For the first time in the history of big-time professional golf, three days of strokeplay will lead to a ‘matchplay Sunday’ in which the 24 qualifiers will contest six-hole shoot-outs. Yet, this European Tour event, taking place at Lake Karrinyup – aka “the place where bush kangaroos graze” – will be just one more leap into a future where the sport reaches out to a new demographic, and a generation in which kicks need to be rather more instantly delivered than across 72 holes and four exhaustive days.
The surveys insist the millennials are golf’s prime growth area and, with the ageing supporter base limping towards the clubhouse, the sport, like cricket and rugby union, needs to find a fitting new format. Certainly, the personnel are already in place, in the likes of under-30 icons Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama. But at the vanguard of this campaign to overhaul the plus-foured, staid perception of petty rules and five-hour plus rounds is Keith Pelley, the Tour’s chief executive.
It is the Canadian’s ambition to make the good walk spoiled become the great walk enhanced – with fireworks if needs be – and he is prepared to push the limits to the out-of-bounds markers and, to some purists’ minds, well beyond.
“We will always have to maintain the integrity and traditions, which will continue in 72-hole tournaments,” Pelley said. “But on other weeks we have to look to modernise and reach out to a broader market, just as Twenty20 and sevens rugby have done.”
The World Super 6 is merely the start on this quest. This week, Pelley announced that the inaugural GolfSixes would be staged on the first weekend of May at the Centurion Golf Club, just north of London. This will be six-hole matchplay from the off, with 16 two-man national teams playing in group stages on Saturday and knockouts on Sunday.
Pelley has promised music and “pyrotechnics” and for the protagonists to be interviewed as they go about their business. Pelley believes this will merely be the norm in five years. “They will all be mic’ed up,” he said. “One of the greatest things about golf is that they’re not wearing helmets, you can see faces and emotions and because of the nature of the sport they can interact in real time.”
Pelley is a pocket rocket of ideas and plans, including shot-clocks, wacky costumes and PA announcers. And do not be surprised if walk-on songs greet the players on to the first tee at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in three months.
Inevitably, there have been, and will continue to be, criticisms. The Golf Channel in America posed the question, “Is the European Tour trying too much, too soon?”, while Paul Lawrie was aghast at how loud the DJ was on the range at the Abu Dhabi Championship. “I didn’t like it,” the 1999 Open champion said. “You couldn’t hear your caddie.”
The Scot’s comments brought to mind the reaction of Colin Montgomerie after being distracted at the 2010 Spanish Open by sounds booming from a hospitality box. “Is this a golf tournament or a f…..g disco?” Monty bellowed at the organisers.
But there are also illustrious figures such as Jack Nicklaus who see the positives and point to the Waste Management Open in Phoenix, where more than 600,000 attend over a week and where golf etiquette goes out of the soundproofed window, particularly on the Stadium Hole 16th, which is to muted respect what the Whispering Gallery is to Metallica.
“Phoenix is incredibly popular, it works for a very young crowd and you have to change with the world,” Nicklaus said. “I never liked the silence, anyway. And you might just tell the players to get out there and play.”
That is plainly the attitude in Perth. “We would like to get to a place like they are in Phoenix, where the event is admired because people are having fun and not being told to be quiet,” Steve Ayles, the PGA of Australia’s commercial officer, said.
Yet will the players really just accept it? This week, it could well come to pass that a pro who is five shots clear after 54 holes of strokeplay on Saturday night could be heading home after just four holes on Sunday morning. What would he say then? As it is, the stars have stayed away, with Swede Alex Noren the only member of the world’s top 12 in the 156-man field.
The purse is obviously a huge factor, with £1.1 million (NZ$1.91m) on offer – veritable peanuts on the golden fairways. In golf’s chicken-and-egg paradox, the sponsors will need to come on board as well. Yet, like any visionary worthy of his sales pitch, Pelley thinks long-term.
“We’ll get some things wrong and some things right but we will refine and adapt,” Pelley said. “Let’s create this. What did Kevin Costner say in Field of Dreams? ‘Build and they will come’. If you have skill and entertainment you have the future of the sport.”
– The Telegraph, London