The Players Championship keeps major-like online viewing options

Island green at TPC Sawgrass, home of the Players Championship

Island green at TPC Sawgrass, home of the Players Championship

It’s still not recognized as one of professional golf’s majors, but this week’s Players Championship tournament nonetheless has majors-like online coverage, with multiple ways to watch golf online during a weekend when almost all of the top players are competing.

In addition to having big-event features like being able to follow featured groups of players throughout their entire round and to watch every group play the famous island-green hole, No. 17, the Players online options also include the PGA’s whizzy Live Maps feature, which lets you look at an interactive Google map of the course and then click on the group you want to see shot info for. For desktop jockeys who want to keep an eye on golf during Thursday and Friday, such option are what make online sports worthwhile.


As we did last year, however, we can’t heartily recommend the PGA app for mobile devices, unless your mobile device is made by Apple. We’ve tried the PGA app on several of the Android devices we have around the MSR headquarters, and have found it still spotty — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The other confusing thing about trying to watch golf online is the weird handoffs that sometimes happen due to network coverage issues.

What do we mean? Sometimes the golf is available online only, and sometimes you have to open the NBC app because the coverage is live on broadcast TV. Though it seems like you can always get there, the hoops and jumps seem like a confusing Kludge. Why golf (and other sports) can’t figure out the rights issues between themselves and just make it one-click easy for the fans is beyond me. But it’s a little reminder that we are still at early days for online and mobile sports viewing, and at least for me the value of being able to watch online or on a mobile device is worth the tradeoff of having to figure out how to configure my device or launch the right app. But it should be easier, and better.

Watching Golf This Week: Waste Management Phoenix Open, Antlers Optional

Screen shot of PGA's new Shot Tracker group close-up. Credit: PGA Tour

Screen shot of PGA’s new Shot Tracker group close-up. Credit: PGA Tour

Since we’re a bit late getting this week’s golf-watching post done, we can heartily recommend the Tour’s newly jazzed up Shot Tracker feature for following tournaments when there’s no live TV — we are mesmerized by Phil Mickelson’s opening 29 in Phoenix, and the Shot Tracker group watch gives you a really cool view of how the shots are played, graphically, on each hole. The screen shot to the left here doesn’t really do it justice, so go to the page and check it out yourself. The groups page is mesmerizing, with shots updating in real time. Wonder if this could ever have live video… how wild would that be?

In the meantime… make sure you stock up on your deer antler extract because it’s going to be a long weekend of golf, which you will probably be watching as much as possible to get away from more Super Bowl preview material. Phil is clearly off to a hot start, who will join him? Not Vijay, who withdrew due to “back problems.” Sure.


(all times Eastern)

Thursday, Jan. 31 — Golf Channel, 4 p.m. — 7 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 1 — Golf Channel, 4 p.m. — 7 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 2 — Golf Channel, 1 p.m. — 3 p.m.; NBC, 3 p.m. — 6 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 3 — Golf Channel, 1 p.m. — 3 p.m.; NBC, 3 p.m. — 6 p.m.

NOTE: Golf Channel will also show live coverage of the last three holes during NBC weekend broadcasts from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern, so that you don’t miss any of the 16th hole celebrations and antics.


Thursday and Friday, Golf Channel coverage via and; Saturday and Sunday, NBC coverage via the PGA page. Right now only Comcast cable subscribers can watch live online video on weekdays.

SIRIUS XM (Satellite)
1 p.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday-Friday and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The live broadcasts are also available to subscribers on the SiriusXM Internet Radio App and online at


The Waste Management Phoenix Open Twitter feed.
Geoff Shackelford — well known golf writer. If you’re not following Geoff you are missing the online boat.
Golf Channel — official Golf Channel feed
@PGATOUR — official PGA Twitter feed
@StephanieWei — great golf writer who is a Twitter fiend.
Doug Ferguson is the lead golf writer for AP. Good Twitter insights that often aren’t part of your wire-service lead.

C’mon, all you want to know about is the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale. Party on!

Kyle Stanley.

Watching Golf this Week: The Greenbrier Classic

With two weeks to go to the next major — the British Open — you can call this weekend’s Greenbrier Classic the last big tune-up for all the big names. And there is no name bigger in golf right now than Tiger Woods, who won last week in D.C. to earn his third win of the season — and if possible, even more conjecture over whether “he’s back” or “he’s not.”

Now No. 2 on the alltime tour win lists, there’s no place better for Woods to keep stalking No. 1, since Slammin’ Sammy called this area his own. And who wore a hat better? Nobody.

