Want to experience Phoenix Open’s 16th hole? Now you can … virtually

Imagine being in the grandstand, cheering and booing as tee shots approach the hole and 5-foot putts miss to the right on the famous 16th hole at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Now imagine watching and experiencing the hole from anywhere in the world using virtual reality.

Through a variety of mediums, the PGA Tour made the immersive, one-of-a-kind experience possible this past weekend in Phoenix.

Simply having a mobile device allowed the hole to be enjoyed through Twitter as well as the PGA Tour iPhone app via 180 degree pans of the phone. The PGA Tour VR Live app on the Oculus store for the Samsung VR and the Google Play store for Google Daydream also offered alternative viewing methods.

The PGA Tour deployed eight cameras throughout the hole to create what it believed would offer the best user experience possible.

“There (was) a camera on the tee, a couple of mobile cameras deployed to capture the action and competition, and a few cameras deployed throughout the stadium to capture crowd reactions and crowd shots,” said Chris Wandell, who is the Senior Director of Media Business Development with the PGA Tour.

The eight camera set-up was a massive upgrade from the three virtual reality productions that the PGA Tour put on in 2017, which was its debut year with the technology. Just three cameras were used in the first one at the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. The Tour Championship in Atlanta and The Presidents Cup were the other two tournaments that saw virtual reality broadcasts enacted.

Because of the atmosphere that the 16th hole presented and its overall uniqueness, the company was immediately attracted to it as the site for a broadcast, said Devon Fox, the Director of Platform Innovation for the PGA Tour,

“It is the most exciting hole in golf, so we thought that capturing the fans and the players as they move through the 16th hole was the most exciting thing we could do in virtual reality,” Fox said. “We didn’t want to give you a second view of the broadcast. We didn’t want to give you something that you could see here on course. We really wanted to bring you content that you could basically not get anyone else.”

One of the PGA Tour’s partnerships for the tournament was with Intel Sports, which helped build the virtual reality headsets. The partnership between the two to bring the technology to the Waste Management Phoenix Open was two years in the making.

“We at Intel Sports are doing nothing less than trying to completely reinvent the way that fans engage, the way they interact and consume content, said David Aufhauser, Managing Director of Intel Sports. ”We believe the world is going to a more interactive and immersive place, and so we want to take the best of television, the best of being here at an event, but also create something entirely new for fans to experience, that is something you can only do in a virtual world, in a virtual reality.”

Virtual reality has become more and more prevalent in the sports landscape, as nearly every major sport has used it in some capacity. Intel has worked with many of the leagues to assist on the productions. Aufhauser thinks it’s only a matter of time until experiencing games through virtual reality in a social setting becomes, well, a reality.

“We believe that VR is actually inherently social, it’s just a different type of social experience,” Aufhauser said. “You will be able to be here and I’ll be at home and our friend will be in New York and we will all be able to experience the event together in real time, talking to each other, maybe we have an avatar, maybe not, but we’re really completely in sync and watching it together and that future is not far off. I mean it’s around the corner.”

As for where the PGA Tour hopes to take the emerging technology of virtual reality within the golf realm, that remains very much up in the air, although they are excited for the future.

“It probably depends on how the technology evolves and how easy the cameras and the technology is to deploy in the context of our sport,” Wandell said. “We play across 18 holes, sometimes 36 holes, across multiple golf courses. These are hundreds of acres of property, so it’s hard to think about these cameras being deployed on a large scale basis. I think that if we are going to do it for the short-term, it has got to be something that is unique that fans want to jump in and experience right now.”

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