PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - Walk around the course at The Players Championship today, and it won't be long before you see somebody studying what appears to be a BlackBerry in a salmon-color rubber case.
Except it's not a BlackBerry or a Palm Pilot or a cell phone, all of which are strictly forbidden at this and most every other golf tournament.
It's likely a myLeaderboard, a wireless handheld device chock full of information such as the tournament leader board; each player's scorecard, statistics and bio material; shot-by-shot results; an on-course locator for each golfer; and streaming highlight updates.
It's the brainchild of a couple of Bryn Mawr guys, John Geary and Tim Dilworth.
Since they first started kicking the idea for myLeaderboard around over steaks and beers in Augusta, Ga., one night in 2003 after a day spent wandering the course at the Masters, their company and their gizmo have come a long way.
I remember Dilworth showed me an earlier incarnation of the device at the 2005 McDonald's LPGA Championship. I also remember it was clunky, offered far less info, and, worst of all, it had to be carried around inside a plastic bag. Nice idea, I thought, but you guys have a lot more work to do to get this thing right.
Well, they've done it.
"We listened to a lot of spectators using them," Geary, president and chief executive officer, said of making the needed refinements. "People said, 'I get why it's in the bag to prevent getting rained on, but, hey, it stinks.' You know how many I've lost to rain over two years? Zero."
This year, myLeaderboard will rent the devices ($20 per day) to spectators and corporations with hospitality tents at 10 tournaments, including the U.S. Open and the PGA Championships.
Next year, they hope to be at 30 to 35 tour events and eventually every tournament on the schedule. The goal is to make myLeaderboard part of the tournament experience, plus expand the company's licensing agreement with the PGA Tour so it can pipe the information beyond the course into 200 million cell phones from coast to coast.
"So you can be sitting on your couch in Philly watching a tournament on CBS or NBC," said Geary. "They're showing you Tiger and Phil but you say, 'I want to know how Billy Andrade is doing.' "
If Geary and Dilworth allow themselves to look even further down the road, it could involve, say, the PGA Tour buying their little start-up company for millions.
"That's not a bad thing," said Geary, smiling.
The idea for myLeaderboard was born that night in Augusta in 2003 after Dilworth and Geary, best friends, wondered all day what the roars were about two fairways over.
Over dinner that night, then on the 11-hour drive home, then continued to kick around the concept of selling real-time information. When they got home, something told Geary, who was working in institutional sales at Fidelity Investments, and Dilworth, who ran a homebuilding company, W.P. Dilworth and Sons, to keep pursuing it.
"We were both 44 at the time, and we both have very supportive wives," Geary said.
They invested money of their own and raised $2 million in capital from family and friends. When a very early version they tried out at the Hugh Wilson Invitational at Merion Golf Club prompted encouragement from the U.S. Golf Association in 2004, Geary and Dilworth quit their jobs and plunged full-time into myLeaderboard.
Now, they have nine full-time employees, and they are about to get an infusion of venture capital money that Geary said should "take us to the next level."
Many of their early concerns have turned out to be nothing - mainly, the notion of handing out $379 wireless devices to strangers at golf tournaments.
Not a problem. Each device has a bar code on the back, and it's secured by a credit card.
"We typically lose 7 to 10 devices a tournament," said Geary. "What happens is, over the next two weeks, we'll get about seven of them back."
Their Web site, www.myleaderboard.com, has details about how to return them.
"The three that don't come back, we charge people $450 for," Geary said. "It's remarkable."