The unusual appearance of Woods — and other big names like Phil Mickelson and U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson — at the Greenbrier is also open to commentary, with some folks insinuating that there are some back-door appearance fees being paid here. For the couch surfing golf fan, however, it’s all good since it means there will likely be the drama of a “big name” on the leaderboard come Sunday.

No online video, but Shot Tracker should be back in action after losing a day last weekend due to the big storms that hit Congressional.

Here’s where to follow the action:


(all times Eastern)
Thursday, July 5 — Golf Channel, 3 p.m. — 7 p.m.
Friday, July 6 — Golf Channel, 3 p.m. — 7 p.m.
Saturday, July 7 — CBS, 3 p.m. — 6 p.m.
Sunday, July 8 — CBS, 3 p.m. — 6:30 p.m.

SIRIUS XM (Satellite)
1 p.m. — 7 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Sunday; 12 p.m. — 6 p.m., Saturday

No Live@ video this week — the PGA’s live online video doesn’t return until the Barclays in late August, so you will need to get your online fix from…

If all you want is shots and distances (which can be addicting) get your fix via Shot Tracker, providing the weather stays nice at the Greenbrier.

Of course the Greenbriar has a Facebook page. Like it.

The Greenbrier has its own feed.
Geoff Shackelford — well known golf writer. If you’re not following Geoff you are missing the online boat.
Golf Channel — official Golf Channel feed
@PGATOUR — official PGA Twitter feed
@StephanieWei — great golf writer who is a Twitter fiend. Check her Instagram stream for some cool shots of the Homestead, one of our favorite places.
Doug Ferguson is the lead golf writer for AP. Good Twitter insights that often aren’t part of your wire-service lead.

Here’s some history on the Old White TPC. And here’s the PGA’s nuts and bolts description.

Scott Stallings, for his first win on tour.

The Greenbrier, if you didn’t know it, is America’s Resort and a place with some great waters to take.

1. Tiger Woods, 1,952 points
2. Jason Dufner, 1,849
3. Hunter Mahan, 1,654
4. Bubba Watson, 1,617
5. Matt Kuchar, 1,423

See the full standings for the FedEx Cup points list.

1. Luke Donald; 2. Rory McIlroy; 3. Lee Westwood; 4. Tiger Woods; 5. Webb Simpson.
See the official World Golf Ranking list.

Watching Golf Profile: Shot Link and Shot Tracker — How Wireless + Lasers + Volunteers Makes Golf Stats Come Alive

A Shot Link laser operator sights a ball. Photo credits: PGA Tour.

When you watch golf on TV — or online — do you ever wonder exactly how the commentators know, within seconds, how far a player is from the green? Or from a bunker or hazard? If you are a golf veteran you may know of something called Shot Link, which somehow uses lasers to figure out the distance in seconds. But do you really know how it all works? And why it needs a wireless network and a whole bunch of volunteer help to bring it together every week?

Here at MSR we have been entranced this year with an app on the PGA Tour website called Shot Tracker. On the surface it looks just like an online leaderboard — until you glance at it while a tournament is going on, and you see all kinds of little graphics going in motion. Only then do you realize that hey — this thing is showing every shot on the course! — and if you are like me you are instantly addicted, watching seven different scores at once, to see how Tiger did out of the rough, how Phil did out of the trap, and whether Jason Day made that 40-foot, 4-inch putt.

Shot Link laser operators in a greenside tower.

Naturally, we wanted to know how it all worked so we put in a call to the PGA and eventually got on the horn with Steve Evans, a senior vice president in the PGA’s information systems department. Evans was kind enough to walk us through the amazing behind-the-scenes technology of Shot Link and Shot Tracker, both of which will likely play a huge role as the tour embraces more mobile data consumption options for its stats-insatiable fans.

The key to understanding Shot Tracker is to know about Shot Link, the system that is the heart and soul of instant PGA statistics. Shot Tracker, which is an app on the PGA’s website, gets all its data from Shot Link, the system set up on each course. On the Shot Link site the PGA describes the system thusly:

The ShotLink System is a revolutionary platform for collecting and disseminating scoring and statistical data on every shot by every player in real-time. The vision of the system is to “Turn data into information, information into knowledge, and knowledge into entertainment.”

Another view of a handheld laser/scoring system in action.

According to Evans the two technological keys to Shot Link are wireless handheld devices for entering data about shots, and laser-based survey equipment, which as you might guess provides an accurate distance from laser to a golf ball lying in the grass. With every group of golfers in a PGA Tour event covered by Shot Link there is one person walking with the group as a scorer, entering information like “shot hit” when someone swings at a ball. On each hole there are also handheld and tower-located laser stations, to get fixes on balls in the fairways, rough, sand, and on the green.

