By D.J. Piehowski, PGATOUR.COM
WASHINGTON, D.C. – If you’re looking to break the mold, the Uline Arena is a spot-on place to do it.
Known in its younger days as the Washington Coliseum, the D.C. venue has hosted speakers like Malcolm X and President Eisenhower. It’s where Red Auerbach used to coach the Washington Capitols. It’s where this picture of Bob Dylan was taken, and perhaps most notably, it’s where the Beatles played their first concert in the United States.
Fitting then, that the world of golf -- and Rickie Fowler -- makes its mark on the venue before it’s turned into office and retail space in September. A very unique mark, at that.
If you’re scratching your head after watching the video above, let’s start from the beginning and explain how this Red Bull spectacle of glow-in-the-dark golf balls, projection mapping and taunting moons began.
“The concept was art meets sport,” said Jason Naumoff, the executive producer behind building the psychedelic driving range. “It’s the classic hero’s journey that you see as far back as the ‘Odyssey,’ – the protagonist tests himself in a series of challenges and ultimately prevails. We wanted to do something that was visually really stunning, but actually had some context to golf.”
That tie-in was something that was a struggle for Naumoff and his team to dial in. Working with golf for the first time, the challenge was making targets that were attainable and challenging, “but not frustrating.” The setup, which included projection-mapped landscapes of a desert oasis and a massive sea monster, as well as a moving, talking moon – the Cheshire Cat of the story, encouraging and enraging the whole time – took more than six months to complete.
Enter the hero, Fowler, a Red Bull athlete, who had no idea what he was in store for. Quite literally.
“They wanted to keep it all hidden,” Fowler said. “I had no clue. Even driving over, I didn’t know anything that was going to happen.”
In the spirit of fairness, Red Bull allowed Rickie’s caddie, Joe Skovron to scout the yardages of the “course” five minutes before his boss attempted to complete the challenges inside. But after that, it was lights out and fog machines on.
“When it's dark, there's no depth perception,” Fowler said. “So when Joe is telling me, ‘Hey, it's 47 yards or 56 yards,’ it helps, but I'm better at telling those things when there's a pin or a bunker in front.”
Fowler started with a sand wedge, hitting high, floating (and glowing) shots at the palm tree target of the oasis, which he was able to hit after only about 10 shots. The sea monster proved quite different, eventually requiring a low stinging 3-wood. (Fowler hit the target so hard that it blew a hole in the plywood base of the monster, which can be seen in the video.) He used the same skill to take down the trash-talking moon, which he had to hit three times to complete the evening’s final challenge.
“Some guys would really struggle with this, but he's so good at controlling his flight and his trajectory,” Skovron said. “He loves hitting shots like this. When he has to get a 3-wood up or down a little bit, that's what he loves.”
The event is the latest in Red Bull’s series of unorthodox activations around its roster of athletes, which includes Fowler and LPGA player Lexi Thompson as its golf stars. The company has already made Fowler a star of outdoor campaigns like this target practice in downtown Dallas, as well as its popular Kluge video, “The Athlete Machine.”
“You hear about golf maybe being a little uptight and shut-off,” Fowler said, “but I think golf is growing in a good way, partly because of things like this. It's another way to tie golf to having fun and getting people involved in a different way.”
Even if it means slaying mythical beasts to do it.