Case Study: Golf goes wireless

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The impact of wireless technology on major sporting events can be transformational. Chris Bignell, director of XL Communications, reports on a new wireless technology for golf venues that could improve both players' rounds and profitability for golf clubs.

It was Mark Twain that said golf is a terrible way to ruin a good walk. He may have had a point but for the 4m or so adult golfers in the UK, other irritations can mar a trip round 18 holes, for example, slow players, congested courses and a cheese and onion pasty on the return to the club house. A UK specialist in wireless technology, Wood & Douglas, claims to have an answer for each of these issues with a new product aimed at golf courses called the Course Management Unit (CMU). The CMU is a course wide wireless network that enables both golfers and the pro shop to enjoy a clearer and more effective round of golf. And according to its inventors it also enables golfing venues to make more money from the resources that they have. Wireless developmentsFor the wider population, the advantages of GPS technology are widely known. Most car owners now use satellite navigation units, either built into the car or portable, and the development of GPS technology into mobile phones has further developed demand for location–based services. The CMU takes this concept one step further, using a combination of GPS and either the mobile phone networks or shortwave radio to create a course wide management and reporting system for golf clubs. The system relies on members of a club carrying a small wireless token, about the size of a key fob, on their person whilst on the course. The wireless token then provides a GPS record of where the golfer has been during the course of their 18 holes. Good for golfersFor golfers the benefits are simple to understand. The CMU can track course movements and provide the golfer with a full list of statistics for their round – how far they walked, how many shots they took and even analysis of shots played. Arguments over the 'longest drive' and 'nearest the pin' competitions are made easier by the ability of golfers to mark their shots accurately and certify these through the GPS technology. Better for the courseThe more serious application of the CMU comes for golf venues, since it enables the pro shop to better understand the dynamics of what is happening on the course at any one time. For example the system could alert the pro shop to a backlog of players waiting to play one particular hole, enabling them to investigate the reason quickly and easily and deal with any issues on the course. More interestingly, the CMU claims to provide golf courses to manage the course occupancy more effectively. The system connects to the internet, which means that members living locally could check the availability of tee slots in real time and decide when to play based on the number of people either on the course at the time or booked in to play in the future. You could even imagine a scenario where pricing of tee times for visitors could be based on availability of slots, in much the same way as the airlines now charge for seats depending on how many they have left to sell. This could prove to be a potential source of additional revenue for clubs, particularly those that charge a premium for specific times and dates. As well as internet access, the CMU can be connected to digital screens within the clubhouse. So if a society event or a competition is taking place on a course, the early finishers can be entertained by the activities of those still grappling with the elements. Wood & Douglas claims that the unit can even predict when the club house should warm up the pasties, because it knows exactly when people will be returning from the round. Bring the technology to the courseThe CMU can be provided in two different platforms. The first uses a combination of mobile phone network technology (GSM) and satellite navigation (GPS). The advantage is, according to its creators, that this is more easily installed, meaning that, in theory at least, it could be rented by a club for a specific event or competition. The downside is that, because it uses the public mobile networks, data transferred from the golfers incurs a cost, largely determined by the mobile networks themselves. Whilst there are data packages available for this purpose, the cost might be hard to predict. A longer term approach is to use shortwave radio to provide the service. This means the ongoing costs can be considerably cheaper. Essentially the golf course creates its own private wireless network to run the service, which would be owned by the club but would need maintaining. Wood & Douglas is offering a survey of the golf course, installation of infrastructure and the passage of information across its own servers as part of the overall package to golf clubs. The other advantage of a private wireless network is that, once the golfer leaves the course, it is not longer possible to track what they are doing or where they are going – an important consideration that hints at one potential stumbling block of the CMU. Privacy: a thorny issue? There is a growing suspicion among the public around providing personal information that could be used either for marketing or other more sinister purposes. However, the GPS technology being used is the same as that used in the cars SATNAV. In the case of the CMU there is a link between an individual and their location on the course – not in itself perhaps a major issue, although I am sure there would be some people that would have an interest in knowing if their partner was on the golf course. Realistically, personalised information is only available within the confines of the golf course, meaning that it is broadly useless for any other purpose, but there may be club members who do not wish to have their shots or searches through the bushes to find a lost ball recorded. It would be a pity if this was to limit the acceptance of such technology, which could be applied to other participative sporting event as well as major events more generally. If it sees an end to slow play and offers golf clubs a route to more effective and efficient day–to–day management of courses, the potential could be significant. Whatever else, it is a demonstration of how wireless technology, in whatever form, will transform our lives further than we can imagine. We may all have mobile phones already, but the wireless revolution is only just beginning. Chris Bignell runs XL Communications, a communications consultancy that specialises in helping companies get the most from mobile. www. xl–comms. comThe Wood & Douglas Group designs and manufactures high quality bespoke wireless solutions optimising physical size, power consumption, radio signalling protocol and radio type approval to deliver OPEX savings to clients in Homeland Security, Healthcare, Mining, Transportation and the Utilities markets. www. woodanddouglas. co. uk/

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