By: Ben Bryant, WGCA contributing writer
In 2014, Facebook bought a small virtual reality startup company called Oculus for $2 billion. Such a large investment by one of the world’s leading tech companies caused the world’s ears to perk up. People began to ask whether or not virtual reality – or VR – would be the next big thing in entertainment. And so I feel it’s a good time to ask: How will VR change the future of the golf teaching industry?
As it turns out, many in the sports world already believe VR is the next big thing and have begun using it in one way or another. For example, NFL teams like the Dallas Cowboys are using virtual reality to train quarterbacks and other players. In golf, Dell has announced the creation of a virtual reality simulation that lets participants play golf on the moon. Right now, with a VR headset, you can experience 360-degree photos of this year’s Masters ceremony. Some see the future of VR in live sports consumption, placing the user on the green with Jordan Spieth as he lines up a putt, or with Tom Brady on the field right in the middle of the action.
A few weeks ago, I bought a VR headset made by Oculus for Samsung to test things out for myself. The device works by placing your (Samsung only) smartphone on the front of the headset and then strapping the whole contraption over your eyes. The first time I used it, I literally said “wow” out loud to an empty room. It’s incredibly immersive and realistic. After a two-minute tutorial, I found myself exploring an Egyptian tomb and walking through the halls of the Louvre. With features like 360-degree photos, I could transport myself to anywhere in the world.
This has the potential to go way beyond your local indoor golf simulators. While in a VR environment, everywhere you look you see your simulated surroundings. The most amazing part is that you don’t feel like you’re looking at a screen. You really feel like you’re playing golf at Augusta or St. Andrews.
As a golf coach, I immediately began to envision how I could use this new technology with my players. As a teaching tool, the implications for being able to recreate total 360-degree environments will have a profound impact on the golf industry. Students will be able to see their swing in a whole new way – not a 2D video that only shows one angle, but a total 3D environment to truly see themselves as their instructor does. Another opportunity may be in recreating golf courses in VR. Suppose a player has a tournament the next day on a new golf course they haven’t been able to play yet. In a VR simulation, you could walk the course like you were really there. Lastly, imagine both you and your student put on VR headsets and are able to meet online, on a virtual golf course, for a golf lesson, without even being in the same country.
Scenarios like this may be a few years away and there are still some issues to work out. Oculus, for its part, will be releasing a much anticipated headset known as the Rift sometime later this summer (https://www.oculus.com/en-us/rift). It won’t use your smartphone; it will have its own screen and will require a high-end personal computer to operate. As a result, it will be expensive and non-portable. But it will be the gold standard as far as graphics go. However, I’m far more interested in the portable, smartphone-based headsets. They are easy to use, inexpensive, and could be far more ubiquitous than the Rift, because who doesn’t have a smartphone? Oculus just announced that over a million people used its portable headset during the month of April 2016.
For the last 20 years or so, VR has been stuck in neutral, positioned somewhere in the realm of novelty video game, but outside the purview of practical use. With serious investors now on board and with the sports world leading the way, and with a clear vision of how this technology can be used, we are now on the brink of major changes in the way we experience entertainment and communicate with each other.
Now we live in a world where nearly every man, woman and child on earth has a supercomputer in their pockets. With technology no longer a barrier, the promise of virtual reality has returned the worlds of business and sports are on the cusp of undergoing a dramatic transformation, thanks to VR.
Like many people of my generation, my first experience with “virtual reality” was the Nintendo game system known as the Virtual Boy. The system consisted of a large stationary headset you placed over your face and a controller you used to play games. It was a big risk for Nintendo, but it ended up being a commercial flop. The headset was uncomfortable and hurt your eyes. The graphics were thoroughly unimpressive, consisting of grids of red lines used to create an illusion of depth. There was certainly a novelty factor, but usually after ten minutes or so of use people lost interest. That was nearly 20 years ago. It was clear that technology was still a long way away from catching up to the idea of VR.