The smart urban golf mixed reality game turns urbanites into avid golfers. No equipment need – except a smartphone. In late July, hundreds of players got to test their skills at four tournaments in the Swiss cities of Basel, Zurich, Geneva, and Lugano – hoping to win a smart fortwo. smart magazine joined the fun in Zurich.
Bathed in balmy temperatures under an azure sky, Lake Zurich glistens in the sun. It’s a perfect day for a round of golf. But instead of packing my drivers and membership pass, I simply download an app and head for the nearest tournament. Hang on, how’s that supposed to work? The answer: mixed reality – a familiar term, not only since global hype Pokémon Go or similar immersive games. The smart urban golf app promises to turn my smartphone into a full-fledged golf club. I register for one of four Swiss tournaments via Facebook.
The app, developed by Swiss gaming pioneer Matthias Sala, features an appealing design and promises to splice my real-life environment with a digital gaming experience. Urban golf is a good fit for smart. Marcel Guerry, CEO of Mercedes-Benz Switzerland, explains that “we want to give urbanites the opportunity to rediscover their own neighborhood in a new and entertaining way. The smart urban golf app brings joy to Swiss cities in a new and innovative way.”
My phone screen shows a familiar map of Zurich’s inner city, dotted with several pink flags – the nine holes waiting to be played: fountains, meadows, towers, and squares. But first, I get to practice with the four holes offered in the app’s tutorial mode. For that perfect hole-in-one, I need to adjust both drive strength and the type of club. Wedge or driver? Like the real deal – with a twist. Feet apart, smartphone in hand, hold the button … and release after a powerful swing. The driving range option lets me practice the handling of my virtual club – people can hardly stifle a grin as I wave my phone around wildly.
Time to get serious: At 6 pm, I arrive at Gessnerallee close to Zurich’s central station. Several smart, equipped with JBL sound systems, are already gleaming in the sun, while a large screen displays a map of the city center. The countdown has started and I ready my app for the upcoming competition: Teams are scattered across the city. I finish the first hole at Bahnhofstrasse with just two strokes. Beginner’s luck – my next virtual ball drops somewhere between two buildings. I find myself on busy Bahnhofstrasse and weave my way through the masses of passers-by, always an eye on my phone display. Two old ladies I just barely avoided bumping into while taking a swing pass me with shaking heads.
I run into local Jens Bettschart who is out on his own, playing the game. “It took me a while to get the hang of taking my swings between all these people. I guess it must look quite funny to bystanders,” he laughs. “But when I play, I also discover some completely new places and sides of Zurich, which is pretty amazing!”
Other players are easy to spot on busy Paradeplatz square: Eyes glued to their smartphones, power banks tucked into pockets, trading pro tips. Should I swap out clubs for this distance? How many holes have you completed? How do I get extra shots? How’s your battery holding up? Players exchange smiles with each other. They feel like a secret society within the crowd. I sneak a nervous glance at the ranking – I’m still a solid mid-fielder. The time left: 1.34.00, battery hovering at 27%.
A guy with horn-rimmed glasses bikes up beside me. Can Sarac from Schlieren explains that he “started out on foot, but quickly decided to go for a rental bike. Not to save time, but to get more extra swings.” He tells me he loves the way the game encourages exchange and group dynamics between players. Can’s also a Pokémon Go enthusiast, but „urban golf is way more fun – and the drives add physical activity to the mix.” I decide to join Can for a while since our balls have come down somewhere in a similar direction. At Selnau station, I run into the next group of urban golfers.
Silvan Rois from Baden is especially enthusiastic. Stuck at a traffic light, he shouts: “Hey, I could use some bonus hits!” Within the tournament, players can receive additional shots when the game’s organizers drive past in a smart, distributing extra points. Silvan is radiant. “Today’s weather is amazing and everyone’s in a great mood! Everyone I meet is happy to help out with tips and tricks or a quick battery boost. It’s a fair fight.”
I carry on, still eyeing my battery level. By now, half of Zurich seems to have come out to play virtual golf. According to my ranking, there’s at least 250 of us roaming the city center. On streets, in parks, near statues, in cafes – wherever I look, people are practicing their swings. A young woman heading for the next hole explains that “today’s tournament is ultra-exciting since I was top of the ranking for quite a while.” At the same time, Nathalie Moser’s real reason for coming out was to experience the city. “I get to explore new alleyways and feel like I’ve accomplished something.” She thinks that this playful take on urban navigation is a fun phenomenon.
The setting sun soaks Zurich’s facades in a warm orange glow. Just half an hour to go until the end of the tournament. I have fallen further down the ranking – and no chance of beating the current leader. He only needed 23 strokes for the entire 9-hole course. I amble back to our starting point at Gessnerallee where many players already flock around the stage. It’s time to announce the lucky winner: Quintus Dienst from Zurich will take home the new smart fortwo. The tall player, clutching a tiny dog, can’t quite believe his luck. “I won a car by having fun for a day – how great is that?” he cheers. “My dog Cliff was my personal caddy and lucky charm.” His secret for beating the competition? “I practiced a bit in a park this morning, but I guess luck and some focus also helped.” Quintus gets behind the wheel of the smart. “I’m totally thrilled. This smart is my very first own car!”