UPDATED 15:35 EDT / APRIL 10 2024


Turning golf shots into insights: How IBM is driving an AI-powered Masters digital experience

At SiliconANGLE, we love tech, we love sports and we especially love it when both come together. A prime example of this is on full display this week at the 88th Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, where IBM Corp. is providing a compelling use case for how a storied tradition meets state-of-the-art technology.

The Augusta National Golf Club has a gold mine of data and IBM is well-positioned to facilitate the use of AI and analytics to change the face of golf. IBM has been a partner with Augusta National for more than 25 years, helping to capture and analyze data for use by Tournament organizers and fans that follow the action for one of the major sports events of the year. This year, generative AI capabilities built from watsonx – IBM’s AI and data platform – are providing a more personalized and engaging digital experience for millions of Masters fans around the world.

To get a behind-the-scenes look at the role of data in IBM’s partnership with Augusta National and the journey toward an AI-driven Masters, I sat down for an exclusive interview with Monica Ellingson, practice lead at IBM iX Sports and Entertainment. Ellingson spoke with me from IBM’s command center on the grounds of Augusta National where a sizable team was deep in preparations for the event, which officially gets under way on Thursday.

IBM leverages shot-by-shot insights using generative AI

 For the past several years, IBM has been steadily building a digital platform around the Masters event. In 2019, the Masters app and website offered 3D Track, which included an ability to view embedded video clips of every shot on every hole. This year, Masters fans will have access to shot-by-shot insights built on top of this platform.

“For several years now, we’ve been presenting shot data in the 3D Track experience that the Masters has and that’s where these insights are going to be located,” Ellingson said. “This year we are rolling out a generative AI solution using watsonx which is our data and AI platform that will auto-generate insights not only for a hole but for each individual shot and the location of a hole.”

According to IBM, this new feature – Hole Insights – marks the first time that golf fans can receive insights based on live shots directly on the Masters website. Deployment of watsonx is enabling a level of granularity that blends historical data with real-time information.

“It will say, ‘from this particular location there is an x likelihood … of making par or making birdie,’” Ellingson explained. “It gives you that additional level of insight into how the course plays historically at different holes and different locations, but also how it is playing right now for this year’s Tournament. It peels back that layer of mystique about the course.”

Are player simulations a possibility?

This peeling of the onion through the AI-fueled enhancements that IBM is bringing to the Masters digital experience could lead to additional use cases, such as simulated rounds by the players themselves This opens up the tantalizing prospect that the data for every shot on every hole, solely owned by Augusta National, could ultimately change the face of golf if opened up to the players.

Although nothing has been built out yet for the players, according to Ellingson, she noted that a gamified experience already exists for golf fans. Masters Fantasy was introduced by IBM in 2021 that allowed fans to create a fantasy team of golfers they can follow throughout the Tournament.

“Gamification is something we’ve already dipped a toe in with Masters Fantasy,” Ellingson noted. “This is step one. We really want to see what sort of insights we can produce and then the next stage of this is to fold additional visualizations or experiences upon those insights. We’re always looking for ways to enhance the fan experience with this data.”

IBM is also debuting Spanish language narration through its use of AI. Ellingson was careful to note that this was not mere translation, but rather the use of watsonx to provide automated audio and closed caption commentary for all 22,000 shots on every hole throughout the course of the Tournament using its AI Narration solution.

“This is not just translation, this is generative content,” Ellingson said. “We are using our large language models and watsonx to generate Spanish content. Our next step is to add additional languages.”

Hybrid platform handles massive trove of data

IBM runs its Masters platform on hybrid cloud infrastructure, according to Ellingson, mostly in the cloud with the use of an on-premises data center as a redundant network to support livestreaming of the source video. Though she could not directly quote any specific figures around bandwidth or traffic, Ellingson made it clear that IBM was managing “a massive amount of data” during the Tournament.

At a high profile, global event such as the Masters, security for the online platform is a paramount concern. “We are also using AI on that front with tools like IBM QRadar to triage potential attacks as they come in,” Ellingson said.

IBM’s use of AI and watsonx during this week’s Masters shows how technology can organize and structure course, round and hole data and then populate it with live information as the sporting event plays out. This is creating a whole new level of personalization for the sports fan that was not possible before and IBM is providing an early look at where the future of audience participation is heading.

“It’s enabling this broader longer-term vision of true personalization that we’ve had,” Ellingson said. “Imagine if I was to use generative AI to add to that and create textual based summaries or even podcasts that I can use to catch up or fill in my personalized experience. Personalization is key.”

Image: IBM

A message from John Furrier, co-founder of SiliconANGLE:

Your vote of support is important to us and it helps us keep the content FREE.

One click below supports our mission to provide free, deep, and relevant content.  

Join our community on YouTube

Join the community that includes more than 15,000 #CubeAlumni experts, including Amazon.com CEO Andy Jassy, Dell Technologies founder and CEO Michael Dell, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger, and many more luminaries and experts.

“TheCUBE is an important partner to the industry. You guys really are a part of our events and we really appreciate you coming and I know people appreciate the content you create as well” – Andy Jassy