Don’t mock new European Tour formats – they freshen up a stale golfing calendar
Most pilot episodes never get a second chance so we should give the European Tour credit for the GolfSixes concept that will return in May.
To recap, last year’s inaugural event at Centurion, in St Albans, involved six-hole matches between pairs representing 16 different countries.
They were split into groups of four and played round-robin games of Greensomes. The teams topping their respective leagues went through to the semis and then the final, with Thorbjorn Olesen and Lucas Bjerregaard coming out on top for Denmark.
It all took place over a weekend, with plenty of razzmatazz – including music, celebrities and fan interaction – as well as a shot clock that demanded the players hit within 40 seconds of arriving at their ball.
The event was certainly well-attended by the standards of regular events and the European Tour claim that:
- There was a 42 per cent increase in new golf fans at the event compared to standard tournaments
- Attendees were 14 per cent younger than those seen during the rest of the golfing calendar
- Social media engagement around the event was 24 per cent higher, with over 20 million social impressions delivered
I don’t know if that makes it an unqualified success but it was at least something different, and surely we can all agree that the game desperately needs an alternative to the monotony of 72-hole strokeplay.
That is especially true for the European Tour, which continues to operate very much in the shadow of the PGA Tour.
As it stands, here in the UK if you have access to the European Tour then you can also watch the PGA Tour on the same channel.
For all but a few weeks of the year, the latter is a better product with superior fields and enjoying the advantage of being broadcast in peak times during our weekend evenings.
The cold fact is that the European Tour can’t match its American equivalent so it surely makes sense to try to offer something different.
That’s easier said than done though.
At the last count, there were no fewer than 42 weeks of 72-hole strokeplay on the Tour’s 2018 season schedule.
Yet the same people who are quick to bemoan the staleness of this rather turgid diet will very quickly turn their nose up at anything remotely different.
The strokeplay format is tried and tested and it works for golf. Anything else is a risk and will bring its own problems.
You only have to look at the Horlicks that has been made of the WGC-Match Play to see that.
Until a couple of years ago, the opening days of this event, and especially the Wednesday, were the most captivating of the season outside of the majors and Ryder Cup.
Yet precisely what made it so exciting to watch – the fact that half the field was eliminated each round – was its greatest weakness.
TV hated it because, come viewing prime-time at the weekend, there were only a handful of players left, some of whom tended to be the likes of Jeff Maggert, Kevin Sutherland and Matt Kuchar. We’ve never yet had a true heavyweight contest in the final – a Phil v Tiger or a Rory v Spieth or even a grudge match.
The nearest we’ve come to a bit of needle was when Victor Dubuisson kept improbably getting up and down from the Tucson cacti in the 2014 final.
The players hated it because it came at a time of the season where they were trying to time their Masters build-up and they didn’t know whether they would be packing their bags on Wednesday night after 14 holes or departing exhausted after going the distance and playing seven intense rounds in five days.
So now we have three days of dull round-robin to perm a last 16 from the starting field, and you still tend to end up with a last 16 that isn’t exactly box office.
(The worst element of it is trying to inject drama into Russell Henley’s predicament when he’s three down through eight having already lost his first game and yet COULD still qualify if he turns it around, but that’s only if Pat Perez hangs on to beat Ross Fisher in the other game in the group. Especially when you have backed Henley.)
At the moment, GolfSixes is more slap-and-tickle than the Ryder Cup. Which is fine. It’s a different spectacle and it’s watchable. The format will likely evolve. Those of us immersed in the game have to remember that it’s not really aimed at us – though that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it.
Also on the schedule for the season ahead are the ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth, the Belgian Knockout, the 2018 Shot Clock Masters and the European Golf Team Championships.
All offer something different. We won’t be seeing Rory, Dustin and Jordan in these events but then they wouldn’t be anyway, regardless of what event the tour was putting on in such weeks.
GolfSixes is not a panacea. Nor are any of the above events. But you have to start somewhere. And for that the European Tour should be applauded.