The Masters app has always struck the delicate balance between technology and tradition. Every year, the Masters Digital team looks for opportunities to innovate and enhance the experience while preserving its simplicity, beauty and ease of use. It’s a complex and multifaceted challenge. That’s why for more than 25 years, the Masters has worked closely with IBM Consulting™ to guide their journey of digital transformation, from design and user interface to the back-end systems that transform Masters data into insight.

“Few events in sports are as rooted in history as the Masters, and the Augusta National Golf Club is committed to preserving its unique traditions and character,” says Noah Syken, Vice President of Sports and Entertainment Partnerships at IBM. “But they’re equally committed to enhancing the online Masters experience, striving for cutting-edge, first-to-market innovations not just in golf, but in all of sports.”

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Evolving the Masters app

Year after year the teams capture more detailed data around every stroke and hole and meld this data with the rich contexts of players’ back stories for that year, such as their momentum coming into the Tournament and their historical performance in a wide variety of competitive situations. This data is then transformed into the features found in the Masters app. For example, My Group allows fans to create customized video feeds of every shot by their favorite players. Round in 3 Minutes automatically generates a video highlight package for every player after every round. And Projected Score with IBM Watson® analyzes six years of Masters historical data—more than 120,000 shots—to generate scoring predictions for every player on every hole in real time.

And new this year is AI-generated spoken commentary—a generative AI solution built from large language models—which produces detailed golf narration for more than 20,000 video clips served across the Masters digital platforms.

A collaborative process that fosters innovation

The Masters and IBM Consulting co-create the digital experience by applying Enterprise Design Thinking®, IBM’s creative problem-solving method, to the strategic, operational and technological goals of the organization. Its guiding principles are rooted in human empathy and agile development: a focus on user outcomes, restless reinvention, and diverse, empowered teams. This approach is then used to address the goals of the user experience: identifying relevant data and using it to its full potential to deliver deep, meaningful insights designed to inform and delight both fans and casual viewers.

As the teams look to orchestrate experiences across the customer journey, data architecture comes into play: what’s the right data for the purpose, and is it accessible to the systems that need it? Is a data fabric approach needed to sync the data and apply AI and analytics tools to it?

“The enterprise solution we’ve created for the Masters is now a platform for innovation from back end to front end,” says Monica Ellingson, Practice Lead for IBM iX® Sports and Entertainment. “In 2020, the organization moved to IBM’s hybrid cloud architecture. This now provides the Masters Digital team with operational agility, flexibility and data security and enables rapid development and implementation of AI-driven applications that delight fans.”

As powerful as Enterprise Design Thinking is, it’s just one part of the framework. Through countless client engagements, IBM has recognized that an overarching collaborative approach is integral to its clients’ success. It’s codified in the three pillars of IBM Garage methodology that inform the IBM Consulting practice: co-create, co-execute and co-operate.

During the Tournament, development leads from IBM are onsite at the Masters to help ensure data feeds are active and accurate—co-operating. This is the same team that worked with Augusta National to conceive, design and deliver the entire Masters digital experience—co-executing. They monitor every aspect of the operation, from the moment data is captured to the moment it lands in the Masters app.

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How co-creation happens

In the IBM Garage methodology, the co-creation stage is when lightbulb moments happen and opportunities are revealed. As anyone who has undertaken a traditional brainstorming session can attest, it can be challenging to conceive better products or experiences from around a boardroom table. So where and when does it happen?

“Before the Tournament, we evaluate the previous year’s experience: which features got traction with fans, what got buzz in the press?” says Ellingson. “Then a few days into the Tournament, we’re already writing down areas we would like to see evolve or grow—we’re always learning,” says Ellingson. “We always have our finger on the pulse of what’s new and innovative in the sports and entertainment industry. We have our eye on competitors, and how our strategic focus areas have evolved. What’s the next evolution of AI in sports? With the Masters there’s always a focus on how we can be the first.”

New ideas are also born from collaborating on-site with more than 30 people on the Augusta National team, who apply their deep knowledge of golf to improving the Masters experience and promoting the sport. They’re challenged with ensuring the game remains vibrant and growing for everyone, including young people and women—increasing its worldwide appeal and amplifying its most compelling human stories.

Transforming more than the Tournament

Over the years, Augusta National has worked with IBM Consulting to transform other year-round parts of its business, such as rebuilding its ticketing platform and technology infrastructure. “Every successful initiative we’ve undertaken with the Masters was born from collaboration,” says Syken. “The agile, human-centered methodologies we use to create value for Masters digital patrons work equally well for the customers of our clients in other industries.”

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