Golf's US Open expands its VR play

Fans can watch top golfers Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson battle from a closer perspective in virtual reality as the tournament adds more cameras and features.

The historic Oakmont Country Club may never look so real for golf fans.

Golf buffs will have a virtual reality view of the US Open golf tournament, which tees up Friday after rain suspended Thursday's opening play. VR content developer NextVR is airing the event for a second consecutive year with nine 360-degree cameras positioned to capture the event.

Laguna Beach, California-based NextVR has set up the high-end cameras on the ninth, 17th and 18th holes. The company will also have the ability to move the cameras to capture play on the 10th and 12th holes, as well.

"It's an upgrade from the five cameras we had last year to give our viewers an even greater experience," said Brad Allen, NextVR's executive chairman. "We'll also be able to do some leapfrogging to go wherever the action is."

Since live VR sports broadcasts debuted last October, the format has showed promise but hasn't delivered on its potential. The broadcasts require special hardware -- a headset and compatible phone -- as well as special software. The broadcasts can be buggy and laggy, depending on connection speeds.

The whole process of broadcasting live events in virtual reality is at the beginning of a steep learning curve, said Jason Latta, a VR consultant in Louisville, Kentucky. He says better camera placement and higher resolution are among the keys to attracting audiences.

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Fans can track the their favorite golfer playing hole by hole in this year's US Open on the USGA's enhanced mobile app.

USGA

"We're still at an early stage where everybody is trying to figure out everything from content creation, where to put the cameras and how close can we get," he said. "There's going to be some risk-taking and mistakes made along the way to improve the product."

The chance to get close-up shots of defending champion Jordan Spieth or top challenger Jason Day on one of America's toughest golf courses is part of a five-year deal NextVR struck with broadcaster Fox Sports. The VR package also includes video-on-demand features, including players teeing off on the practice range each morning, a history of Oakmont and golf tips.

Fans can also follow the action on US Open website and its enhanced mobile app, which serves as a "digital caddie" of sorts, said Amanda Weiner, the US Golf Association's assistant director of digital media.

The app has three new features including "Locator," which helps fans find their favorite players on the course, and "Playcaster," which lets fans scroll forward or backwards to see where a player will be or their past shot locations. There are 75 beacons along the course that will help fans attending the tournament keep up with the latest information.

"You'll be hard press to miss any moment of the championship," Weiner said.

The US Open is the second major golf tournament this year for NextVR, which broadcast The Masters for the first time in April. NextVR has also shown pro boxing, NASCAR's Daytona 500 and the Big East college basketball tourney.

Capturing golf can be a much tougher challenge due to the larger terrain to cover, Allen said.

"We work really closely with both Fox and the USGA to determine the most strategic angles for the broadcast while not trying to impede the play," Allen said.

You can watch the coverage on the NextVR app for Samsung GearVR.

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