TWO OF GOLF’S MAJOR ORGANISATIONS HAVE RAMPED UP VIRTUAL REALITY INITIATIVES IN AN EFFORT TO BRING FANS CLOSER TO THE ACTION THIS SUMMER.
Ahead of The Open 2023, the R&A and Golf 5 joined forces to bring the major at Royal Liverpool in the UK to the metaverse.
Just like The Open, there were qualifying rounds, starting in July, with the finals set to conclude this month. The overall medal winner of The 2023 VR Open will receive a trophy and tickets to The 152nd Open in 2024, and winners from the other categories will receive limited edition VR Open memorabilia.
Meanwhile, the PGA Tour’s VR focus has been on the 2023 FedExCup Playoffs.
Starting with initial qualifiers last month and continuing through to late August, the fan-facing VR offering mirrors the PGA Tour Playoffs by allowing fans to test their own skills alongside the PGA Tour’s very best as the 2022-23 season reaches its crescendo.
Calling it a “first-of-its-kind companion fan experience”, the PGA Tour says that participants are able to compete from their “backyard, man cave, garage or wherever you play VR golf at home”.
In fact, fans who are participating in the VR Playoffs are not only playing the same courses as the PGA Tour players, but also have to contend with the same virtual weather conditions as the season draws to a close. Each VR event will also include authentic variables such as replicated tee location, pin location, wind speed and wind direction to provide a thorough test.
According to Chris Wandell, vice president of media business development at the PGA Tour, the aim of the initiative has been to immerse fans in the competition.
“This puts PGA Tour fans inside the ropes, allowing them to truly feel the exhilaration and challenges faced by the world’s top professional golfers,” Wandell says. “This is the first time that fans have been able to experience a major sporting event in this format – bringing PGA Tour fans closer to the action than ever before.”
PLAYOFFS AND PRIZES
Beginning on July 20, fans were able to compete in three weekly tournament events in the hope of racking up enough qualifying points to earn one of 500 spots to advance to the first-ever VR FedExCup Playoffs in the Golf+ game.
Three VR events are scheduled through August, with the field of players halving after the opening St. Jude Championship at TPC Southwind. The top 250 will then advance to the BMW Championship, with the final 100 competing for the Tour Championship. In real life, the field of elite players will shrink across the three events from 70 to 50 to the final 30 from August 21-27 at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, USA.
VR participants are playing for prizes including a VIP experience at a 2024 PGA Tour event and 36 exclusive virtual medals awarded throughout the competition for various achievements. Players have been able to select amateur or pro difficulty levels for the play.
Golf+ chief executive Ryan Engle says that the project will open the door “for a new generation of superstars on our platform”.
“With the VR FedExCup Playoffs, we’re inviting our global player base to the same stage as extraordinary athletes like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth,” Engle adds.
Meanwhile, focusing on The Open VR initiative, The R&A’s chief commercial officer Neil Armit says: “This is an important development as we aim to attract new audiences to the sport and the advancement of technology enables us to offer ground-breaking experiences that are unique in golf.”
Several other sports rights-holders have explored VR-based competitions in an attempt to drive fan engagement.
As previously featured in Fan XP, the World Baseball Softball Confederation struck a partnership with technology provider Newdin Contents to develop a Virtual Baseball World Cup concept.