Microsoft Cloud and The Wall Street Journal team up to show how technology and the game of golf work together. View the full experience here.

Game Changer

With origins that are said to date to the 15th century when — as the story goes — Scottish shepherds passed time whacking rocks around their grazing lands, no sport treasures tradition quite like golf. But today, golf is a nearly $70 billion industry whose future is rapidly being shaped by the same force upending the business world: Data.

Golf is ideal for quantification. Nearly everything a golfer does can be tracked and measured, from the club used for every shot to the distance and direction the ball travels, to the angle of the shoulders at contact and the spin rate of the ball in flight. Those measurements have led to sophisticated statistical analysis used by savvy pros to gain a competitive edge. Amateurs can also access an ever-evolving array of data to improve their game.

Data’s transformational power isn’t limited to action on the course.

Gil Hanse designs world-class golf courses around the globe. His job is an alchemy of science and art. It’s also a massive exercise in logistics. There are budgets to consider, weather patterns to learn and topography and soil quality to analyze. Every design choice he makes — lakes, sand traps, trees, hole length, green size and contour and more — impacts the way in which his course will be played, by whom, and to what level of enjoyment.

For Hanse, course designer for the summer games in Rio de Janeiro, there is enormous value in the ability to efficiently obtain and process large amounts of information. The same is true for course managers creating superior customer experiences or even golf buddies seeking the best time of year to play a destination course.

What can golf be in the 21st century?

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