Virtual Reality Golf Becomes a Reality

As part of our ongoing efforts to create innovative and engaging content for fans, the PGA TOUR has been experimenting in the virtual reality space. We began this journey more than a year ago, talking with the team at Oculus and spending time in their lab in Palo Alto. Last July, we began testing VR content production, using a Web.com Tour event as an opportunity to get out and try a few things.

 

We selected the Stonebrae Classic for its close proximity to Palo Alto. The fact that the event wasn’t televised was also a big plus, giving us access to the course without concerns of being in the way of TV cameras.

We spent two days at Stonebrae, working closely with Web.com Tour players to shoot a variety of videos, including instruction, an on-course player-caddie interaction and video from the practice green. As with any good test, we learned a lot. Instruction video, for example, came across extremely well in the VR environment. Gathering good audio from the windy course proved tricky, a common issue for a sport that deals with the elements on a daily basis.

The other big takeaway was in how unique golf comes across within VR, particularly as compared with other sports. For one thing, our venue changes every week. And those venues are beautiful. Being immersed on any one of the courses we play is compelling. The other element comes back to the individual nature of the sport. When a viewer puts on a VR headset and gets immersed in the environment, there’s a sense of being there with the player or with the player and his caddie. It’s an intimate view of the player and creates an experience that can’t be captured in traditional video or broadcast TV.

That brings us to this year. In February, we became the first sports league to launch an app on the Oculus platform. The initial app is pretty simple and is meant to give us a foundation on the platform, one that we can build on over the course of this year and beyond. We launched the app with four pieces of original on-demand VR video. All were shot and edited during the Waste Management Phoenix Open. One provides a unique view of the experience on the 16th hole. We also captured two instruction pieces, one with Peter Malnati on blasting out of a bunker and the second with Patrick Rodgers on putting. And finally, we went behind the scenes at our PGA TOUR LIVE production, showcasing the TV truck environment, something few fans ever see.

Our initial focus has been on on-demand video but we’ll look to test live VR content later this year. We’ll also be producing additional on-demand videos throughout the course of the season, looking for the best opportunities for storytelling in the space. We’ll continue to publish video to the Oculus platform. And to reach a broader audience, we’ll continue to publish 360-degree versions to Facebook and YouTube.

There’s much more to come in the space not only as we build out new content but also as we begin to solve questions like how sponsors can best be integrated in the space – a key question as the technology and content production progresses. It’s also a question that hasn’t really been answered by anyone in the space just yet, meaning ample opportunity for experimentation here as well.

At the South by Southwest conference earlier this month, I had the opportunity to present on our VR efforts alongside the folks from Oculus and production group Pixel Corps. Our panel even received a shout out from President Obama, according to the Austin American-Statesman’s live blog:

He noted that his SXSW panel was in [competition with] strange topics like “Dude, where’s my par? Making virtual reality golf.”

 “It’s true,” Obama said. “So I can confirm, you’ve kept Austin weird.”

Our full SXSW session can be viewed below and on YouTube.