and development project.
    Golf, on the other hand, is something that doesn’t click for me. My father and brother are really good at the sport. Although I have been motivated for a long time to get good at the game myself I get frustrated early on when practicing at a driving range. It feels as if there are too many variables affecting my swing and aim that I cannot control or analyze in the few seconds it takes for the club to reach, or miss, the ball. I began to think that being good at golf was about repetitive practice and strength. Advances in science and technology have proven that golf is not merely a game of strength but instead a game of physics.
    The Flightscope that Chris mentions in the third paragraph can track every aspect of your swing. With this you are able to collect and view data on the angle, force and the flight of the ball as soon as it happens. I believe this tool can be extremely beneficial to players like myself that haven’t been able to wrap my head around what it is I am doing wrong. I watch someone else swing and I understand the point they are making when they instruct me how to do it. When I go to try the swing myself, the movement and swing I produce is not what I had thought it was going to look like in my head after conceptually understanding what I need to do/change. If I had the chance to work with an instructor and see for myself my own swing and what exactly I am doing, I would understand how to change it.
    Using big data would allow me to not only improve my swing but it would explain the necessary components it took to achieve a good swing. I could, then, better understand how to ensure a good swing every time, instead of depending on arm strength or luck.

  2. Very interesting article Chris. I completely agree that big data analytics can change the golf game. It is evident through various other sports already that collecting big data on professional athletes has incredible benefits. For example we can think about basketball and football. The NFL and NBA collect data on their athletes by using performance monitoring systems, which essentially helps the teams analyze their players during workouts/practice. Therefore, this data analytics can aid team organizations in accurately valuing the athletes. These performance monitoring systems essentially act as a GPS device that are designed to track athletes during intense activity. It can measure the quality (speed of a rep) and quantity (amount of total reps), these devices keep both athletes and coaches aware of the player's workload during a practice and/or an offseason training session. Additionally, these devices can track things such as speed, agility, and vertical jump height. All of this big data is utilized to help organizations gather greater information and stats on players which can ultimately be used to aid them in draft pick decisions. Furthermore, this data can help protect their players by assuring that they are not overworked and are kept healthy.

    On another note, I agree with Chris that big data analytics can be very useful when it comes to course design and conditioning. This can allow designers to become more creative with the information that they have. One very important aspect that Chris mentioned was the sunlight shining in the player's eyes. Personally I can relate, having the sun shining in the direction in which you are swinging can be very frustrating and alter your game. The other points that Chris brought up was the detecting of wind patterns and weather conditions based on the location of the course. This can be incredibly useful for the golf world because those factors affect the game tremendously. This gives designers the opportunity to build courses based off of difficultly. Championship rounds such as the PGA tour, the masters, and the Olympics can use this to their advantage as they tend to pride themselves off of holding these rounds on some of the most difficult courses around the world. Big data analytics in sports can be incredibly utilized to design courses specific to the concept and offer greater more intelligent information on the athletes.

  3. I thought this article by Chris was very interesting. Like Chris, I am an avid golfer so as soon as I saw that golf was incorporated in this article I was immediately drawn to it. In my opinion, golf is the perfect sport for big data. Although golf may seem like such a rudimentary sport, there are so many factors that play into golf. Something as small as the angle of your swing when you come down on the ball, or even a breeze can affect a shot.
    One aspect of this article that I truly loved is how someone used data from over 10,000 courses to design a new course. There are so many different golf courses in the world which means there is so much data out there to gather. Collecting and using all of this data to make a new golf course is very intriguing to me. I would love to see them collect data from different courses and make one golf course that is extremely challenging. For people who are fans of golf we love to see when the professionals look like us. A few years ago there was a US Open at Chambers Bay in Washington State and a lot of the professionals struggled mightily, and it was awesome. Taking difficult aspects of different courses and combining them into one would be great television. There is so much data out there on golf courses that it would be worthwhile.
    Golf is a sport that is starving for more attention. When Tiger Woods was at his peak dominance the ratings for major tournaments were through the roof. Now that Tiger Woods is not too much in the spotlight, golf is looking for that next big thing. Using all of this data for course design in order to make the sport more entertaining would be a step in the right direction. As Chris mentioned in his post, most golf broadcasts have Flightscope which can show the swing and the ball flight of the golfers. This is one way using data that has helped the appeal of golf on TV. It is very difficult to follow the ball on TV but with Flightscope it truly is a huge difference maker. It also helps viewers to see how amazing these golfers are at controlling the ball, and it’s even better to see when they hit a bad shot and watch the ball fly into the woods.
    In terms of being a consumer I would love to have any sort of technology/ data that can help my golf game. Golf already has several different trackers that are made available to the average golfer but they are far too expensive. Golf is already a very expensive game, so if perhaps golf were to implement more technology and data then it would be become more easily available to the regular golfer. The game of golf needs to evolve more in order to not get forgotten.

  4. Chris, I really enjoyed both the article and your commentary; thanks for the post. Surely, golf data of all types--topographical, soil composition, and tracking shot patterns, to name a few--offer golfers of all skill levels a chance to improve there understanding of, and skill within, the game. It also affords them a new way to connect with their hobby.

    Chris's comment on data's role in increasing the difficulty of PGA competitions is a very valid point. In an age where attendance and viewership of sporting events are drastically changing, event coordinators and producers need to find ways to engage attendees and television viewers (especially the latter, since TV technology is pulling down physical attendance) during the course of the match and broadcast.

    Course manipulation through data would make contests harder and, in theory, more engaging for fans to view. To PGA professionals involved in handling broadcast elements, this increased viewership leads to enhanced opportunities for sponsorship, in turn generating greater revenues.

    In regards to course design, it would be neat to see how courses begin to interact with smartphones. In particular, I would find it very reasonable to expect that location services can provide a golfer with a push notification regarding hole information, distance to pin, wind speed, and other key facts all in real-time, provided the necessary infrastructure is put in place.

    Golf has become "cool" again, in the eyes of young, active individuals. As such, it's essential that it continues to promote itself through cutting-edge technology and culture.


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