Think of a time restriction on sports stars and you might think of the 60 seconds rugby players have to convert a try; or the 24 seconds basketball players have to shoot a basket once possession is won.
One sport not naturally associated with time pressure is golf, but this is exactly what’s happening in the new Shot Clock form of the game. Shot clocks are designed to put increased – and very conspicuous – time pressure on the players, both to speed up play and to emphasise the tension and excitement inherent in golf.
The European Tour’s Shot Clock Masters, held in Austria in June, was the first time a competitive, ranking golf tournament had implemented a shot clock for every player, on every hole, for every shot.
Not only did engagement with fans dramatically increase compared to other tournaments, but also the golf itself was on average 30 minutes quicker per round
Its impact was dramatic – not only did engagement with fans dramatically increase compared to other tournaments, but also the golf itself was on average 30 minutes quicker per round. Player performance improved, too: the average score for the tournament was over a shot less than before the shot clock was introduced. These are all hugely encouraging metrics.
However, golf’s sporting challenge is more than complemented by its infrastructure challenge. As the game itself goes through modernisation, and increasingly brave innovation, those challenges are becoming harder to overcome.
Delivering the Shot Clock Masters was one of the most challenging technical projects ever delivered directly into the field of play for a live TV sports event.
If introducing a real-time shot clock across multiple pairs of golfers spanning a 150-acre golf course was challenge enough, the European Tour also had to contend with relaying the information to players, a referee, attending fans and to TV audiences. All from 20 golf buggies traversing a golf course simultaneously.
Consequently, while the Shot Clock Masters was a world first from a sporting perspective, it was matched by two world firsts from an operational and technical perspective.
The first of these is an app-driven Shot Clock system in sport; and the second was the world’s first digital Carry Board in golf (that’s the score boards that follow players during a round, which have always been manually changed by a human being until now). The timing solution alone involved five different companies.
The key to delivering a successful event was synchronising 20 iPads in 20 golf buggies following the 20 pairs of golfers on the course
The key to delivering a successful event was synchronising 20 iPads in 20 golf buggies following the 20 pairs of golfers on the course. That iPad controlled a custom-built app communicating directly with a server held on the buggy itself. That required dual-access Wi-Fi, cellular access for resilience and a battery life that would survive two rounds of golf a day.
To enable the shot clock to function in real time, on each buggy, and to then communicate that data to a variety of channels, we had to create a Wi-Fi network with 100-per-cent coverage over a 150-acre course. This had to happen despite the course effectively being a hostile wi-fi environment (golf tournaments come with lots of technical ‘noise’, from spectator wi-fi to photographers’ myfi networks and broadcast camera crews using radio frequency).
The data challenge was not insignificant, too. To operate, the referees’ iPads needed to connect to the server on their unique buggy, which then drove the digital display and produced an export file for a Shot Clock central server to record the data, while also synchronising with our media production team who would be converting this into a customised TV graphics package with full timing synchronisation between the course and broadcasters, so that an on-screen shot clock display was available to TV viewers.
With up to 20 buggies working across 18 holes and timing up to 8,640 shots a day, the risk of a technical failure were considerable. However, our determination to succeed and wealth of experience working across such diverse and challenging conditions ensured the tournament was a massive success, and will be here to stay.
Let’s end by letting the stats do the talking:
• A Shot Clock Masters average round for a pair of golfers was 31 minutes faster than the average length of a European Tour round this year;
• The Shot Clock Masters tournament average score was 1.13 shots lower than the average for previous events at the same course over the past eight years (2010-2017);
• The fastest two-ball round at the Shot Clock Masters was just 3 hours and 12 minutes – that’s a full 45 minutes faster than the average elsewhere on the European Tour;
• Social media impressions were up by 51 per cent (Twitter), 61 per cent (Instagram) and 13 per cent (YouTube) compared to the previous year’s tournament;
• The European Tour website attracted 52 per cent more page views than last year’s tournament, leading to a 20-per-cent increase in pageviews per user.