Golf Needs More Events Like Fun and Inclusive GolfSixes
SO WHAT are we to make of the GolfSixes, the second edition of which was staged at Centurion Club near St Albans on a glorious May bank holiday weekend? Is it the future of golf, or is it simply a sideshow?
The purists will scoff at the very notion that this event could signal the start of something new. They will hate the fact that Vernon Kay stood on the first tee hogging the limelight - and they will ignore the fact that he actually did a very good job of interviewing players and bringing smiles to faces. Like we keep saying, golf is meant to be fun.
Let’s look at a few facts, shall we? For starters, the European Tour took the bold step of slashing the admission fee for adults to £16. In anybody’s book that represents great value for money when you set it aside the cost of going to, say, a Premier League football match.
And because it was a different kind of event, it attracted many people who would never normally consider attending a golf tournament. More than 10,000 people poured in over the course of the two days - adults and their children, many of whom were experiencing professional golf for the very first time. And they will have loved what they saw.
And it was a hoot. It helped that the sun beat down for two days, of course it did. But there was something very special in the air. Music blared out all across the course. When players stood on the first tee to play their opening shots, they did so to the sound of spectators clapping and shouting as they played. This is something that is normally to be frowned upon, but cast your mind back to the Ryder Cup when Bubba Watson and Ian Poulter worked the American galleries into a frenzy on the opening hole.
If you recall, they hit their opening drives to the accompaniment of deafening applause and chanting from the gallery. The players relished it, the fans loved it.
Back at St Albans, players were reminded at every possible opportunity that as they played the fourth hole there was a 30-second shot clock ticking down. The crowd were encouraged to start a countdown. But guess what? Knowing that they only had 30 seconds to play a shot, each and every golfer comfortably managed to play within their allotted time. Makes you think, doesn’t it? Why don’t they impose precisely that limit on every shot at every tournament, while allowing the golfers the opportunity to call a timeout when they face particularly difficult shots?
Snooker has taken a bold step in publishing the time it takes each and every individual to play each and every shot. Trust us when we tell you that the players login to check out where they stand because nobody wants to be known as the slowest player in the sport. Why doesn’t golf do the same? We know how far they hit the ball, we know how many putts they take, we know how many times they get the ball up and down from the sand. But we don’t know who the real culprits are when it comes to slow play.
It is a safe bet that many of the children who were at St Albans on Saturday and Sunday will now be nagging Mum and Dad to go out and buy them some golf clubs, and that can only be a good thing. We need more youngsters learning to play this magnificent game of ours.
There was also lots of fun at the par-three fifth hole, where an amateur followed the pros onto the tee and played to the same green - and, on Saturday, one of them even managed to hit his ball inside all four of the pros who had gone before him.
Best of all was the idea to invite a total of five women to take part - Catriona Matthew, Carlotta Ciganda, Mel Reid, Georgia Hall and the irrepressible Charley Hull. And these women were not simply there to make up the numbers. Ciganda, Reid, Hall and Hull all made it through to the knockout stages - and played some wonderful golf in the process.
And they loved it. Hull, who seemed to spend the entire two days surrounded by autograph hunters, is a credit to her sport, and is clearly a huge crowd favourite. “I didn’t realise there were so many young girls playing golf,” she said. It may well have something to do with you Charley!
Reid, who is now trying to make her way on the LPGA Tour, summed it up perfectly. “We’ve shown we can play and should not be underestimated. I hope we’ve established a platform here, and it will help us get some of the support that we really need.”
The Ladies European Tour has been in dire straits for some time, but for as long as it is represented by players of this calibre, its future should be assured.
It also turned out to be a pretty special couple of days for a young Irishman called Gavin Moynihan, who partnered British Masters champion Paul Dunne to the overall title. In the process, Moynihan pocketed 100,000 euros for his efforts. He is a delightful 23-year-old who represented Great Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup in 2015 and then took the decision to turn professional. It has been a pretty rocky road.
In 10 tournaments this season, Moynihan had failed to make a single cut, which means that he had not earned a penny on the course. That has got to be tough to take. But, playing alongside Dunne in a relaxed atmosphere, he produced some stellar golf, no more so than when he holed a chip to beat South Korea in a sudden death playoff and secure Ireland’s place in the final against France. “This is the most fun I have had since I joined the paid ranks,” he said. He will take more away from his experience at Centurion than anybody else in the field, and it would surprise nobody to see him make a breakthrough in a so-called “proper” golf tournament soon.
If there was one disappointment it was in the fact that many of the spectators had left the course before the final was completed. But that is a small price to pay.
Gimmicky? Yes. Fun? Yes. Real golf? Of course it was. The gin and tonic brigade are just going to have to accept that if golf is to continue to thrive and grow, we need more events like this.
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