The Tour follows the likes of the NBA and NFL in testing VR streams, however rights owners are wary of the medium and insist that the experiences must offer more than just an immersive version of regular broadcasts.
“The trick is creating an experience that people want to have the headset on for more than five minutes,” Scott Gutterman, the PGA Tour's vice president of digital operations, told Fox News. “We’d like for people to interact with the stream, if there are stats they want, to choose themselves, slide the leaderboard in and out (of their view).”
The PGA Tour tested VR broadcasts using Intel Sports Group’s Voke virtual reality unit at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles where the Genesis Open is taking place.
Voke, which was acquired by Intel late last year, specialises in bringing live events to VR systems such as using a camera system which captures stereoscopic images that look more realistic.
For the PGA Tour’s experiment, Intel’s Voke was able to deliver depth of field to the VR broadcast, allowing users to see the undulations on the putting surface in a crisp view. The broadcasts were relayed onto the Samsung Gear headset and Galaxy G7 phone.
The test used three large camera pods to triangulate the putting surface and capture a 180-degree panorama of the action. Gutterman pointed out that the lack of mobility around the cameras will likely keep VR a “largely tee or green experience” in the early stages, but added that the technology “will eventually have its own produced broadcast".
He continued: “We really like Voke’s stereoscopic cameras; they provide a different level of enhancement we want to capture.”
The NBA has been one of the most active US sports leagues in its use of VR technology, having also partnered with Intel to produce immersive 3D and 360-degree replays of action from the 2016 NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto. It has since built on this by partnering with NextVR in a multiyear deal which will feature several camera angles in VR and VR-optimized graphics.
Similarly, the NFL has experimented with VR for projects such as its mini-documentaries around top draft picks and a new nine-part VR documentary series using Google’s Daydream View headset.
The sport of golf presents slightly different technological hurdles when it comes to VR broadcasting given the expanse area of play and the smaller size of golf balls which can be more difficult to track than basketballs or footballs. The PGA Tour appears convinced though, Gutterman said the VR test was positive and encouraging and no further testing would be required.