IBM Tees Up Digital Birdie’s-Eye View of The Masters

April 7, 2016, 5:17 PM UTC
The Masters - Final Round
Photograph by David Cannon — Getty Images

IBM is teeing up some new (digital video) shots for The Masters this week and the tech giant may drive more traffic online with its enhanced website and app capabilities. IBM created The Masters’ website in 1996 and launched an iPhone app in 2009. Now, the company is adding more customizable digital features and delivering enhanced video coverage as well.

“Over the past couple of years The Masters started to focus more on data around the course and (the enhancements) are about the experience we want to create,” explains Noah Syken, IBM’s vice president of global sponsorships and client programs in an interview with Fortune. “It’s about putting experience in a users hands that they will find some value in, that will draw them into the tournament.”

So what’s new for golf fans? “Last year you could follow one golfer. This year you can create your own groupings—you can put the Big 3 together Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth,” Syken adds. “They may not play together on the course, but you can see how they played the same hole together at the same time through the Track feature.”

Featured groups will be available for online viewing starting around 9:30 AM EDT with coverage each day from the first tee shot to the final putt. This is the first full-round coverage on

Syken says these features are a direct contrast to the very limited broadcast TV coverage just a few years ago. “Years ago The Masters never showed the first nine holes (on TV). So the fact today you can dive into any golfer on any hole and see exact and precise distances (for shots), it’s a pretty dramatic change over the past decade or so.”

Another big change for some early adopters of virtual reality and 4K ready or Smart TVs will be the video quality.

The Masters claims it will offer the first public, live VR experience for a pro golf tournament. This year’s Masters also purports to be the first-ever live 4K sports broadcast to bring more realistic action and more vividly portray the hallowed layout; it is Golf Digest’s top-rated course in the US and number four on Golf Magazine’s list.

After all, Augusta National’s pines, pristine fairways and greens, and azaleas in full bloom figure as prominently as the players, and that’s just the way Augusta National Golf Club and IBM want it online as well as on the CBS TV broadcast.

“Augusta National and the beauty that course offers is unparalleled,” Syken says. “The [4K video] captures the essence of the course, the undulations of the greens, the shrubbery, how the light hits the trees.”

Might higher-quality, free web viewing lead even well heeled golf fans to cancel cable? Syken isn’t sure about that: “All the sports organizations will have to figure out what an over-the-top world will look like. I think there’s something to the TV experience. The more access points fans have to The Masters and great sports events, the better. I have a hard time thinking they’ll move away from cable TV any time soon.”

IBM last year recorded 13.5 million unique devices across The Masters’ digital platforms and Syken expects the online gallery to grow, “Every year we see double digit growth across platforms. I’d be surprised if we don’t see that kind of growth this year.”

That compares to 2015’s peak of 17.7 million watching on TV as Spieth won his first Major and slipped on the Green Jacket awarded to the winner.

Wearables, Weather, and Watsons

The Masters debuts on wearables this week, IBM’s making apps for Apple’s Watch and for Android Wear. It will feature a tournament leaderboard, player details, and other real-time tournament data. “We think it’s important to start experimenting with new platforms as they come online,” Syken says. “We don’t have huge aspirations for this as game changer because the experience is much narrower, and the kinds of experiences you can create are different for wearables, but we like to see how folks engage in these new platforms.”

IBM has also created a “cognitive social command center” which taps into Watson’s understanding of context and sentiment to help drive social media coverage of The Masters.

Meanwhile, IBM is partnering with 66-year-old Tom Watson in his swan song appearance playing The Masters. The two-time Masters Champion is paired with another famous Watson, IBM’s cognitive system named for the tech firm’s founder (who shares the given name Thomas).

The two Watsons will be featured in a new commercial campaign airing during the tournament. It focuses on Watson the golfer’s famous ability to perform well in adverse weather conditions such as the five British Opens he won while highlighting IBM’s recent purchase of the Weather Company.

“When you think about weather and who performs in harshest weather, Tom Watson has been very successful in that regard,” Syken says. “Whether it’s the alignment of names or bringing the Weather Company data to life, or tapping into Tom’s last trip down Magnolia Lane, those three things came together {and} this is the natural evolution of the Watson and Me campaign.”