Virtual reality golf is getting a star-studded, real-world shot in the arm today. GOLF+, the leading VR game in the metaverse, is bringing on a slew of new investors.
GOLF+ is announcing today that Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Tom Brady, Steph Curry, Mike Trout and Ben Crenshaw are all investing in the company. Additionally, big-money investors such as the Breyer Group as well as other financiers and hi-tech CEO mover-and-shaker types are kicking in funding.
“What got them excited is our audacious goal and belief we can use this technology to double the size of golf as a whole,” GOLF+ Co-founder and CEO Ryan Engle tells MyGolfSpy. “We believe this technology can make golf 100 times more accessible to people, especially younger people.”
What, if anything, does all this mean to you as a golfer? Unless you’re a VR gamer, you might think it’s just another video game. But if you dig a little deeper and peer into the future just a tad, the possibilities are intriguing.
Virtual Reality Golf: Just a Game?
GOLF+ is the number one golf app in the virtual world. But calling it a video game is like calling Bethpage Black a muni.
“You put on this headset and suddenly you’re transported to somewhere else,” says Engle. “In our case, we transport you to a golf course. And now your body, your mind and all your senses are telling you you’re on a golf course.”
Depending on the skill level you choose, you can simulate real golf, and a real golf swing, to whatever degree you wish. You can manipulate your swing to make the ball fly high or low. You can hit draws or fades. And you can attack a back pin and make the ball check or you can play it safe and shoot for the middle. It’s up to you.
There’s also a social element. Since you’re online, GOLF+ allows you to create a foursome with your buddies, no matter where on the planet they are. If you’re in Texas, you can join up with friends in Seattle, Boston and Guam and play one of the GOLF+ courses.
“You’ll be out there on the golf course and you’ll see each other in avatar form,” says Engle. “If you chip in, you’ll get excited. If you lip one out, you’ll feel the pain and your friends will be there.”
You can talk with one another as well so the potential for virtual trash talk is, no doubt, high.
What Are the Investors Investing In?
GOLF+ has been in partnership with Topgolf since 2019. The new app was updated and rebranded last November. Since then, more than five million GOLF+ rounds have been played with more than 500 million shots.
Engle says the goal is to continue building the software to include more courses (two big-name courses are being added in November) and more functionality.
“Rory and Jordan are two of the best ever,” says Engle. “Tom Brady is a serious golfer. Steph Curry is a great golfer and doing a lot to introduce golf to new audiences. And Mike Trout is a huge golfer and a big-time gamer.”
Crenshaw’s involvement, however, is a bit of a head-scratcher.
“He’s not known to be a big technology person. I’m not even sure he has an e-mail address,” says Engle. “He has a bunch of course designs that never got built for one reason or another. What got him excited is that we could take those designs, which he said are some of his best, and build them in VR.
“Everything that a golf architect has to get around, all those constraints are gone in VR.”
So, with a fresh supply of new money, high-level big-name backers and the potential for some really cool Crenshaw-designed courses, where can GOLF+ go?
What do you think of virtual club demos? Or even virtual club fitting?
Virtual Reality Golf: Endless Possibilities
Currently, GOLF+ features Callaway golf clubs for its gamers. Engle says the plan is to expand.
“In our next iteration in November, we’ll be releasing TaylorMade clubs into the game. Our goal is to represent every golf club we can, including clubs from the past. We’d love for you to be able to play a round with hickory clubs and have the physics match up with that.”
Replicating real club performance in a virtual game is a challenge, both technologically and politically. In many instances, existing hardware can lag behind the software’s capabilities. That’s fixable but the politics can get sticky.
“We want the manufacturers to feel good about it,” says Engle. “But getting manufacturers to agree that one club is better or worse than another is a difficult proposition. But a Stealth and a Rogue driver, based on just about every comparison you can find, are pretty equivalent.”
Ultimately, says Engle, the goal is to get into club fitting. And not just for the game, but for real golf, too.
“We’re not there yet,” he says. “We’ll start building club fitting so we can help you find the best fit within GOLF+. But as the physics start to converge with real life, we’ll build out the model so it’s as close as possible. We’re not there yet.
“We should be able to collect enough data over time to say, that based on your swing characteristics—launch, spin, attack angle—compared to a million other swings that we’ve seen, we think this club is probably the best fit for you.”
Where Can This Thing Go?
As mentioned, one big limitation is hardware. According to Engle, META, the former Facebook and developer of the Quest 2 headset, is investing $10 billion annually into VR.
“They rebranded the whole company around this,” he says. “We know hardware advances aren’t going to slow down. And Apple and Sony are rumored to be getting into the space next year. So there will be healthy competition.”
Having Rory and Jordan in the fold is cool but don’t expect to see them in your GOLF+ metaverse just yet.
“It’s a feature we get a lot of requests for,” says Engle. “We are talking to them about that as an option but, as part of our investment, it doesn’t come with that right.”
Currently, GOLF+ includes Valhalla as well as three fictional courses. Wolf Creek and Kiawah Island are available for purchase and those two new courses will be added next month. Engle says two dozen more are possible next year. Whether those include the Crenshaw courses isn’t known.
But Engle does say advances in artificial intelligence and new programming present the potential to turn any course in the world into a VR course.
“Let’s say it’s summer and I’m visiting New Hampshire and want to play golf. It would be really cool if I could hop onto a place where I could see different courses in the area and play them virtually. And if you want to book a tee time, you’ll eventually be able to do that.”
Engle says even lessons with a pro, either on a course or at a driving range, are also distinct possibilities.
But Virtual Reality Golf Isn’t Real Golf
Of course, it’s not real golf. At best, virtual reality golf is a supplement to real golf. Potentially a really cool supplement, at that.
If you’re of a certain age, you might worry that you’ll look silly in a VR headset swinging an imaginary golf club (spoiler alert: you will). And if you’re grumbling that you’d rather play real golf than fake golf, go right ahead and grumble. Just understand that no one is forcing you to choose one or the other.
“Our goal is to make golf more accessible so people can try it with very little cost and very little time commitment,” says Engle. “If they fall in love with VR golf, that might translate into real golf.”
And if you’re an avid golfer, a quick nine with some friends before bedtime might be just the thing to chase those winter blues away.
The GOLF+ demographic skews toward the younger and the inexperienced golfer. GOLF+ says its average golfer is 34 years old while the average real-world golfer is 54. Additionally, 54 percent of its community has either never played real golf or plays just once or twice a year.
But the possibilities to supplement real golf do make the mind swirl. Imagine being stuck in Minnesota all winter but still playing your with regular Saturday foursome. Or maybe you’re planning a buddy trip to Scotland and want to sample St Andrews as a foursome.
Or, if the hardware and software take the necessary leaps, get fitted for irons or a driver in your living room.
Virtual reality could make it a real reality.
Now that would be cool.
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