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At PGA Tournaments, Bluetooth Beacons Are Par for the Course

Golf fans at a recent championship event were able to know the locations of players within close range.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 24, 2015

Watching golf tournaments live isn't like viewing other spectator sports. At any given time, the players could be anywhere on a course spanning hundreds of acres in size, and they don't wear numbers on their shirts to make them easy to spot. For that reason, golf fans who attend tournaments have traditionally needed to use their paper program, a pair of binoculars and some reckoning to identify when their favorite players were coming close. This year, at the PGA of America Championship at Whistling Straits, in Kohler, Wis., fans could avail themselves of a solution involving Bluetooth beacons and the PGA app to determine which players were within close range.

Since 2009, Turner Sports (which manages PGA.com and has exclusive rights to all PGA digital assets) has offered an iOS-based PGA app (the Android version was introduced in 2013) to golf spectators, in order to help them stay in touch with what is happening on the course, says Gary Treater, Turner Sports' general manager of PGA.com. The PGA app's features include a digital version of the traditional paper program that lists when and where players will be teeing off, as well as video footage of player swings, known as "SwingVision," and images taken by drone cameras for aerial views of the course, in order to provide live action of some holes.

A Kontakt.io beacon is attached to the pole of the sign carried by each standard bearer.
With all of these features, however, the app still couldn't offer viewers real-time information about the golfers within their vicinity, which is why Turner began investigating beacons. The 2015 Championship at Whistling Straits drew 200,000 spectators, averaging about 50,000 each day. Some proceeded to the stands at key locations on the course to watch the athletes pass by, while others attempted to follow their favorite golfers. They often did both, sometimes sitting in the bleachers, other times following or anticipating the movement of particular plahers.

In either case, the app's beacon-based Binoculars feature was designed to help locate which golfers are near, with a Kontakt.io beacon attached to the sign carried by the standard bearer who travels with each group of three golfers. The beacon ID is linked to that group, and thus the three golfers in that group, so that by pressing the binoculars prompt in the PGA app, spectators can view a list of names of those within the vicinity.

Rob Smith, Turner Sports' senior project manager, says his company began investigating beacons approximately a year ago, testing them first at its offices, and then at the senior PGA Championship in Benton Harbor, Mich. After testing a variety of beacons, Turner selected the Kontakt.io Tough Beacon because it was ruggedized and, therefore, better suited for use on an outdoor course.

Turner then tested the beacons again using the Binoculars function, which was developed by Turner, partially internally and partially by an outside development group. That testing took place during the PGA Professional National Championship, at the Philadelphia Cricket Club in Flourtown, Pa.

"We love to see the PGA Tour Championship implementing Kontakt.io Tough Beacons in the extreme environment they were designed for," says Szymon Niemczura, Kontakt.io's CEO. "We have another proof that with Tough Beacon and its resilient construction, you can easily take the Internet of Things outdoors."

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