The 6th hole at Bay Hill, site of the upcoming Arnold Palmer Invitational, is a 555-yard par-5 that boomerangs dramatically around a lake. On any given week, it’s something to see.
This week, though, you’ll get a chance to see it as never before.
When the first tee shots take flight on Thursday morning, the PGA Tour will launch something of its own: PGA Tour AR, an innovative app designed to draw fans deeper into the action.
AR stands for augmented reality, and as its name suggests, it creates an enhanced version of the real world.
In this case, the real world is Bay Hill. Specifically, the par-5 6th, the lone hole in Arnie’s event that will be available on PGA Tour AR this week.
Here’s how it works.
By tapping the app on an iPhone or iPad, fans will be treated to a 3D image of the hole along with 3D shot trails from the player or players of their choice — all projected on whatever flat surface is in front of them. In addition to capturing the live action, the app will archive every shot struck on the 6th hole throughout the four-day competition, allowing fans to compare shot trails of any players from any round.
That’s not all. Coinciding with this week’s launch, the par-3 7th hole at Pebble Beach will also be available on the app, replete with all the action that played out at this year’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
In case you’ve forgotten where, say, Ted Potter Jr., stuck his tee shot on No. 7 during the second round, now you can relive it in AR.
“This particular innovation is unique in that it lets us serve the core fan even deeper with all kinds of 3D imagery and data and a better understanding how a particular hole plays,” said Rick Anderson, the Tour’s chief media officer. “But it also helps us attract a new audience of people who may not necessarily be golf fans but are drawn by the technology and discover our content. It’s about growing our audience. It’s not just technology for technology’s sake.”
It is, however, the latest example of the Tour pushing out on the bleeding edge, drawing on Shotlink data and other high-tech capabilities in order to expand its reach. A milestone in that effort came at the 2017 Players Championship, which marked the first time a major sporting event distributed a live 360 virtual reality experience on Twitter. Virtual reality coverage has since been brought to other events, including the 2017 Presidents Cup and the 2018 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Recently, the Tour released PGA Tour Hololens, an augmented reality app that operates on a Microsoft platform and integrates Shotlink data onto a 3D model of TPC Scottsdale. The catch with Hololens is that it requires users to wear augmented-reality goggles.
Not so PGA Tour AR. All you need is an Apple mobile device, running on iOS 11.
“That’s been the question on our minds,” Anderson said. “How can we bring this immersive technology to millions of people at the same time?”
Then there’s the matter of bringing that technology to more events. The Tour has plans for that. At the 2018 Players Championship, PGA Tour AR will be in play on holes 16 through 18. At the Tour Championship, the 18th hole will be featured on the app. The intention, eventually, is to offer AR on at least one hole at every event on the Tour schedule.
Over time, the Tour’s augmented reality will itself be augmented by increasingly sophisticated features, such as player avatars and shot trails that capture the exact path traveled by every putt.
Some of the most exciting possibilities, Anderson said, involve augmenting the experience for spectators at Tour events. Among other developments in the works is an update of the app that will treat fans behind the ropes to augmented-reality views of the entire venue, corporate tents and other amenities included, as well as wow-factor imagery and information not otherwise visible to the naked eye. (The update could debut as early as this season.)
“Say a ball bounds up the fairway but you can’t tell who hit it,” Anderson said. “You’ll just hold up your device, you see the shot trail and the player and now you know, ‘Hey, that was Rory McIlroy who just bombed one 300 yards.'”
The first step toward all of that takes place this week at Bay Hill. On a related note, Tiger Woods will be in the field, and while his presence alone is not augmented reality, it often feels larger than life.
The PGA Tour AR app is available for free exclusively in the App Store.