Golf in Virtual Reality

The word golf was first mentioned in Scotland in 1457. The word “gouf” was printed on a Scots’ statue and the word means to strike or to cuff. Others claim the word comes from the Dutch word “kolf” meaning bat or club. Whether Scottish or Dutch, the modern game was defined by the Scots In 1764. The Old Course at St Andrew’s set the standard for the current 18-hole golf course. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, known as the R&A decided to reduce the holes from 22 to 18 and this mandate has stood the test of time.

Golf is, therefore, an ancient sport. It is precious to many and technology might be an unwelcome intrusion to those who love walking the course and feeling part of its undulations and obstacles. Yet, golf is not immune to the influence of VR – but it is maybe resisting transformation to the virtual world more than other sports.

The importance of golf goes beyond sport

You might think that golf is a long walk through the countryside interrupted by hitting a small ball. Yet, for those who are ardent followers of golf, it is more a lifestyle than a sport. You can exercise while socialising – and even networking if you are a person involved in business. You can relax while undertaking a sport that requires intense skill and concentration.

The average golf course is about 4 miles. You will add about 8000 steps to your day if you walk in a straight line around the course. More likely, you will take double the steps, as you wend and wind your way around the features and obstacles placed in your way. It is excellent for your cardiovascular system, increasing your heart rate gently while decreasing cholesterol and the presence of other chemicals induced by our stressful environment. You will live a longer and happier life.

Pro golfers get to do all this for a living. If you are a professional golfer attached to a club, you will be paid a salary to play with people who want a challenge. Other professional golfers go on tour, travelling from tournament to tournament. All those famous golfers, from Rory McElroy to Justin Rose, will earn millions and spend life living in the most beautiful hotels. The majority of golfers earn enough to cover travel costs

To stay on the PGA, the golfer needs to be good enough to continue being exempt from qualifying competitions. If they are not exempt, the golfer will need to play on lesser tours and fight their way back to the big time. It can be a hard slog – and unless you are the winner of a major tournament, you are never likely to live comfortably by playing golf.

To become a skilled golfer, you need to dedicate your time to developing your skills. You will need the strength to drive the ball, the skill to chip out of a bunker and the precision when on the putting green.

What is virtual reality?

Virtual reality, better known as VR, is the latest technological development for those looking to enhance the human experience. VR is a computer-simulated environment that can be experienced through the senses of sight and sound. Early VR allowed the user to step into a world and walk around an environment. Current technology allows the user to interact with the objects and places in the virtual world.

To participate in VR sport, you need a smartphone, usually, to run the apps and games. You also need a headset, which looks like goggles on steroids. There is a split between your eyes to help create the 3D effect and the stereo sound adds to the immersive experience. The size of the goggles will block out the real world, keeping you focused on this imaginary context. It is possible to use some specialist accessories, such as sensors, a joystick or gloves, to interact with this environment. The user-interface (UI) devices can be expensive, but they allow you to interact in a three-dimensional world. The tech will offer input tracking with increasingly believable movement.

Watching golf using VR

In 2016, golf fans could watch the Masters live using VR. Golf has always been a challenge to broadcasters. The little white ball is difficult to track on camera and there are gaps between strokes of different players, as they walk on to catch up with the ball. Watching live can be a confusing experience, and the viewer is at the mercy of the broadcast director.

The 80th Masters at Augusta National Club introduced a VR live streaming on holes 6 and 16. The VR live-stream cameras allowed unique access to the tee and the greens. The stream allowed you to change angles and see the event from different angles. You can switch between multiple camera views and experience the action close up.

Then, in 2018, holes 12 and 17 from TPC Sawgrass were available on VR. Thirty hours of coverage were broadcast from the two holes. To fully immerse in the experience, you needed Samsung Gear VR headsets. Those without the proper equipment could still view the action in 360-video stream online. The PGA tour was key to innovating VR in golf using the Oculus Platform.

In 2019, it is possible to watch the action from the first and the 18th hole. In the fan dome at the AT&T Pro-Am tournament, the fans could choose to stay out of the rain and experience the events close-up. There is a tee box, where you can view the tee in 360-degrees.

Unlike other sports, golf still struggles to offer a fully-immersive experience. There are experiences at the tee and on the green on certain holes. However, a full walkthrough of a game of golf seems a long way away.

Playing golf using VR

Golf simulation games with full VR are more successful than the watching of live sport through VR. Virtual golf could be the future of the sport. You can easily find yourself in the middle of the fairway with information on the wind speed and direction and a clear view of the topography of the land. You might be able to see that the flag is a little downhill on the green. You will be able to interact with your virtual golf bag to select the appropriate club. You will then swing your UI (user interface) which will track the strength, direction and touch on the ball. You will then be able to watch the consequence of your swing. All this will happen from your living room, projected through your VR goggles.

VR is a step up from the simulators that have been popular for a while. The simulator has been a popular training tool. However, the equipment is not so portable. Now VR devices allow you to move through a cause and retrieve all the related stats to help you discuss and progress your game.

Golf glasses, as they have come to be known, were first used with AR (augmented reality). You could walk around a golf course and the swing and action of players could be augmented, or projected, onto what you are seeing. Instead of seeing a Pikachu on the Pokemon game, you would see the golf ball and the perfect hit of the ball. You can also see characters sharing the golf course with you.

Today, virtual reality, on a huge scale, is beginning to be a real possibility. With this technology you can now interact with the computer-generated environment, making it seem you are at the golf course when you really are somewhere else. The hope is that VR could introduce a new generation of players to the world of golf. When you first start to play it can be a frustrating past-time. The virtual reality will allow the novice player to gain some skills without the constant loss of balls and the trudging through the rough.

VR and golf in short

Golf has always presented the observer with a challenge. It is a personal experience, walking around a course and hitting a ball. Keeping track of the competition takes some skill. Equally, without some basic proficiency in the game, trying golf out can be depressing and frustrating. VR technology has started to overcome some of the barriers that prevent the masses from enjoying the sport.

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