At the swish Centurion Club just outside St Albans over the past weekend, the European Tour went in search of the Holy Grail – trying to discover golf’s equivalent of T20 cricket.
In GolfSixes, 16 two-man national teams were competing to win the tournament, facing each other over six holes per match, playing greensomes (i.e. the players choose which tee shot to hit). There were shot clocks, fireworks, music, long-drive contests, nearest-the-pin competitions, mid-hole interviews, live green-side commentary, pink-foam mascots in the shape of a six, even good old birdies and eagles. Scoring was done on a football-style basis, which ultimately meant that Denmark (Thorbjorn Olesen and Lucas Bjerregaard) beat Australia (Scott Held and Sam Brazil) by 3-1 in the final.
Keith Pelley, chief executive of the European Tour, explained the concept, telling the Sunday Times: “We need to modernise, to create more excitement, to attract the Millennials. We have looked at a lot of proposals and formats…we thought we would put a lot of the ideas into one special event, the GolfSixes. It pushes the boundaries but there is nothing gimmicky [!!!!] about it. Our motto for it is ‘entertaining but credible’. [I have to think ‘and’ would have been a more apposite conjunction.] If we get demand, we can generate revenue.” He also told the Daily Telegraph: “To be totally honest, we’ve been making it up as we go along. Some things are going to work, some are not. We want feedback and then we will fine-tune it and determine if and where this fits.”
OK, so it wasn’t perfect and while it would never, nor ever should, replace the format of a traditional golf tournament, it was an attempt at taking the professional game in a different direction and that surely has to be a good thing, even if it comes with a pink-foam mascot. In fact, the shot clock might be an idea to incorporate into ‘real’ tournaments, perhaps accompanying the scorer. The spectators would thus know the player was approaching the time limit – 40 seconds in Hertfordshire at the weekend – to hit his shot, as would he, and he couldn’t blame it on an over-zealous or discriminatory rules official.
The victorious Danes pocketed £85,000 apiece but, as Pelley made plain, this was about future plans, not present-day prize-money. Everyone appeared to enjoy it (there were 9,000 fans over the two days) and it was great that so many young kids were in attendance. The future well-being of the game depends on attracting successive generations. However, unlike T20, this didn’t get done in four hours; it was played over two days. More importantly, one can’t help but feel that if the Tour really wants to reach out to a new audience, this should have been on terrestrial TV. On Sky, it’s just another golf event – whether a better or a worse one is matter of personal judgement. Still, in a week when the LPGA Tour announced it would be giving a spot in one of its tournaments to a golfer selected on Twitter, we all have to accept that the times they are a-changing. And T20 took a lot of flak before it became accepted.
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