The British Open Golf & IoT : My Kind Of Work!
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The Giants Causeway on the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland has always held a special place for me. I was born just 8 kms from there and the hexagonal shapes of the rock formation made the volcanic outcrop wonderful stepping stones. Each connected column gave me the inspiration for my company name, Causeway Connections, and the hexagon used by many in the marketing of the highly connected Internet of Things (IoT).

In July, after 68 years, the British Open golf championship is returning to Royal Portrush, a beautiful, but gnarly links course just around the corner from the Giants Causeway. The course is a very traditional links course which means that the rough will be very rough, the wind could be blowing hard, or the well-drained fairways will make ball control a must have skill to win. After selling out in record time, the ‘Open promises to be an exciting, cheerful event that will highlight the hospitality of the region.

However, when we watch a sport like golf we don’t always appreciate the amount of technology that goes into making the experience as good as it is. The PGA Tour has embraced the IoT and Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and with the help of Microsoft Azure launched the PGA Tour Content Relevancy Engine (CRE) captures over 32,000 data points per event and have about 174 million shot attributes in its database. All of this is the necessary input to keep broadcasters fed with color commentary about a player, a course, or a tournament.  So how are the data points collected? There are several sources, but perhaps the biggest belongs to Shotlink. In 2008, CDW became the official technology partner of the PGA Tour and powers Shotlink. Each golf course is mapped prior to the event so that a digital image of each hole is used as background information in order to calculate exact locations and distances between any two coordinates (e.g. the tee box and the player’s first shot).

Other data sources that are used by equipment manufacturers and clothing include Cobra Connect and its partnership Arccos who promise that you may never need a caddie again since all of your swings, both good and bad, will end up in the cloud with a layer of AI tips applied to them. Will this be the end of the ‘grip it and rip it’ swing J .

Golf courses are expansive amounts of land that require detailed management to make sure that the customer experience is the best that can be given. Knowing the state of the greens, the conditions of the fairways and the speed of play by the casual hacker, the weekend ‘play ready’ expert, or the corporate sales meeting at the opening tee all contribute to a profitable golf course. One company that uses IoT to improve the round of golf is FairwayIQ whose mission is to ‘equip every golf course with real-time information and insights to attract and retain more golfers, drive more revenue, and maximize course efficiency. (I also feel that there is a strong environmental sustainability message here). FairwayIQ is in the forefront of using low powered sensors (LoRaWan) from MachineQ  (part of the Comcast family).

Finally, what about the ball? Why doesn’t it have a sensor in it? Think of the stress on the ball at the time of impact from a driver and quickly you see that putting the sensor in the ball may need some protection. Second, the size of the ball makes real estate a prime challenge for any sensor, although there are some very tiny sensors that could be squeezed into a ball. Third is consistency. The professionals spend hours and hours practicing their swing and they expect the ball to behave in a very consistent manner. There are some startups that have test products tied to simulators but nobody has gone into full production. However, there are companies that put sensors into balls that take a lot of beating – Green Fields Digital Sports Technology . By the fact that a major ball maker such as Titleist hasn’t come out with a ‘smart’ ball indicates that IoT might be tinkering with the Holy Grail of golf. Golf balls stir a healthy debate on whether or not the ball should be a uniform product (just like almost every other ball sport). Purists might say that it’s the choice and uniqueness of each player and the type of golf ball that they play with that makes the game so hard to be copied or players to be programmed. We say, to that argument, by putting a sensor into a golf ball improves the uniqueness  of every aspect of the game while democratizing the details of what makes a great golfer great.

However, what is clear to everyone is that modern golf is kicking off lots of data that is being used by an elaborate eco-system to make the customer experience better for everyone. Enjoy the 2019 British Open! Sláinte


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One of the great heavyweights of the analyst industry, Vernon serves as Ecosystm’s Executive Analyst, covering all manner of technology industry-wide trends and emerging markets. A frequent speaker, moderator, author and presenter for a number of leading media outlets, there are few who rival his knowledge in ICT and his strategic vision in digital transformation – particularly in the manufacturing, transportation, finance and banking communities. Starting his career in client-side IT roles, Vernon entered the research world in 2000, joining IDC as Group Vice President. Through the course of his 18-year tenure with the firm, Vernon’s remit evolved from traditional ICT – including Networking, Servers, Storage, Virtualisation and Data Centres – to becoming IDC’s first Research Fellow, specialising in The Internet of Things (IoT). He was presented with IDC’s highest accolade in 2014, recognised for his passion, persistence and candid approach. Beyond his work with Ecosystm, Vernon works with a number of venture capital firms as a technology subject matter expert. He also sits on the IoT World Forum steering committee and previously supported the governor for the State Of Illinois in developing a Smart State Initiative. Vernon holds degrees in Computer Studies and Business Administration. In his free time, Vernon is a sports fan, having competed in track and field at international levels. He’s also an active charity runner and recently completed his eighth consecutive marathon in a four year period.

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