So, Keith Pelley’s plans for an exciting and bold future for professional golf includes a shorter form of the game, fewer clubs, a shot clock, players dressed differently and…music. He was doing well, in my opinion anyway, until the European Tour’s chief executive got to the last of those possibilities in an interview with BBC Radio 5 live’s Wake Up To Money: Sports Edition at the weekend.
Let’s look first, though, at what Pelley had to say in the wider context of what he is trying to achieve in his bid to spice up the sport because, in the main, his proposals should certainly be met with enthusiasm and excitement rather than causing noses to be turned up en masse. Whether we like it or not, after all, golf clearly needs to implement some changes going forward.
“We are looking to create a format that would be six holes that could be an hour or an hour-and-a-half content programme,” said the Canadian, who succeeded George O’Grady as top dog at the Wentworth-based organisation last year and is now beginning to drip feed his vision for the European Tour. “Yes, there’d be a shot clock. Yes, there’d be music being played and PA announcers and players would probably be dressed a little bit differently. And maybe they’d only play with five or seven clubs.”
Pelley also plans to introduce team events. “We probably would have, based on the fact that we play in so many different countries and our leaderboard is always filled with a bunch of different flags, it would probably be a country competition. So you could see England playing Scotland in a six-hole matchplay,” he added.
Now, let’s analyse each of those suggestions, starting with a shorter format. He will have few people arguing against that because a schedule comprising 72-hole stroke-play events week in, week out is, quite simply, boring. It’s why next week’s Aberdeen Asset Management Paul Lawrie Match Play at Archerfield Links will be a breath of fresh air for the players, the spectators and those of us lucky enough to write about this great game but feeling glad that a different format is coming up after a run of stroke-play tournaments.
Pelley’s shot-clock proposal also gets the thumbs-up because it will be fascinating to see players placed in a situation where spectators and armchair viewers can see individuals facing a countdown to a potential penalty. Slow play is the game’s biggest problem by far and, if the implementation of a shot clock in a shorter form of the game can help improve pace issues in the game as a whole, then that suggestion is definitely worth a try. So, too, is his suggestion about players occasionally competing with a half set of clubs.
As a huge fan of the old Dunhill Cup that morphed into the Dunhill Links Championship, I also like Pelley’s idea of introducing team tournaments. Just look at events like the Ryder Cup, the President’s Cup, the Solheim Cup and, to a lesser extent, the Walker Cup and Curtis Cup and there’s absolutely no denying that all those biennial matches generate real excitement. Golf may essentially be an individual sport, but players relish getting the chance to represent their country and a few more such opportunities would definitely be a good thing.
Which leaves us with PA announcers, players dressed differently and music. You just need to look at the likes of Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy and even John Daly to see that players are already dressing differently as the game tries to get away from being dominated by 1970s-type stereotypes. At the same time, however, it would be nice to think that the hugely positive boost that Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson just delivered for the game will be down to their brilliance at Royal Troon in The Open rather than what they were wearing in the final two rounds.
As for PA announcers and music? No! Neither belongs on a golf course and there really is a fine line here between trying to be, in Pelley’s words, innovative and creating something that just doesn’t sit with the fundamentals of the sport. On the one hand, the European Tour chief’s vision is aimed at trying to attract more young players to the sport. But what if the cost of that happening is losing too many of those who actually like the game as it is right now? Personally, I think change of some sort is required but let’s be careful here because, as Stenson and Mickelson showed us just over a week ago, the traditional form of golf can still show the sport off in its full glory.