The PGA of America is one of the most well-known brands in golf," says Lou Manz, PGA Director of Information Technology. "Our ultimate goal with information technology is to provide the best possible spectator experience we can."
The PGA of America, headquartered in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, is a membership organization with more than 27,000 golf professionals. It is responsible for establishing and elevating the standards of the profession — and technology is no exception.
"I’ve been around mobile since the late 80s, warehousing apps and such, so this is nothing that new to me. It’s just a different way of using technology," he says. Manz has been with The PGA for 17 months.
Coming from industries where efficiency is critical to daily operations helps him do the same for The PGA, but he points out, "The PGA was way into mobile before I got here."
The organization was in the process of developing a championship event management system. They started off by enabling sales (tickets and scanning). There was an existing website for ticket sign up, and then they built one to manage and organize volunteers — 3,500 to 4,500 of which are needed on site to help execute The PGA events.
Of course, the nature of the game means that the use of mobile technology is not new to scoring in golf, but the technology was antiquated by today’s standards. Miles of cables would have to be run throughout the course to wire all the technology and get remote terminals working. So it cost $120,000 to $150,000 just to implement scoring.
For the big tournaments this wasn’t too expensive, but in addition to the four major events, they hold 12 member events per year as well. They are critical to the organization, Manz explains, but "These events don’t have a lot of spectators, so that's a big expense considering the purse is $70,000.”
Those in the championship business office and IT sought to address the cost by adopting cell technology and replacing old wired units with smaller, more diverse sets of terminals.
A Fore-tune in Savings
It's forecasted that by the end of the Ryder Cup 2016, The PGA will have saved $3.6 million. “That’s quick ROI, and a pretty big chunk at that,” says Manz. “For an organization the size of The PGA, and also being a non-profit, that’s a lot of money we can keep in the coffers for member benefits.”
So how does the scoring work and how does technology help? One walking scorer will go out with a foursome and a “standard bearer” carries signs letting spectators know who golfers are. Using a mobile device, the walking scorer logs every time a player strikes the ball, and where they hit it from, for example, at the first tee or fairway, a bunker or green.
When the golfer completes a hole, the scorer closes out that hole and proceeds on. When all golfers for the hole have been cleared, the hole is updated. A high level of quality control for accuracy is needed here since the scoring data gets published to TV, radio and Internet in near real time.
Connectivity is also essential to making all this happen and Manz says, “We didn’t want to have to run wireless throughout the facility, because at some point, wireless becomes wired. We wanted to adopt cellular and Internet technology so we didn’t have to build infrastructure on site.”
Scorers also have radios, so if they are out in the weeds or make a wrong entry, for example, they can radio in for assistance. Through SOTI’s mobile device management (MDM) software, an admin can log into the handheld to get the scorer back on track.
The visibility into the devices through MDM has been a big benefit for the organization, notes Manz. Besides being able to take over when there is an issue, the dashboard shows all devices on the course, along with battery power. So, for example, if a device is down to 25% battery life, they can send a replacement in advance so there is no downtime.
Manz and his team engaged with Scan Read Technologies to provide guidance on the right hardware and engaged in rigorous testing of several different handheld devices and configurations, ultimately selecting the Intermec CN50s (for scoring) and CK71s (for scanning) for use in their high-stakes events.
Considering how long it takes to play a round of golf, battery life is very important to The PGA. Additionally, weather is always a factor and the devices have to be able to withstand it.
The PGA created a special web-based app for the CN50s using Windows Mobile. The backend keeps scores, manages the leaderboards and tracks all the information a spectator might want.
The app was built in house by employees who know the sport and understood the scoring methods and terminology. This enabled the app to be developed more thoroughly and accurately according to Manz.
When it came to ticketing/scanning, scalability was a consideration as well. At some of the busier events, the gates can get backed up with spectators. They need to be able to easily and quickly open another gate or go to the parking lot, or wherever the fans are to being scanning in the tickets. This cannot be done in an environment requiring an infrastructure.
“The volunteers like it,” says Manz, and user adoption is key to any technology deployment. “Some commented on what a pleasure it is to use the new devices (no longer heavy, nor requiring heavy packs). They enjoy the app that allows them to see some golf and not just concentrate on the task at hand. Some volunteers will now travel across the country to help at other events, they enjoyed it so much.”
As the volunteers travel, so do the devices. The PGA uses waterproof tubs custom designed to carry the devices to events around the country. But how do they get things up and running going from place to place?
Previously, configuration took a couple days and they would have to travel to the event site early. This time savings is very valuable to the organization. “Now, with the help of Scan Read and Intermec, our configurations are set up in bar codes and it’s nothing more than just scanning in the barcode to help configure the devices,” he explains.
Mobile Devices Everywhere
The PGA is now looking into mobile devices for credit card scanning.
Golf has not yet adopted electronic scoreboards, so volunteers are changing the “monsterboard” manually. But they need a way to know when the scores have changed. For this, they use iPads with scores being refreshed regularly.
The PGA was one of the first bodies in golf to allow consumers to bring cell phones on the course, according to Manz, and through a joint venture with Turner Sports, they developed an iPhone app for the Championship and Ryder Cup events that allows spectators to watch golfers play on different holes.
“From a mobile perspective, we’re very in tune with the fact that consumers love their mobile phones and are getting every type of entertainment through them, so why not embellish their experience on the golf course,” he explained.
Internally, The PGA has been a BlackBerry shop for a long time, but Manz says, “We are starting to switch.” BYOD is coming into play, but he envisions more of a managed BYOD environment, where the organization dictates what will be supported. They are also experimenting with Android devices and iPads for other uses, and Manz' device of choice is a Windows Surface tablet.