On-demand Linux services drive PGA TourCast service

Computerworld (U.S. online)

While most eyes were on Tiger Woods at the PGA Tour’s Buick Classic this weekend, Jonathan Kaye also had more than his usual share of followers.

And that’s not just because Kaye, 32, was en route to winning his first PGA event after 195 starts. Some 250 PGA Tour volunteers were lining the fairways at the Westchester Country Club in Harrison, N.Y., armed with Palm handhelds, as they electronically tracked every shot that was hit during the tournament. The information was fed into the PGA Tour Inc.’s TourCast system, a subscription-based, real-time scoring service that the PGA Tour began offering to golf fans five months ago.

For US$9.95 a month or US$60 a year, golf fans can access TourCast via Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.-based PGA Tour’s Web site. In addition to providing fans with 15-to-20-second updates on each shot that’s taken during a PGA event, the system contains graphical representations of each hole that can show fans exactly where Jim Furyk’s tee shot landed on No. 13.

The TourCast system, a Flash application, is powered by IBM Corp.’s Linux Virtual Services under an on-demand computing model. That allows the PGA Tour to scale computing capacity on an IBM T-Rex mainframe that powers the subscription services as demand rises and falls. One example of this demand came last month when LPGA champion Annika Sorenstam became the first female golfer in 58 years to play in a men’s event when she teed up at the 2003 Bank of America Colonial tournament in Fort Worth, Tex.

“We offered TourCast free at the Colonial tournament, and there was incredible demand,” said Steve Evans, vice president of information systems at the nonprofit PGA Tour. The utility-based computing model has worked well in supporting the subscription service since “we knew TourCast would have predictable usage Thursdays through Sundays,” when PGA Tour events are in full swing, he said.

In addition to tracking each shot taken during PGA events, fans can use TourCast to check on a plethora of scoring statistics. For instance, if during the Buick Classic, Fred Couples were to hit into the right rough on the sixth hole, fans could check on the percentage of other players who hit into that same rough that were able to make par on that hole. Fans can also see which player shot closest to the pin on each hole, as well as who made the longest birdie on each hole, thanks to laser devices that are positioned throughout the course to record the location of each ball.

Once a PGA Tour volunteer enters a shot for a player on a handheld device, the information is uploaded via UHF radios to a set of servers aboard a PGA truck at each event. The truck then transmits the data via a high-speed Internet connection to the PGA Tour’s data centre in Secaucus, N.J., where it’s routed to an IBM data centre in Boulder, Colo., and processed by a T-Rex mainframe.

Evans declined to say how many subscribers have signed up for the TourCast service. However, he said a comparable service offered to NASCAR racing fans called TrackPass generated 80,000 to 90,000 subscribers. “If we can get to near that level, we’d consider this a success,” Evans said. He added that the PGA’s TourCast subscription goals through the first five months “are pretty much on target.”