The Virtual U.S. Amateur: The Latest Esport from Topgolf and the USGA

August 24, 2018

Very few people will actually get the chance to play Pebble Beach, but today all of us can just pull out our phones and do the next best thing. Plus, there’s a chance to win some prizes while we’re at it.

Topgolf and the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) have announced their latest esports collaboration with the first Virtual U.S. Amateur to be played on the World Golf Tour online game. The contest is available to any interested player. Once the competition is whittled down from thousands, the final two players will play a live 18-hole match in front of spectators at the Topgolf Atlanta Midtown location to determine the champion.

Photo Credit: Apkun

World Golf Tour is a free-to-play app that’s available on most platforms, including from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store and a desktop version can be downloaded from WGT.com.

Contestants can play unlimited qualifying rounds until the Aug. 26 cut off. The top 32 players are awarded 2,000 World Golf Tour credits and will be divided into two 16-player brackets. There the players will meet, virtually, on Pebble Beach Golf and face one another in single head-to-head stroke-play rounds. Lowest score wins the match and continues through the bracket. Semifinalists will earn 4,000 credits, and the finalists receive 6,000 credits and a trip to Atlanta.

There, at Topgolf’s Midtown location on Sept. 22, they will once again meet at virtual Pebble Beach, but this time it will be projected on a giant screen to a crowd of spectators.

“With the support of WGT and Topgolf, the inaugural Virtual U.S. Amateur will bring the esports experience to golf,” Navin Singh, Head of Global Content and Media Distribution for the USGA said in a press release. “This is the next step in the USGA’s continued efforts to innovate and connect with new audiences worldwide.”

The winner is awarded $500 in gift cards from the USGA and Topgolf and gets to skip the qualifying rounds for the 2019 Virtual U.S. Open, which is also played on World Golf Tour.

“For the past 10 years, we have collaborated with the USGA to hold the Virtual U.S. Open esports competition on the country’s most iconic venues,” said YuChiang Cheng, Media President for Topgolf. “We’re excited to continue bringing together virtual and physical golf experiences with the first Virtual U.S. Amateur. The US Amateur-style format of this new tournament and live championship at Topgolf Atlanta Midtown will create an exciting virtual golf experience for competitors and spectators alike.”

Photo Credit: Oregon Golf Association

The Virtual U.S. Amateur is just the latest way that the Topgolf company is striving to remain top of mind when it comes to away-from-the-links, golf-related entertainment. Topgolf is a unique mix of driving range and target range where, using microchipped balls, points are scored for accuracy and distance. The first location opened in 2000. As of 2018, Topgolf has 42 venues in the United States and the United Kingdom. In 2016, the company decided to expand its brand into the digital realm and did so by acquiring the World Golf Tour game and parent company. This gave fans of Topgolf the ability to continue playing the game even when they were not at a Topgolf venue.

“Joining forces with Topgolf means more growth opportunities for our associates, improved service for our fans and additional development resources to advance our games,” Cheng said at the time of the acquisition. “The World Golf Tour team is excited to grow our existing games and build even more engaging content with Topgolf for the future. Topgolf’s popular games will soon be available to play anywhere in the world from the palm of your hand.”

“Topgolf has always signified so much more than a golf entertainment venue,” Erik Anderson, Co-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Topgolf Entertainment Group. “We envision ourselves as a global sports lifestyle brand where people go to have the best times of their lives with golfing, gaming, food and beverage, music, apparel, digital content and much more.”

The WGT acquisition also came with a functioning and successful mobile esports element. WGT had been running a Virtual U.S. Open competition since 2008, and over the years it grew in popularity. In 2018, people trying to break into the championship bracket played 3.5 million rounds.

Part of the reason for the success of the competition (and the WGT game in general) is the attention to detail that’s paid to the virtual, real-life courses. There are several beloved courses that golf fans will never get a chance to play due to either proximity (the game includes courses located in the U.S., the U.K., the Netherlands, Canada, and Mexico) or the fact that several of these courses are not open to the public. So, World Golf Tour does its best to approximate the experience in a virtual environment through a patented 3D photorealistic technology.

Photo Credit: Venture Beat

“We shoot approximately 300,000 photos and whittle those down to 100,000 photos on the server for our course,” Chad Nelson Co-Founder of WGT Media said in an interview with Fortune. “We were walking 30 feet into the woods at Pinehurst, so we have a photo of where your ball lands. If you get into hazards and you have to play from there, the terrain plays correctly because we utilize aerial and GPS land scans and surveys. With our laser scanners, we’re able to get amazing precision on the greens down to millimeter accuracy and on the bunkers down to centimeter accuracy. We also work with the USGA to make sure the fairway speeds and green speeds are accurate based on how close they cut the grass and how firm it is. For example, Pinehurst has inverted plates that are like putting on the top of a dome, our green speeds match the real world.”

Now, with the Virtual U.S. Amateur tournament, Topgolf and the USGA are continuing to ensure that World Golf Tour’s content will continue to keep up with the competition while remaining relevant with the fans. It also gives the company another entry in the expanding mobile esports market.

Sure, one could ask if it is necessary to have an online qualifier tournament for another tournament that’s already open for anyone to attempt to qualify for. Maybe not, but that’s beside the point.

Esports are fun. Online competitions are fun. And the democratic nature of both the Virtual U.S. Amateur and the Virtual U.S. Open gives players opportunities to enter the big dance that most other games do not provide. It also allows fans of the game (both virtual and real world) a higher chance of seeing what it’s like to hit a drive on some of the most famous courses on the planet.

This Topgolf illustration is an excellent example of a company identifying a need (a digital presence), determining a solution (acquisition of WGT), and continuing to refine the product (expansion in the growing mobile esports market).

If you would like to learn more about the esports industry, including mobile opportunities, give one of the experts at eGency Global a call at 972-323-6354.