Noisy PGA Tour Leaderboards Thing of the Past


PGA Tour (75x100)Charles Howell III had a lot to learn when he first came out on the PGA Tour.
He didn't know many of the courses. He wasn't sure where to stay. And inside the ropes, he had to adjust to this strange sound he never heard on any other golf circuit.
'People talk about how they don't pay attention to leaderboards? They're lying,' Howell once said. 'Because when these leaderboards turn over out here, it sounds like machine gun fire. If you have a leaderboard right beside you, you're ducking your first year on tour, because you have no idea what that noise is.'
Anyone who has ever been to a PGA Tour event knows exactly what Howell is talking about.
While the tour is equipped with satellite technology and lasers to chart every shot of every player, it keeps score on the golf course with electronic leaderboards that are about as up-to-date as Pac-Man.
'When you're hitting a shot, you hear that rat-tat-tat,' Mark Lye said. 'Those things have always been the worst.'
They might be a thing of the past - finally.
First introduced on the PGA Tour at the 1988 Westchester Classic, the tour plans to replace the leaderboards with state-of-the-art equipment that not only will tell who is leading, but show how far someone hits his drive or the distance his ball lands from the pin.
And players will only be able to see them, not hear them.
'Think of it more as a computer monitor than what you're seeing out there today,' said Steve Evans, vice president of information systems for the PGA Tour.
What the tour has now is a large board, powered by a golf cart battery. The board has 5,130 cubes that are black and fluorescent yellow, and those cubes flip over to spell out names and scores and what hole a player is on.
The board changes every 10 seconds or so.
'It's not a normal sound,' said Lye, who battled the boards as much as any player on tour. 'I would unplug them and shut down the whole system. They told me they were going to fine me if I kept doing it, so I had to stop. But it got to where I had to time when it was going to change so it didn't get me in the middle of my stroke.'
When he joined the Champions Tour, that annoying, teeth-gritting sound was there to greet him.
'We can talk from here to China on a cell phone,' said Lye, who works as an analyst for The Golf Channel. 'We ought to be able to get a scoreboard that's not so loud.'
Noise isn't the only problem.
Depending on the radio frequency, the scoreboards could be as many as 30 minutes behind. That could make a big difference to a player wondering if he needs to go for the green on a par 5 late in the tournament.
And just like any piece of machinery, it can malfunction. There are times when not all the cubes will switch to yellow, making the scores look like something they're not.
Bob Estes was tied for the lead with Jeff Maggert in the 1995 Western Open, both of them at 8-under par. But Estes says a couple of yellow cubes didn't flip over on Maggert's score, and a quick glance made it look like Maggert was 9 under.
'I should have known what a 9 normally looks like on a scoreboard,' Estes said. 'But the pixel lights were out. I thought I was tied for the lead and I had to play a little more aggressively, maybe get a birdie on the last three holes.'
He went at the pin, bounced left off the green and into a hazard to take double bogey.
'They really are annoying,' Estes said.
Henry Hughes, chief of operations for the PGA Tour, said plans to update the electronic scoreboard were shelved temporarily when money was devoted to the Shotlink scoring system.
He said the tour likely would start testing new boards over the next two years, and his hope is that new boards will be available for the 2007 season. The idea is to link the leaderboard in part with Shotlink, ultimately giving fans all the information available to them on the Internet.
'The goal is to develop the best fan enhancement,' Hughes said.
There already has been some evidence, however so slight. At the Tour Championship last year, a mammoth screen erected down the 17th fairway showed clear, still images of the two players walking toward the green, their score and what place they were in.
Even the noisy boards now are capable of showing which player has hit the longest drive at a hole, or which was closest to the pin on a par 3.
Still, the tour has been slow to replace such outdated equipment.
'The budget was one factor, but the other thing was that technology was moving so fast, you didn't want to buy something one year and have it be outdated the next year,' said Don Wallace, director of tournament operations. 'And for what we do - in terms of transporting them to tournaments - this technology was good. It lasted almost 20 years.'
No matter the age or how loud the boards can be, the PGA Tour at least gives fans up-to-date information.
The tour now has to be careful not to deliver too much information.
Evans said a new leaderboard would be capable of delivering the same information as Shotlink, along with video clips of someone making a key birdie. But the PGA Tour doesn't want a course like Riviera to turn into a movie theater, either.
'It will have a much more higher resolution display, much more like boards you'd see in the stadium,' Evans said. 'It will be capable of showing full graphics, player images, head shots. We're probably going to have some be video capable, but I don't think video is appropriate at every single location.'
The last thing someone needs is to be standing over a 6-foot par putt and hear the crowd erupt in cheers because it watched highlights of Phil Mickelson chipping in for birdie. Still, modern boards will be capable of letting fans know what's going on with more names, more glitz, more information.
'And it will be real quiet,' Wallace said.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.