UNISYS Wireless Golf Scoring System

Unisys' wireless Golf Scoring System went mobile at this year's U.S. Open. Here's how the company ensures the system's reliability, predictability and performance.

July 22, 2003

7 Min Read
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Whatever it is that drives their obsession, they know that speed can stand in the way of their primary goal: to provide rock-solid scoring services for professional golf tournaments around the world. So Unisys limits the wireless network's bandwidth to 2 Mbps, less than one fifth the maximum speed of an 802.11b network. It works because Jeff Schroeder, technical manager for global sports marketing at Unisys, designed the wireless applications used by the scoring system to behave like they are traveling over a 28.8-Kbps dial-up connection.

Why all this concern about speed? Because an 11-Mbps wireless connection is more finicky than a 2-Mbps link, and on a tight schedule finicky is not an option. Schroeder is as stingy as Scrooge when it comes to bandwidth. A good example of his spendthrift ways is his approach to managing the wireless networks. Off-the-shelf wireless management applications tend to blast packets about in a willy-nilly fashion that is unacceptable to the miser of wireless golf scoring. So Schroeder wrote a monitoring tool that sends about eight packets every 20 seconds to find out the status of the access points and the access points associated with the target access point.

That Was Then...

Week after week, year after year since 1985, Unisys has been helping the United States Golf Association (USGA) provide scoring services for all its tournaments, including the U.S. Open, which wrapped up on June 15 in Olympia Fields, Ill., about 23 miles southwest of Chicago. The service has changed over the years, but not as dramatically as you might expect. Until just two years ago, Unisys was using a UHF-based system with equipment from Norand. Walking scorers kept the scores on paper and passed them to greenside scorers at the completion of each hole. The greenside scorers uploaded each golfer's scores to a central Unisys server using a wireless dumb terminal.

In 2001, the Norand equipment was retired. Intermec Technologies Corp., which had acquired Norand, stepped into the partnership with Unisys, bringing significant 802.11b experience and a slate of 802.11b equipment, including access points and wireless terminals based on Microsoft's Pocket PC platform. Walking scorers still kept the scores on paper, but the greenside devices were now communicating, via the 802.11b wireless standard, with one of the 20 or 30 Intermec MobileLAN access 2101 access points strategically placed throughout the course.This Is Now

The success of the 802.11b equipment led to another innovation at this year's Open: The Unisys wireless Golf Scoring System went paperless. Instead of the walking scorers passing paper records to greenside scorers with wireless devices, 52 walking scorers, one per group of golfers on the course, each carried an Intermec 710 Series Mobile Computer. The greenside scorers are history.

The Scorer's App uses the touch screen on the Pocket PC to collect information on each hole for each golfer in a foursome. The scorer records "yes" or "no" for a fairway hit, the number of strokes to a green or greenside bunker, the number of shots made from a greenside bunker, the number of putts and the total score. When the total is recorded, the handheld app checks to make sure the total and the strokes recorded in each category are the same. If everything jibes, the scorer pushes a button to batch-upload all that hole's data to the scoring server. The scoring server takes that information and calculates some key statistics, such as fairways and greens hit in regulation and sand saves. The server then blasts that information to hardwired terminals scattered around the tournament site.

At each of the 20 leaderboards, which are still like the old ballpark scoreboards that require manual operators to post physical signs, the operators use another handheld application, the Leaderboard App, to keep the 18 leaderboards around the course up to date. Rather than using push technology to force an update down to the leaderboard device, Unisys has found it works better to notify the operators that an update is available. It's up to the operator to pull down an update to his or her device, which helps avoid confusion while operators might be busy handling previous updates.

This Network Has Wires, TooIn addition to the 80 wireless handhelds used by walking scorers, leaderboard operators and USGA VIPs, Unisys installs and maintains about 175 wired PCs to deliver real-time scoring information to on-site media (50 laptops and 20 desktops), sponsor hospitality tents and USGA officials who don't rate high enough for a handheld. The wired devices run a browser application called Inquiry App, which is wrapped in a custom C++ application that Schroeder wrote.

The application's hallmark is its extreme user-friendliness. which saves the on-site technical staff from having to conduct extensive user training. The Inquiry App's point-and-click interface is a no-brainer. The Inquiry App delivers up-to-the-minute, hole-by-hole scores and detailed stats about each golfer, such as fairways hit, greens in regulations and sand saves for the current round and for the tournament. It also displays stats about each hole, including average score for the day and for the tournament. If you're lucky enough to have access to one of the corporate hospitality tents, you can use the Inquiry App to find out where your favorite golfer is on the course before you venture into the great outdoors.

Real-time updates are sent out to the world via an external Web site hosted by AT&T and its ICDS (Intelligent Content Distribution Service) network for the USGA over a dedicated dial-up line. Yes, you read that right--dial-up. When you've condensed the game of golf to its bare essence, a few strokes here, a few putts there, dial-up and an 802.11b network constrained to 2 Mbps throughput are all you really need. The pros cooperate by keeping their scores ridiculously low--no double digits in that bunch.

The Unisys personnel involved at any one event are an international cast of characters. That's because Unisys also provides scoring services for the British Open, the PGA European Tour, the Canadian PGA and the PGA Tour of Australia. At this year's U.S. Open, Unisys representatives from the U.K. and Australia joined the permanent U.S. team along with representatives from Chicago-area Unisys branch offices. Members of the U.S. team help with large overseas tournaments such as the British Open.

So, the next time you're watching the U.S. Open, the British Open or the PGA Club Championship on TV and you see the Unisys logo above the scores, think of Schroeder, Steve Becker, Michael Leone, Colin Cousins, Rob Menegon and the rest of the crew from Unisys and Intermec. They make sure you know how your favorite golfer is doing with reliable, predictable precision.Post a comment or question on this story.

Jeff Schroeder: Technical Manager for Global Sports Marketing, Unisys

Jeff Schroeder, 44, runs the scoring operations for all the golf tournaments run by the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) of America. In addition to ensuring that the scoring system is up and running at each tournament, Schroeder writes and maintains the applications used on the handheld Intermec Pocket PCs for scoring and at the leaderboard. He also wrote the browser-based apps used to deliver scoring data and statistics to on-site officials, media and the real-time leaderboards available worldwide over the Internet.

Biggest technical snafu: In 1999, our UHF antenna cable fell apart during the event and we were off the air until we could climb the tower and make a repair.

When simple is better: We have our own programmer--me--so we take advantage of that to make sure each app is tuned to operate efficiently over low-bandwidth connections. I exchange eight packets with each access point to monitor connectivity and collect the management information I need to ensure that everything is working correctly. An SNMP management package would blast a huge amount of traffic over our connections and collect a ton of information we don't need.Couldn't do without it: The technical support we receive from Intermec is priceless. Michael Leone, the on-site wireless guru, determines the best sites for locating access points, and monitors the wireless system during the tournament.

Typical week on the tour: Our typical week is 11 days long. We arrive at the tournament site on Thursday, a week before the first day of the event, and start to set up the course. By Monday we're testing and fine-tuning the system, looking for problems and training the volunteer walking scorers. By Thursday we're ready to go live, and Sunday night we tear it all down so we can start over again at the next event.

What I could live without: Once the season starts, I have seven consecutive weeks on the road without a break.

Wheels: 1990 Toyota Celica. I have kids in college.

For fun: Sailing, spending time with the family.

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