Cisco brings fan-facing Wi-Fi to Pebble Beach for U.S. Open

This year’s U.S. Open featured a fan-facing Wi-Fi network at Pebble Beach. Credit: Keith Newman, MSR

Fans at the recent U.S. Open golf championship at Pebble Beach were treated to an on-course Wi-Fi network from Cisco, as part of a sponsorship partnership between Cisco and the U.S. Golf Association.

As the official technology partner for the USGA and its championships, Cisco said it set out with the goal to make this year’s 119th U.S. Open the “most connected” in the event’s history, mainly through the deployment of about 400 Meraki Wi-Fi APs throughout the famed seaside course.

According to the USGA, the network saw 25 total terabytes of data used during the championship, but the USGA did not break out daily totals. The USGA also said it saw more than 100,000 connections to the network, but did not specify if that number represents unique connections or contains multiple connections from the same devices. In addition, our special correspondent Keith Newman did spend tournament Saturday at the course, and found the network to provide good connectivity in many places around the grounds. In addition to putting APs on obvious placement spots like the edges of seating areas and on top of hospitality and other temporary structures, Cisco also had some mobile AP placements on towers in strategic locations.

According to Cisco, it brought in gear to create a 10 Gbps backbone for the Wi-Fi network, also including support for tournament back of house operations on that backbone. Static signage at the event directed fans to the Wi-Fi network, and since Cisco also sponsored this year’s U.S. Open mobile app, users of that were also alerted to the free Wi-Fi on the property.

Cisco Vision on the driving range

On the display side of things, Cisco also utilized its Cisco Vision IPTV display management system to help bring more interesting information to fans at the venue. Especially interesting was the incorporation of the Toptracer shot-tracking graphics to show live player performances on the driving range, with the ability to map multiple players and provide a range of stats on shot distance and speed.

The tournament, especially Sunday’s thrilling victory by Gary Woodland over the close-finishing Brooks Koepka, no doubt presented many networking challenges, especially when fans randomly thronged to tee-box areas to try to get a photo or a video of players teeing off.

“Our digital integration with Cisco provided us the opportunity to elevate the fan experience and provide more connectivity than any previous U.S. Open,” said Navin Singh, chief commercial officer of the USGA, ina prepared statement. “We also learned a lot and recognize that mobile consumption demands are only going to continue to grow. We are excited to get to work on providing an even better experience in 2020 at the 120th U.S. Open at Winged Foot.”

More photos from Pebble Beach below.

An on-course mobile AP placement. Credit: Cisco

Digital device use soared at the U.S. Open whenever Tiger Woods was around. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR (Screen shot of Fox TV broadcast)

A leaderboard provided space for an AP placement. Credit: Cisco

Toptracer shot-tracking graphics at the driving range, powered by Cisco Vision. Credit: Cisco

Fans clustered around tee boxes, putting extra stress on the network. Credit: Keith Newman, MSR

U.S. Open Sets Records for Online, App Viewing

We don’t have any definitive viewer numbers, but according to a press release from the USGA, the recent U.S. Open golf tournament in San Francisco attracted a record number of online viewers, especially for live online video and via mobile devices. This is hardly a surprise, since online golf viewership overall has been spiking this year, with no end in sight to the growth curve.

According to the USGA, which pioneered online coverage of golf, overall viewer visits to the U.S. Open website during the week increased 79 percent from the year-before totals, while views of live streaming video increased 210 percent from 2011. Though the USGA hasn’t provided exact numbers on page views and streaming video looks, it’s a good guess that the latter number is somewhere in the one- to two-million range, since approximately a half-million to a million folks will watch online video of a regular PGA event, according to PGA Tour reps. The U.S. Open’s website features were powered technically by IBM, which also helps produce the wonderful online experience for The Masters golf tourney.

The availability of an Android version of the USGA’s U.S. Open app helped spike visits to the mobile version of the Open website — according to the USGA, mobile website views increased 375 percent in 2012, with iPhone app downloads jumping up 44 percent from the previous year. In addition to live video the U.S. Open websites also included a live leaderboard, a photo stream and a unique feature that let you look at an interactive map of the course and see which players were on which hole. The USGA was also extremely active on Twitter, with the official U.S. Open Twitter feed providing constant scoring updates and links to feature coverage.

Even though the U.S. Open live online video wasn’t very comprehensive — on Thursday and Friday the coverage followed one “marquee” group throughout its round, and on the weekend the coverage consisted of only play at two holes — it was extremely well produced, with commentators that were critically judged by many observers to be better than some of the broadcast TV talent. It’s probably a safe guess to say that next year the USGA will continue to expand live online coverage of the U.S. Open, in sync with the expanded live online views coming next season from the PGA Tour for regular events. That’s good news for golf fans, who will apparently be rewarded for finding more ways to watch.

Forgive Me, USGA: I Used my Cell Phone on the Golf Course

Forgive me, USGA, for I have sinned. If I could, I would call a penalty on myself for violating one of your rules — though I’m not sure how many strokes it would cost me for using a cell phone on the course during U.S. Open competition.

