New innovations in golf formats are a breath of fresh air

Bernie McGuire
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The Sixes event and 9-hole competition are making golf fun to watch.

Two wonderful things happened in professional golf recently. Firstly, the pictures that were beamed onto our television screens from Riviera Country Club during the Genesis Open in Los Angeles were noticeably different. There were more cameras on the ground and in the middle of the action than usual. It brought a new perspective and added to the enjoyment and appreciation of the difficulties the players faced. Secondly, the ISPS Handa SuperSixes European Tour event at Lake Karrinyup, Perth, Australia was an unqualified success. The mixture of a 54-holes stroke play qualifier followed by head-to-head matches over 6-holes provided wonderful entertainment if you enjoy watching golfers squirming under stress.

Golf is at its best when everybody on the course has the potential to be a winner or a loser (i.e. match play) – not just the guys who finish first and second, as in stroke play, By comparison, Dustin Johnson’s runaway win at Riviera was a bore. The TV producer, whom I thought was playing a blinder for three days, made a big mistake on Sunday by not showing enough coverage of the famously short but difficult par-4, 10th hole. The SuperSixes was much better entertainment. As Padraig Harrington said recently: Variety is the spice of golf and the more of it the better!

The European Tour will be bringing another (slightly different) GolfSixes event to the Centurion Club near St Albans, Hertfordshire on May 6th and 7th. A prize fund of one million euros will be shared among two-man teams from 16-different countries. Golf badly needs variety injected into its endlessly repetitive diet of 72-holes stroke play tournaments. It also needs to be speeded up and 6-holes matches will do that.

Maybe we will see local Golf Clubs attempting similar formats from time to time? I hope so! The only negative is the promised inclusion of loud music and accompanying pyrotechnics. Why does every innovation these days have to be accompanied by noise? I cannot think of a bigger turn off in the golf environment. At St. Albans, all of the matches will be played in what is normally called a Scotch Foursomes match-play format, with both players hitting tee shots on each hole before deciding which ball to proceed with? One point awarded for each hole won, with the winner being the team with the most points after six holes. Teams (Countries) will be represented by their leading ranked European Tour member, as of March 13, who will have the freedom to choose his own partner. The team aspect in golf always creates extra atmosphere and ‘bite’.

Meanwhile, to cater for the amateurs, the R&A is introducing a 9-hole competition that is open to all, with the finale played over the back nine at Royal Birkdale on the morning of July 15th, one week prior to The Open Championship at the same venue. Four lucky pairs from Ireland will be invited and will avail of the R&A’s generous hospitality. All reasonable travel and subsistence costs will be covered.

The ILGU and GUI are fully supportive of this new 9-hole event and encourage their affiliate clubs to support it by running qualifiers. The Unions will run four nine-hole regional finals in June 2017 (dates and venues to be confirmed). The winning pair from each region will qualify for Royal Birkdale. Affiliated clubs may organize the qualifier – at their discretion as a nine-hole mixed competition in which players pick their partners (the combined singles Stableford scores of both players counting as the team’s score). Or, separate men’s and ladies nine-hole competitions with the winner of both going forward as the team to represent their club in the regional final.

Check out either the GUI or ILGU websites for more information, but be quick as the deadline (Friday March 3rd) for applications is almost upon us.

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