Online golf gaming environment World Golf Tour raised $10 million in its third round of funding, and revealed a partnership with the U.S. Golf Association to become the group's exclusive platform provider for its virtual golf championships. Japanese private equity firm JAFCO Ventures led the financing round, with existing investors also participating.
World Golf Tour
offers an online community with 12 virtual courses based on real locations (e.g. St. Andrews) and sponsored tournaments, all working toward delivering an "authentic golf experience". It also provides a social experience by letting users play golf in parties of up to four and text chat with each other during their game.
The free-to-play, browser-based 3D game has attracted more than a million registered users and 500,000 monthly active players across 180 countries since its demo launched in 2007. World Golf Tour
is monetized through banner ads, in-game ads, and micro-transactions (players can buy balls to play and will have to replace them when they're lost in virtual water hazards).
WGT plans to devote its new funding to expanding its presence in overseas markets and moving into the social game space. It's trying out a simplified version of World Golf Tour
on Facebook, which has already brought in 2,000 users without any viral components implemented. The firm doesn't plan to discontinue its standalone game site, though.
"We are testing different game mechanics to see what works," said WGT's CEO Yuchiang Cheng, according to a report
from VentureBeat. "For us, Facebook will be a way to build awareness. It’s a mistake to scrap the original destination site. There are companies out there who are jumping on the gold rush bandwagon. For us, it is a marketing channel."
Alongside WGT's financing reveal, the U.S. Golf Association, the national governing body of golf in the USA and Mexico, announced that it entered into "a long-term relationship" with the company. As part of their partnership, the USGA and WGT will co-host a Virtual USGA championship each year, in which players can compete in a tournament on the USGA's site.
The two companies co-hosted the first Virtual U.S. Open last year, bringing in hundreds of thousands of players and helping drive record visits to the real U.S. Open's official site. WGT will produce a tribute to Pebble Beach's historic golf moments by recreating famous shots from previous U.S. Opens, which will be available under the course section of USOpen.com.
"This partnership validates WGT as the leader in integrating virtual sports with live sporting events, providing strong real-world value to sports organizations and their sponsors," said Cheng. "From day one, we set out to bring high-quality virtual golf to the masses and grow the game of golf. It‘s an honor to have the USGA look to us to bring golf’s most challenging courses to the world for enjoyment."