The truth is, I’m not really repentant. The crime was worth it, and I’d do it again. It’s just too compelling to use a mobile device to get information you can’t get otherwise, and to enrich the experience of watching something live. For many reasons, live golf is a perfect atmosphere for second-screen access and instant communication. There’s lots of downtime in between the action, perfect for catching up on what’s happening on the rest of the course, or for sharing our experience with absent friends. Or for keeping up with work while we’re sneaking away to watch golf.

So it’s you, not me, USGA, who needs to change. Soon. So that all the fans who love golf enough to show up in person can share my secret pleasures from Friday, which included being able to watch play on the 14th hole, live, while sitting alone in the sun on the side of the 17th fairway.

Let it be noted that I committed this crime using the USGA’s own very fine U.S. Open app. And its wonderful live video feature. How can I comply with your rules when your very own programmers have built such a beautiful HD-quality viewing mechanism? It was just too good to resist.

To be clear, as a media member I was authorized to have a cellular device on the grounds — under the stipulation that I use it only in the media tent. Why did I not comply? Basically, because, USGA, you have an information-gap problem. In other sports like baseball, teams are putting in advanced digital access because they are worried about competing with the couch — they don’t want fans to stay home because the experience there will be better than the ballpark.

At the U.S. Open you may not have that problem, since golf’s best test will almost certainly always be a sellout, like it was this week in San Francisco. And I get it that you want to go old-school and not have electronic scoreboards everywhere you look. But the quaint stuff only goes so far. The simple biggest problem I saw out on the course Friday was that many fans — your patrons — had no friggin idea who was in the lead, who was in the hunt, or where particular players were on the course. And that took away from the experience.

Couch potatoes at home or distracted folks at work had much better info at their finger tips or laptop screens — while watching online at home in the morning I was loving the Playtracker scoring feature on the U.S. Open website, which showed in a graphic view of the course who was playing which hole, and what their up-to-date stats were. And the USGA’s Open Twitter feed is fabulous, providing up-to-the-second info and compelling links. At Olympic we were stuck looking at small scoreboards that were hard to see in the setting sun.

At one point, standing alongside the 17th fairway we all had no idea whether Tiger birdied or bogeyed No. 7, and when the scoreboard changed his stats you couldn’t tell if the “1” was red or green because of the way the sunlight was hitting the board. Luckily someone wearing one of those earpiece radios came by and set us all straight. But the future of live golf shouldn’t be a bunch of zombies all listening silently. Give us some easy to understand rules, and let our cell phones be free so that we can view and share information to enrich our on-site experience.

I get it that overzealous picture-taking fans, like those who ticked off Phil at the Memorial, are to be avoided. But why not try some clear, simple rules with clear penalties? Say, anyone who doesn’t turn their ringer sound down and takes an audible picture gets escorted off the grounds — just like belligerent drunks. You don’t let the few over-imbibers keep the rest of us from enjoying a cold beer; don’t let bad cell users keep the rest of us from being able to stay connected to stats and views during the inevitable downtimes between groups.

Nobody cared that I was transgressing Friday, probably because I was discreet and know the simple trick of turning my volume to vibrate. I have faith that most other golf fans will similarly comply — hell, several people in the group I was around on 17 even turned around to stop a USGA cart that was loudly headed up the path while Tiger was trying to make birdie. Real golf fans get it, that players want quiet to do their thing. So why not try tricks like a ban on cell-phone pictures around tees and greens? And set up some “Tweet tents” or Wi-Fi zones far away from sensitive action areas? Not only will that keep sad, unconnected fans happy, but I smell a Starbucks sponsorship. Make this something where everyone wins.

If you need some help, I am happy to volunteer to be part of a research committee to determine what fans want to do, and how the experience can work for everyone. It was heartening to talk to USGA officials this week and hear that they understand that people want to use their digital devices while at competitions. Let’s hope this happens sooner rather than later, so my days of crime can come to an end.

U.S. Open Online Ditches Rory-Luke-Lee Group, Will Show Furyk-Sergio-McDowell Instead

For its online-only coverage the USGA has been featuring “marquee” groups, starting Thursday morning with the Tiger-Phil-Bubba pairing and then switching to the “world top three” group of Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald in the afternoon. Those two groups were supposed to switch places on Friday, with the top three group as the morning show and the Tiger squad later in the day.

But apparently the Thursday afternoon group’s disappointing performance has caused an online switch, as now the USGA says it will feature the group of Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia and Graeme McDowell Friday morning. We first heard about the switch in a late Thursday tweet from the main USGA feed:

I guess the switch makes some sense, since McDowell is tied for second after a 1under 69 Thursday, with Furyk only a stroke back at even par and Me, Sergio, still not out of it at 3-over. McIlroy (77 Thursday), Westwood (73) and Donald (79) might have gone south Thursday, but I think it would have been interesting to see them go for broke Friday, trying risky shots to maybe make the cut. At about 11 p.m. Thursday we are trading DMs with the USGA Twitter operators trying to figure out who made this call. Will update this post as we learn more but — if you were hoping to see a Rory comeback online Friday, you are outta luck.