In an announcement that sent ripples of euphoria through the golf and gaming worlds Tuesday, Augusta National Golf Club and EA Sports have teamed up to invite the world to virtually play the iconic home of the Masters Tournament.
Augusta National is the headliner in the latest version of the popular Tiger Woods PGA Tour video game. The club held out even longer than the Fab Four to break into the 21st century technology trend, waiting 13 years before opening its virtual gates to gamers. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 might be the platform, but the Masters is the star.
EA Sports president Peter Moore said that Augusta National has been the most requested element since the successful video game franchise was launched in 1998. Fans on various social media outlets have been screaming "it's about time" since the announcement.
But like everything Augusta National does, it was a breakthrough taken in very measured steps with a very focused goal of growing the game through the Masters brand. They waited for the technology that could do the fabled course justice and integrated it with the launch of the new charitable foundation to further its global reach.
Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne announced the formation of the Masters Tournament Foundation, a charitable nonprofit which will utilize 100 percent of the considerable stake in this endeavor to invest in development programs for the game of golf worldwide.
"We hope our inclusion will foster an appreciation for the history and traditions of the Masters and inspire the next generation of golfers," Payne said in a press release. "Equally important is its ability to help further the mission of the Masters Tournament Foundation with the entirety of its proceeds."
It is difficult to fathom just how deep those proceeds might be. The Masters is the most coveted ticket in sports, and the course has built a worldwide mystique as it readies for its 75th edition in April. The release of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters is set for March 29 in the U.S. and April 1 in the rest of the world, capitalizing on all the attention building up for the season's first major championship just as most marketers try to capitalize on Christmas.
The popular video game has sold more than 25 million copies in 13 years and it's fair to assume that sales will surge with the Masters available for the first time. At $49.99 to $69.99 a pop depending on the gaming system, the Masters edition could generate in the neighborhood of $1 billion in global sales.
That can do a lot of growing the game and expanding the footprint of the Masters through its new foundation. It's an extension of the mission Payne has championed since taking over as chairman in 2007, reaching out to younger audiences through innovations such as televising the Par-3 Contest, expanding digital and online coverage of the tournament and co-founding the Asian Amateur Championship. The Masters has contributed more than $36 million to charities over the past decade and will continue to support programs from Augusta on out with its foundation.
This video game will be another part of the wow-factor that Augusta National exudes. Part of the club's hesitation in getting into the video game world was waiting for technology to advance to a suitable standard of excellence.
The club has been working with EA Sports for three years, and the game-maker spent more than a year perfecting the design elements. Moore said they used a new form of laser-scanning technology over every inch of the course to make sure they captured every azalea, pine tree and undulation that makes Augusta National an iconic venue.
"Authenticity was paramount," Moore said in recreating "a genuine true-to-life digital representation of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament."
Further enhancing the authenticity will be the voices of CBS commentators Jim Nantz and David Feherty. Nantz said in a video released with the announcement that the graphics of the game are uncannily life-like.
"This is a chance for people to finally say, 'Wow, I can go to Augusta,' " Nantz said. "Everyone has this dream of one day going to Augusta, either to play it or to attend the Masters Tournament. This game allows them to really be walking right down the middle of the fairway. It will be so real to people. ... I was amazed by how much I felt like I was on the grounds of Augusta."
Woods, a four-time winner at Augusta, agrees.
"This is great for the sport and will connect a new audience with the Masters, a tournament I've been fortunate to experience since 1995," Woods said in a release. "Continually growing the visibility of golf is important to attracting newcomers to the sport, and I agree that showcasing the Masters Tournament in the game will bring an entirely new dimension to that approach."
The Beatles motives for relenting to be included in the iTunes database might have been financial. But the Masters big splash in the virtual world is intended to share its benefits with the rest of the world.
While nothing can ever replace standing on the 12th tee during a Sunday of the Masters, we're all invited for a taste of the experience while helping grow the game at the same time.
It's a win-win for everyone.