The game of golf is evolving. Gamification, augmented reality, and other forms of golf entertainment are being billed as the future, but it remains to be seen if these upstart flavors of the sport can attract the next generation in a way that the traditional game has, so far, failed.

The best known of the alternative golf venues is Topgolf. The darling of the industry, Topgolf has expanded rapidly. 41 locations are open worldwide (38 in the US, 3 in the UK) and the venue is currently featured on Golf Channel’s Shot Makers. The TaylorMade-backed Topgolf competitor, Drive Shack, just opened its first venue in Orlando. 4ORE! Golf opened its first location in Lubbock, Texas lasst year, and REALiTEE is trying to raise funds to open a facility in Summerlin, Nevada.

Those guys represent the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

For better or worse, technology has invaded the game of golf, and while most everyone is focused on entertainment venues, the guys at OnCore Golf are planning to use this ball (Genius Golf Ball) as a vehicle to bring augmented reality to the average golfer.


From a Metal Core to Genius Technology

So how does a company make the leap from golf balls to augmented reality? That’s an interesting story.

While OnCore is gaining some traction with its tour-level ELIXR ball, the company is perhaps still best known for its original hollow metal core golf balls. While not a runaway success with golfers, the technology caught the attention of some groups interested in filling that hollow core with a microchip.

OnCore put the idea in its back pocket until this past summer when it applied for a patent for a ball with a high-strength, high-stiffness core capable of housing sensitive electronics. With the footprint of the modern chip shrinking, creating a smart golf ball has become much more reality than fantasy.

To gauge consumer interest in a smart golf ball, OnCore launched a crowdfunding campaign, and by the fourth quarter of last year, they’d raised more than $100,000.

Within 90 days, the company had a prototype.

The goal was to develop a ball that could capture the same type of information you can get from a launch monitor, and then make that information reviewable on a PC or smartphone. The information could even be made available on the course.

Forget about the USGA for a moment and instead consider a scenario where a golf instructor could give a playing lesson with a full understanding of the critical metrics for every shot. Ball speed, launch angle, spin rate, etc., all provided by the golf ball in real-time and for significantly less money than a launch monitor.


The Genius Plan

OnCore plans to release the Genius Ball to the market towards the end of the year. To function as designed, the ball requires an accelerometer, magnetometer, a GPS chip, and self-charging battery. As you’d expect, that’s technology that doesn’t come cheap.

And you thought Pro V1s were expensive.

To give golfers the opportunity to experience the Genius Ball without breaking the bank, the company plans to bundle them with its ELIXR tour ball. For around $60/dozen, you’ll get a box with 9 ELIXRs and 3 GENIUS balls. Use the Genius Ball on the holes where you want to collect data and maybe leave it in the bag when the risk of losing one is high.

The company is working on developing a protective shell to ensure the performance and feel characteristics are truly tour level, that includes a urethane cover.


The Gateway to AR

The development of the Genius ball led to a partnership between OnCore and VGolf, a mixed reality golf simulation and training system that blends virtual reality and real-world golf.

At a recent demo event at the Legacy Golf Club in Phoenix, I had the opportunity to check out exactly how the pairing of the two technologies comes together. The team provided me with a pair of virtual reality glasses to wear while a former touring professional hits a series of 300-yard drives. After each shot, I see a 360-degree panoramic of a golf course with visuals similar to Top Tracer along with the data for carry distance, total distance, launch angle, apex, descent angle, spin rate, and ball speed, displayed in the bottom corner of my view.

Virtual-Caddy_560VGolf’s AR glasses seamlessly blend your actual environment with a virtual overlay. The plan is to integrate VGolf’s technology with OnCore’s Genius ball in the near future. That would open the door for things like playing Pebble Beach in virtual reality, or other gamification opportunities that could appeal to the next generation in much the same way that Topgolf does. Consider that 53% of Topgolf’s customers are between the ages of 18-34 and perhaps even more interesting, only 40% of its customers would classify themselves as golfers.

Partnerships like the one between OnCore and VGolf have the potential to drive innovation and grow the sport in a way that those who rely on a strict definition of the game have failed to do. Given the stagnation of the traditional game, anything that puts a golf club into the hands of a non-golfer is a win in my book.

Keep your eye on advancements in golf ball technology and the AR space as they could prove to be the next frontier in golf technology.


Editors Note: The original version of this story stated that 4ORE! Golf was slated to open this year. We have corrected the story to reflect that the first location is already open.