Martin Dempster: Brace yourself for bold, brash GolfSixes

Television presenter and keen golfer Vernon Kay will present GolfSixes, a shortened, fast-paced version of the game aimed at attracting the so-called 'millennial demographic'.  Picture: Steve Bardens/Getty
Television presenter and keen golfer Vernon Kay will present GolfSixes, a shortened, fast-paced version of the game aimed at attracting the so-called 'millennial demographic'. Picture: Steve Bardens/Getty
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The event’s slogan, having been borrowed, of course, from Star Trek, is certainly apt. “Golf… but not as you know it” is how this weekend’s GolfSixes is being promoted, and it will, indeed, be alien to traditionalists. Not, I 
hasten to add, should that necessarily be a turn-off because this innovative new event on the European Tour deserves an open mind.

It will be bold and brash. It will be lurid and loud. It will be frenzied and fandangled. In short, it will be the exact opposite of what golf is normally all about, and there’s no doubt whatsoever that, for some, an event taking place close to London at the Centurion Club in St Albans simply won’t be their cup of tea.

What should be remembered, though, is that this isn’t what we are going to see the sport become on a week-to-week basis. It’s an attempt to spice the game up a bit and, though having been a bit sceptical myself at first, I have to admit this is actually an exciting week for golf.

That, of course, was Keith Pelley’s aim from the moment he came up with this new concept, and let’s hope the European Tour’s colourful and charismatic chief executive is rewarded for trying to 
mix up things, first and foremost, with a good attendance on Saturday
and Sunday.

There are two main factors that point to Pelley probably having come up with a winner with this one: the first being that this is a team event as 16 pairings from different nations – Richie Ramsay and Marc Warren will be representing Scotland – battle it out for a cut of the €1million prize fund.

There’s been a void on the European Tour since the Dunhill Links turned from a team into a pro-am – a valuable one, nonetheless – and it will be a real thrill for these 32 players to get a rare opportunity, certainly in the professional ranks, to be competing for their respective countries for a change as opposed to being out there as individuals.

Australia, Belgium, Denmark, England, France, India, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, the Netherlands, USA and Wales are the other nations involved this weekend. Ireland is the notable absentee, unfortunately, due to the fact its top-ranked players are either competing instead in the Wells Fargo Championship on the PGA Tour this week or preparing for next week’s Players Championship.

It’s a pity that Paul Dunne, one of the European Tour’s rising stars, isn’t involved at the Centurion Club but, unfortunately for him and Ireland, the teams were determined by world rankings at the qualifying cut-off point rather than the Race to Dubai, which is perhaps the first tweak that might be required if this is indeed the first in a GolfSixes series.

In addition to that team aspect, what should also appeal to players, on-course spectators and, of course, armchair viewers alike is a short and punchy format.

On Saturday, the teams will be split into four groups, with matches being played over six holes under greensomes, whereby the best tee shot is selected and then alternate shots are then played. The top two teams in each group will then go forward to a knock-out phase on Sunday under exactly the same format.

An individual event, the Perth Super 6 earlier in the year, generated real excitement and, especially with a team element added in, you’ve got to think that this weekend can throw up some drama, which, after all, is what spectators are looking for, no matter what sport they follow.

Helping in that respect – and hopefully acting as a reminder to the players about the role they have to play in trying to make the game more attractive – will be shot clocks, which will count down from 40 seconds for each shot.

There will be a stroke penalty for any breach of time, with digital clocks displayed at the green, fairway and tee. That alone should be quite fascinating.

With celebrities involved – the event’s hosts/commentators include Vernon Kay, Kevin Pietersen and Denise van Outen – be prepared for things you possibly won’t like and probably might even hate.

On the back of the PGA Tour seeing its decision to turn the Zurich Classic of New Orleans into a team event proving a hit, though, GolfSixes deserves to be given a chance to see if it is, indeed, the concept that, according to Pelley, will “broaden the appeal of our sport to the millennial demographic”.