USGA boosts fan experience with technology


June 15, 2017

Aaron Hein, 8, of Franklin smiles as turns towards his father, Doug, after hitting a shot in the golf simulator Wednesday morning in the USGA Golf Innovation Experience tent during the third day of practice rounds for the 117th U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills in the town of Erin.
 John Ehlke/Daily News

TOWN OF ERIN — Technology has fostered faster and more intricate communication among people, and many organizations, including the United States Golf Association, are taking advantage of it to enhance fan experience.

Officials from the USGA published a news release stating they are enhancing the digital fan experience at the 117th U.S. Open at Erin Hills with an app that will provide information regarding the tournament, including the weather and logistics, but also game information, such as player biographies.

On one level, the app is designed to provide fundamental information about the game so fans know what is happening at the tournament in real time, including the leaderboard, course conditions and the schedule for players’ tee times.

Representatives from the USGA wanted to enhance the format and provide supporters the opportunity to share their experiences with friends and loved ones, creating what they believe is added value.

“The other thing we did was add an experienced-based app for fans,” said Dave Aznavorian, senior director of marketing for the USGA. “If you look at any major experience now, you not only want to be able to do it physically, but you also want to be able to expand upon it in your social channels — and I think so many people build their identities around their experiences that it is one thing to be here and do it, it is another thing to let all of your followers know that you are actually doing in real time.”

That is the purpose of the second layer, the additional layer in the app that officials wanted to incorporate. The process begins when fans download the app and create a QR code they can use to track their activities while on the grounds at Erin Hills.

The activities tournament officials decided was not random, they were selected from analyzing what fans want to share with their friends and loved ones — from experts with understanding of consumers.

“The benefit for the USGA when we put this on is that we are able to work with a lot of our corporate partners, and our corporate partners have deep backgrounds in technology and have done other events,” Aznavorian said. “We have a healthy conversation to say, ‘what would be a cool event we could make to enhance the experience for a fan?’” They also spoke with fans who attended previous events to solicit their feedback.

“I think they wanted more video,” Aznavorian said. “That was some of the feedback we heard. They wanted to be able to easily access their favorite players, particularly for those onsite, ‘where can I get a view of golf ?’” With that information, representatives incorporated a tent where visitors can replicate the activities of players, announcers or test their knowledge of the game.

As an example, a visitor can play a hole virtually by hitting a golf ball into a screen where sensors located within the partition will calculate and project where the ball would have landed had they been playing an actual hole.

“Yes, it was cool,” Kordell Swanson said after he hit a golf ball into the screen. “I just like hitting a golf ball inside.”

In another activity, a guest can participate in the role of an announcer and call some of the game’s greatest moments. One was Julia Holz, who announced the final putt that awarded Payne Stewart the trophy in 1999.

“I am Julia Holz and here is Payne Stewart at the 72nd hole of the 99th US Open Championship at Pinehurst,” Holz said when she read the prompter. “The par putt is on its way, it’s tracking — Payne Stewart is your 1999 US Open champion.”

“It was fun,” youngster Brooke Umbarger from Jefferson said of her experience. “I picked Dustin Johnson because I liked him.”

Others can attempt the putt Tiger Woods made to win one of the tournaments.

These experiences are designed to give fans moments they can share and cherish for years to come, but as fun as they are, they also serve a purpose.

“Our mission is to put on this championship to inspire golfers to play the game, so do we want to conduct a championship that identifies the best player in the world?” Aznavorian said. “We absolutely do. In the context of that championship, do we want someone who has never played golf before to go out and pick up a club? Yes. That is where our mission ultimately leads.”