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Ryder Cup testbed to feature tech firsts in Rome

This year’s Ryder Cup will test out technology to improve how fans digitally consume the event while reducing the workload on IT teams

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The Ryder Cup is set to trial some of the latest technology for sporting events when it tees off in Rome later this month, with plans for its wider roll-out across the European Tour Group.

The flagship event is an important testbed for the European Tour Group as it continues to digitally transform the consumption of golf for fans and makes the provision of technology more energy efficient.

Michael Cole, chief technology officer at the organisation, said the Ryder Cup is critical as an innovation platform, and part of the European Tour Group’s transformation journey.

“We stage the Ryder Cup every four years, and we invest heavily and use it as an innovation platform,” he said. “This becomes a springboard and fuels the technology over the next four years across the European Tour Group.”

As well as the Ryder Cup, the European Tour Group includes the DP World Tour.

This year’s event at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Guidonia Montecelio, near Rome, comes five years since the Ryder Cup was last staged in Europe, which is a long time in a tech sector evolving at unprecedented speed.

Cole spent 20 years in the telecoms industry and has a background in setting up technology at major sporting events, including work at the Olympics in London 2012 with BT, before taking up his current role about six years ago.

Olympian IT efforts

His experience working on Olympic events will have a major influence on the tech behind this year’s Ryder Cup, including the use of dedicated operation centres.

“We are for the first time taking the Olympic model of managing technology, with a technology operations centre [TOC],” said Cole. “Within this, there will be security [SOC] and networking [NOC] centres.

“We are taking all the key learnings from the experience I have of involvement in major sporting events and bringing that into the world of the Ryder Cup.”

Cole said the growing importance of technology in supporting golf events and bringing them to the fan base has forced planners to move to the next level. “Our technology now underpins so many services, and it requires a level of support we have never needed before – that’s why we require a TOC, SOC and NOC,” he added.

These centres will be housed alongside the course in a repurposed and refurbished building.

The IT team at the European Tour Group is guided by five key pillars, which aim to improve the experience for spectators, enhance connectivity and innovation, increase the use of data and reduce the load on IT teams, all the while using the most sustainable technology infrastructure possible.

When in Rome

But there are always hurdles an IT team might not have embedded in its grand plan. For example, the proximity of the golf course to the Eternal City created particular challenges not in the IT team’s playbook.

Planners had to take into account the possibility of unearthing archaeological finds while burying fibre cable under the golf course, a daunting task at any time. A burst water pipe in Rome can result in the cordoning off of large areas when ancient ruins or items are found during repairs. Cole said this was a serious consideration that had to be prepared for.

“Rome is steeped in history and we have come across some archaeological ruins as part of the ducting work we have undertaken on the course,” he said. “That is one of the challenges we face and have faced, particularly in the deployment of technology at this course.

“When there has been the prospect of archaeological finds under the course, we have had to be very cognisant and sensitive. We have come across areas where it has required further investigation before we could proceed.”

Beyond the potential of the unearthing of unexpected marble pillars, the IT team’s five strategic pillars provide the foundations for its work.

The blueprint

The first of these pillars, known internally as “reimagining the spectator experience”, sees technology being introduced to improve the experience of spectators on the expansive golf course. In the past, TV was about giving people who couldn’t be there the experience of being there, but now, tech is about giving the people there a combination of that and a TV-like experience in terms of data and the ability to follow the contest in full.

“We have a great TV product, and watching golf from the armchair is already a great experience,” said Cole. “We want to bridge the gap between the on-course spectators and the armchair fan. We want to give the on-course spectators as good an experience, if not better, than if they were watching from the armchair.

“We do this by creating great immersion, navigation and interactivity to optimise the tournament experience,” he added.

The Ryder Cup format sees a European team of golfers take on their US counterparts. Each battle between team members contributes to the overall score, therefore a view across the entire 18 holes is vital for spectators to keep up with the contest and understand the significance of each battle.

Cole said there are essentially 18 stadiums and it is currently only possible to be in one at a time. “Whilst a fan is watching from their particular field of play, whether the seventh or 11th hole, we want to give them the experience of watching a competition play out across all 18 holes,” he said.

“This is a big focus for us, particularly at this Ryder Cup.”

Read more about IT in golf

To this end, 23 huge digital screens equating to 2,000 square meters of LED display, 25% more than the last Ryder Cup, will be installed across the course.

There will also be a “shot commentary” feature on the screens that will inform spectators about shots made by players, as well as the consequence of the shot to the wider contest. This will be the first time ever this text commentary will appear on the big screens across the course.

Spectators also have access to shot-by-shot information via mobile devices, and this year, using data analytics, they will be provided information about the probability of outcomes including a certain player winning a hole or a team winning the match.

The second pillar, “enhancing connectivity and innovation”, involves the technology and networking infrastructure to lay the foundation for location-based services. The organisation is using Wi-Fi 6e for the first time, which Cole said is a first for a major sporting event. This Wi-Fi is for the public, media and businesses, as well as operational staff, with more than 800 access points being deployed.

Another first is the introduction of an environmental internet of things (IoT) platform to enable IT teams to proactively manage the IT infrastructure, which is spread across the 6,000 metre-long main course. Distribution units are connected through IoT to enable the remote monitoring of temperature, power, moisture and intrusion in all of the units.

“It will provide early alerts of potential pending technical issues so we can be proactive in remotely managing that infrastructure,” said Cole. “This is the first time it has done this.”

Reducing the workload

It’s not just spectators that benefit from access to information, but also the IT teams, who, through the third pillar, known as “delivering the intelligence”, can see information from multiple sources across the course on a single dashboard.  

“We want this Ryder Cup to be the most data-driven ever by implementing a visualisation platform for multiple data sources across the course, including the IoT platform, the Wi-Fi infrastructure and data from spectators,” said Cole. “This will enable us to create smart, real-time data decisions and provide a single pane to visualise everything that is happening operationally.”

This work makes IT’s job easier, but it doesn’t end there, with a fourth strategic pillar, “lightening the load on IT teams” aiming to do just that.

Cole said by proactively monitoring technology across the course it can ensure robust tech deployment and allow IT teams the focus on the “gladiatorial contests inside the ropes”. It’s using edge to cloud infrastructure with HPE Aruba technology to enable it to remotely monitor and control the infrastructure in a way it has not been able to before.

The organisation has about 40 IT staff, which is scaled up to about 100 on-site at the Ryder Cup. It also works with suppliers, contractors and volunteers, and the skills of the teams include Wi-Fi, security, digital applications, audio visual and data collection.

The final pillar in the plan is to create the most sustainable technology for a Ryder Cup.

To this end, the fibre infrastructure will be buried under the golf course, there are solar-powered access points, the power-efficient IT infrastructure goes into sleep mode while not in operation, planners have avoided single-use technology wherever possible, and they have also launched a sustainability dashboard monitoring energy levels and carbon footprint in real time.

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