By Rick Horrow
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - It is anyone’s guess which player will wear the Green Jacket on Sunday night, but one certain winner of the Masters is the city of Augusta.
The tournament generates more than $100 million annually for the city and surrounding region, according to the OnGeorgia website, as an estimated 250,000 people who make the pilgrimage to Augusta each year open their wallets.
“During the Masters, thousands of patrons spend millions of dollars at our stores, restaurants, hotels, and golf courses,” said Augusta mayor Mayor Hardie Davis, Jr.
Augusta may not immediately conjure up images of a cutting-edge hub of technology but times are changing.
While the Masters and host Augusta National Golf Club are outwardly old-fashioned, evoking a more genteel bygone era behind their manicured flowerbeds, tech free on-course experience (no cell phones or digital signage), and 1960s era food and drink prices, looks can be deceiving.
As millions of global golf fans prepare to watch the Masters on their TVs, phones and laptops, Augusta likes to bill itself the cyber capital of the American south. To figure out why, look no further than the adjacent Fort Gordon army base.
In 2012, the National Security Agency (NSA) opened a regional headquarters on base at Augusta’s Fort Gordon. In late 2013, the Army moved Cyber Command there from Maryland, and ever since, defense contractors such as MacAulay-Brown and Booze Allen Hamilton have opened local offices. The state has also announced plans to build the $50 million Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center in downtown Augusta, a partnership with the Fort, Augusta University, and local government.
Next time you are riding around a golf course, there’s a very good chance it will be in a cart built by an Augusta-based company, Textron Specialized Vehicles, which claims to manufacture 90 percent of the world’s golf carts.
As for the Masters, it’s no coincidence that two out of three of Augusta National’s pillar corporate partners are IBM and AT&T.
IBM powers the entire Masters suite of apps and digital platforms, and this year is bringing artificial intelligence technology to Augusta. For the first time at a sporting event, IBM is harnessing Watson’s – the company’s AI system – ability to see, hear, and learn to identify great golf shots at the Masters, based on crowd noise, player gestures, and other indicators, to create highlight reels.
(The story was refiled to remove the final paragraph containing incorrect information provided by source)
(Editing by Andrew Both)