The PGA Tour's ambitious endeavour to revamp its 20-year-old ShotLink system took a significant leap forward with the introduction of a state-of-the-art hybrid power system. Initiated more than a year ago, the comprehensive reconstruction faced its latest challenge during the RSM Classic in Georgia last November, marking its third deployment at The American Express in California this weekend since the turn of 2024.
Ken Lovell, the Tour’s SVP of Golf Technology, emphasised the enormity of the logistical task at hand, stating, "Nothing ever works out of the box." Despite the challenges, the Tour aims to showcase numerous upgrades to ShotLink, especially in mapping capabilities. ShotLink 2.0, armed with an advanced sensor network, LiDAR, and photogrammetry functions, seeks to capture ball-in-motion data from tee to green. This upgrade allows for the calculation of intricate statistics like spin rate and axis of rotation, transforming the ability to analyse golf statistics.
Lovell highlighted the ten-fold increase in data movement off the golf course over the last 18 months, a development that has far-reaching implications for players, fans, and broadcasters. The revamped ShotLink promises an enhanced experience by providing more comprehensive and real-time data.
However, the glitz of technological advancement comes with its share of challenges. The hybrid power system supporting ShotLink 2.0 relies on military-grade battery-powered modules and solar panels. Lovell explained that each new event requires full setups, adapting to varying details based on location. The Tour has significantly expanded its sensor network, with 120 cameras on the golf course, necessitating strategic placement of power centres known as "masts."
These masts, ranging from tripod-sized to 10 meters tall, are equipped with military-grade Humvee batteries and Raspberry Pi computer chips. The hybrid power system integrates solar panels, enhancing battery life and reducing the reliance on traditional power sources. Lovell estimated the installation of 70-90 masts per event, strategically placed across fairways and greens.
The system's efficiency allows remote operation from the PGA Tour’s headquarters in Florida, reducing the need for on-site monitoring. Lovell emphasised the advantages, stating, "It just solves this big problem for us of having something that we can constantly monitor."
Beyond the technological benefits, the hybrid power system has practical advantages, significantly reducing fibre cabling requirements and minimising the need for propane canisters traditionally used to fuel generators. Lovell pointed out the positive impact on the golfing environment, citing less noise, exhaust, and flammable liquids.
While the hybrid power system currently powers ShotLink exclusively, Lovell hinted at potential broader applications, including powering broadcast functions, pending further testing and development. As the system continues to exceed expectations, the PGA Tour anticipates ongoing efficiency gains and a potential paradigm shift in golf technology.