Just what the sport needs?
Even the most seasoned golfer could be forgiven for not being aware of the brand new, revolutionary golfing format that was showcased this weekend. I for one only heard about Golf Sixes whilst listening casually to Radio 2 as I drove to work but interested to see how what I heard could possibly work, I was glued to SkySports as the coverage went live.
So, let me set the scene. Golf is trying to encourage as many new players as possible and in doing that is also trying to do away with some of the bad press we've had about stuffy, long golfing days for the privileged and introduce a more exciting and enjoyable competition. Enter Golf Sixes. The idea is not dissimilar to cricket's Twenty/20 where laborious test matches are kicked out in favour of an exciting one day match. 2 players from 16 countries team up to play a green-some format over just 6 holes. A slight twist on match play means that we have done away with the usual 1up or 3&2 phrases and have adopted a sort of football match score where it clearly shows how many holes have been won and by who i.e. England 4 v Denmark 2. The reason they do this is so that if there should be a tie in group stages, the number of holes won can be taken into to account, a bit like goal difference. Groups play on day one to see which countries go through to knock out stages which ultimately leads to one country taking the prize. Still with me? Good.
They key to all this is speed. a Green-some format means both players tee off, pick the best drive then play alternate shots until the ball is holed. The reduction to 6 holes means that the match is played in an hour which is a much more acceptable time for those who don't want to lose a day on the course. The final little twist which I have to say made very interesting viewing was the addition of a shot-clock which counted down 40 seconds (reducing to 30 seconds in the final rounds) for the player to take their shot. This proved it's worth when the USA team took too long to take a shot and were given a penalty for it which resulted in them losing the hole, the match and a place in the semi-finals. Whilst the shot-clock alone will do wonders in pace of play what was a change to the norm when the crowd openly and loudly started to chant the countdown from 10 seconds downwards as loudly as they could as the professionals were about to take their backswing.
There was more interaction from the crowds and it felt like a Ryder Cup on speed as fireworks and smoke machines pumped out excitement for the paying audience. My particular favourite change to the norm was on course interviews with the players which showed humour, personality and real time emotion which is a change to the normal stony faced professionals and whispering on course commentators. And the commentators had a shake up with additional celebrities such as Vernon Kaye and Denise Van Outen took to microphone to appeal to people outside of the golfing scene.
So what worked and what didn't work? I applaud the European tour for listening to the harsh feedback about the golfing format and trying something new. Not everything worked. The celebrities were unnecessary and at some times a bit cringey, the fireworks and smoke machines were a little OTT and Andy Sullivan belly flopping the match mascot is not something anyone needs to see. But on the whole, it was interesting, exciting and above all fun. It showed a much more relaxed side of golf where the crowd had something to join in with and be part of. It needs some work but on the whole, I hope Golf Sixes is here to stay and I look forward to seeing how it improves over time.