The final piece to the Shot Link system is a huge graphical database of every course the PGA plays on, mapped for distances. Via triangulation from their laser stations and some sophisticated computer programs the Shot Link system can almost instantly calculate distances to greens, hazards and other places on their map — which the tour can then relay to commentators in the broadcast booths, making them seem like complete wizards of distance. But it turns out, there’s a lot of elves running around making the wizards look good.

Wireless Networks, and Lots of Volunteers

In addition to some impressive techno-firepower — Evans said the PGA has three different Shot Track setups that leapfrog each other going from venue to venue, with computer servers and office space in separate 53-foot trailers — at each venue the tour must draft up to 350 volunteers to staff the scoring system. When you start thinking about two-person crews for each tower laser, with one tower on par-3 holes, two on par-4s and three on par-5s, plus walking scorers, plus walking laser holders, plus several shifts to cover all the golfers at a tourney — the volunteer needs add up. But Evans said the drafting is actually getting easier each year.

“We have about an 80 percent retention rate” of volunteers signing up year after year, Evans said.

The PGA also installs its own wireless network on each site, using approximately 22 access points, putting antennas up in the air a bit so that there is good coverage for all the handheld scoring devices and the lasers. Evans said the PGA also has sophisticated enough software to check for data anomalies, and if a question comes up the answer can be confirmed if necessary via a voice radio.

What you have, in the end, is some incredible real-time data gathering being used to fuel stats and graphics that help bring the game to life, both in information relayed to TV broadcast crews as well as delivered directly to fans via apps like Shot Tracker.

And it’s not just distances that Shot Link provides. At the recent FedEx St. Jude Classic, it seemed like a lot of guys were rinsing their shots into water hazards. So a query was run against Shot Link data, and sure enough it showed that over 9 years there were more balls hit in the water at the FedEx than at any other course. Now that’s turning knowledge into entertainment.

On the drawing board is a new version of Shot Tracker, the addictive app that uses Shot Link data to show where and how players are playing on a leaderboard. Since the current version was built using Adobe Flash technology, it can’t be easily shown on Apple iPhones and iPads, since those devices don’t support Flash programs.

“Our road map [for Shot Tracker] is multi-platform, with lots of talk about mobile devices,” Evans said. He also hinted there might be a different user interface, perhaps one more like the one recently used for the U.S. Open that showed different playing groups on a graphical map of the course. That app, however, didn’t show shot by shot data, the killer app thing that Shot Link brings to the table.

As wireless electronics get better and cheaper, who knows what the future will bring — perhaps wireless microchips in each ball? For now, Shot Link and Shot Tracker are pretty darn good, and for that we can thank the PGA IT folks and the many, many volunteers who push the buttons and sight the lasers.

“It’s been kind of neat, to figure out how to build something like Shot Link,” Evans said. Golf fans everywhere, no doubt, agree.

PGA Tour to Part Ways with Turner, Manage its Own Digital Properties

We’ve seen this movie before, when the NFL started taking control of its own content and starting the NFL Network. Now golf’s big professional tour, the PGA Tour, has announced plans to completely take over production of its own digital properties, ending a relationship it had with Turner Sports since 2006.

It’s perhaps a small surprise that golf’s biggest operator should want more control, since by its own account digital consumption of content is growing fast with no top in sight. And Mobile Sports Report readers already know that the PGA is planning to expand its live video options in 2013, with full simulcasts of broadcast TV available to the mobile, digital audience.

Paul Johnson, PGA TOUR Senior Vice President of Strategic Development, Digital Media and Entertainment, put it simply in the PGA’s press release:

“With the speed in which the digital landscape is changing, we feel it is important to control all aspects of the business directly,” Johnson added. “This does not reflect upon Turner, which has done a wonderful job and has been a great partner; it is about our overall strategy regarding our fans, players, sponsors and other stakeholders, and our desire to control those elements directly out into the future.”

The PGA and Turner, in our view, have done a pretty impressive job innovating, with cool online apps like Shot Tracker, which is due for an upgrade as well in 2013, maybe even getting to mobile platforms.

The real question, as golf writer Geoff Shackelford asks, is whether or not digital coverage will be better or worse in 2013. Is it a rebuilding year, or will the talent in Ponte Vedra Beach perform like LeBron? We, along with lots of other digital golf enthusiasts, will be watching.