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PGA touts use of rugged handhelds for scoring and ticket scanning

Intermec devices survive rain, drops, heat and will help lower costs (See video below)

Professional golf teed off for another season in 2013 with the use of rugged handheld computers to help lower costs and improve efficiency in scoring and reading tickets at the gate.

The PGA of America, made up of 27,000 golf pros, decided in 2011 to purchase Intermec CN50 rugged handhelds for real-time scoring. Since then, it has also rented Intermec CK71 rugged handhelds with a gun-like grip that are used primarily to scan tickets, cutting down the time golf fans have to stand in line.

The PGA began publicizing its handheld data capture program today and announced Intermec as the manufacturer and Intermec partner Scan Read as the device supplier. The PGA said it expects to save $3 million by 2016 partly through purchasing the CN50s and writing its own data capture software.

The CN50s are used by volunteers to keep score as they follow players through a day's play, said Lou Manz, PGA director of IT, in an interview. Since The PGA runs important events such as the Ryder Cup and the PGA Championship, "we have to make sure that scoring is quick, accurate and passed along to radio, TV and the Internet and with a device that functions in drizzle, the pouring rain and the baking sun," Manz said.

"The apps on the device have to be absolutely user friendly since we have volunteer scorers who have great interest in the game and can be janitors at the local school or CIO's and and need to get up to speed in a timely fashion."

The PGA formerly paid a third-party company more than $120,000 a tournament to collect the data used for scoring, ticketing and marketing to visitors. Before each tournament, about 50 scoring volunteers are trained in a process has been reduced to a two-hour classroom session, with a three-hole practice round. Some savvy handheld users need only a 20-minute blitz training session.

Data from the CN50s goes over a cellular network to a quality assurance staff who compare the scoring data from the handhelds to TV reports and other information to detect any discrepancies. One time, Manz said the handheld data helped settle a minor dispute over whether a penalty should have been applied on a shot.

Having handhelds in use might seem to rankle some pros who still mark their shots in pencil on paper score cards. "I think [the automation] has been welcomed by the players and often the player invites the walking scorer to join him at the end of play to reconcile his scorecard," Manz said.

The PGA has also used XML to write apps that share the scoring data with TV networks in real time. PGA.com allows ordinary fans to monitor every shot.

David Green, manager of Internet app development for the PGA, said mobile device management software used with the scoring handhelds has been valuable in making the devices have plenty of battery power. "That way we can take control of the device and not have to fight the crowds to figure it out," Green said. Staff stationed on gold golf carts strategically placed around the course carry spare batteries in case one is needed.

The Intermec devices last the entire day when properly charged, and they were picked over competitors partly for that reason, Green said. "The CN50 lasts all day, which is a great relief."

Green said software is also used to allow automatic configuration of the CK71s for each tournament's pricing, dates and other ticket information. The device scans a bar code to pick up that configuration.

The PGA scorers use pen input on the 3.5-in. touchscreen of the CN50, which runs Windows Mobile 6.1 and weighs 12 ounces with an extended life battery, according to Intermec.

Green and Manz said they realized that the price of the rugged handhelds was several times over the price of consumer handhelds like the iPhone, but were more durable for years of use. "We just didn't feel like those consumer devices were going to be rugged enough for outside use, with a fall on the asphalt and more," Green said. "They are also a lot more water resistant if somebody's caught in the pouring rain. The CN50 has been in use a long time and is a proven device."

The PGA of America provided this video on the use of Intermec rugged handhelds for real-time scoring and ticket scanning.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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