Live From the 151st Open Championship: SMT Data Powers Fan, Viewer Experience

In recent years the biggest transformation for golf fans both on the course at events like the 151st Open Championship and those at home on the couch watching a broadcast has been data. Not only the amount of it but the speed with which it is captured on the course and passed through to viewers. And once again at the Open Championship SMT and its team are powering tons of that data, whether it is scheduling of pairings and groupings, keeping track of every shot taken on the course, powering the on-course leaderboards, the media center scoreboard, and much more.

(l-to-r) SMT’s Dan Culp, Mary Venable, Matt Ballard, and Barrett Tucker in the SMT scoring cabin at the 151st Open Championship.

Matthew Ballard, SMT senior operations manager, is on site with the SMT team which arrived about 10 days before the tournament week began. That gives them time to deploy wireless access points around the course and make sure all eighteen holes have good connectivity for live scoring. It also gives them the time needed to educate the more than 80 scorers that walk the course with the golfers and keep track of shot distance, club selection, and result with handheld devices.

“During the practice rounds they get the feel for it,” says Ballard. “Thankfully now everybody has a smart phone, so they aren’t as terrified of the technology as they used to be.”

Producer Mary Venable in the SMT scoring cabin keeps in touch with all the on-course scorers, making sure everything is coming in and also communicating with the official scoring cabin which is located about SMT’s cabin.

As scoring alerts come in, they are then distributed to everyone from on-course manual scoreboard operators, the digital leaderboards around the course, NBC and World Feed in the broadcast compound, digital services and apps, and much more.

For example, for those at home the data captured by SMT gets pumped over to the broadcast compound where graphics devices for the world feed, NBC Sports, and Sky Sports take it.

“SMT provides the BrINT (Broadcast Interface) for the NBC telecast to American viewers in the states. SMT has provided this since 2017 when NBC acquired the rights,” adds Ballard.

The digital leaderboards are a big part of keeping fans on the course aware of who is doing what around the course. The digital boards allow those sitting on the green hundreds of yards from the tee box to know who is hitting the next shot. The SMT data not only provides that information but also automatically keeps track of GPS data of the group so that when the group gets close to a scoreboard it automatically triggers to a static leaderboard so as to not disturb play.

“We can also see each scoreboard and make sure the data is flowing correctly,” says Ballard.

In the cabin there is also a large monitor that tracks the groups as well as the SMT support team. That way if there is an issue to be dealt with the team at the cabin can look at the monitor and see who is closest rather than asking is anyone near hole 15?

“It helps, especially when you have big crowds and it’s not easy to move about the golf course,” he adds.

SMT also helps the scoreboard operators in the two big manual scoreboards on the 18th hole keep up to date on scoring.

“We have cellphones with our supervisor app that has all kinds of data and also allows us to track battery levels on all our devices on the course so we can swap out if needed,” says Ballard. “And the people working in those two big scoreboards, about 10 on each side working in shifts of five people, we let them know exactly what to display with scoring changes that come through the GolfX scoring system.”

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