PGA Tour Using Virtual Reality To Bring Fans Inside the Game

May 14, 2016

Early adopters of virtual reality can experience Jason Day’s course-record-tying performance during the first round of the Players Championship as if they were right there walking the fairways next to the world No. 1.

The PGA Tour has been experimenting with virtual reality technology designed by STRIVR Labs this season, and VR cameras were out with Day when he shot a nine-under 63 on Thursday. It was the first time the Tour employed the VR cameras during competitive rounds, and they just happened to capture history.

Fans with Samsung Gear VR goggles can now view 3-D footage from the round, giving them a spectating experience they can’t find anywhere else.

“I think it’s important for us to be experimenting with new technologies and getting a sense of where things might be heading into the future,” said Sloane Kelley, senior director of content for the Tour. “We want to have a seat at the table early so that we’re building experiences so that when this technology takes off and people have this in their living rooms, we’re prepared.”

Golf, perhaps better than just about any other sport, is a great fit for this emerging space. When you’re watching, say, football or basketball in person, you’re focused mostly on the players and their movements. In golf, the surrounding environment plays a critical role in the viewing experience. VR allows users to explore the course and its surrounds in a way that a static viewing experience does not.

“I think it dawned on all of us that golf is uniquely positioned for viritual reality and part of that comes back to the scenic places that we play,” Kelley said. “We aren’t in the same arena week in week out. Not that there’s anything wrong with an arena, it’s just different. It’s one of the unique aspects of the game.”

The Tour has rolled out 2-D videos for fans to get a sense for the content they’re producing. Here’s a look at what it’s like to stand on the tee box at the raucous 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale during the Waste Management Phoenix Open.