Richie Ramsay has warmly welcomed the innovative GolfSixes event which will see the eyes of the golfing world turn on the Centurion Club in St Albans this weekend, hailing it as a “step in the right direction” after feeling the people running the sport had been guilty of “sleeping at the wheel”.
The €1 million tournament is the first of its kind in golf, involving 16 two-man teams playing six-hole matches in a Champions League-style format today, with the top two in four groups progressing to a knockout phase tomorrow. It will all take place with accompanying pyrotechnics, special walk-on music, shot clocks and other elements that are essentially aimed at turning it into a fun occasion.
Around 10,000 tickets have been sold in advance, and Ramsay, who is joining forces with Marc Warren in the Scotland side, believes the event is the type of thing golf has been badly needing to spice it up. Though trying to tread carefully, the three-time European Tour winner didn’t mince his words.
“I’m not going to turn round and say GolfSixes is the answer to solving golf’s problems, but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “There’s action being taken. I don’t know how blunt I can be, but I think there’s been a lot of people sleeping at the wheel. A lot of different bodies have not been doing anything on this.
“The truth is I don’t think some people have done their job very well. They go on about this is a problem and that is a problem, but you have to take action and this is something that is different. Hopefully we can take the good things from this and make it work.”
Keith Pelley, the European Tour’s flamboyant chief executive, said he detected a “buzz” and “anticipation” about the event, revealing as he sat down for a pre-tournament chat with a group of golfing scribes that one of the players had just told him he felt “there’s a happy feel to it”.
The Canadian made it clear that he understands that 72-hole stroke-play events will continue to be golf’s bread and butter. His aim, though, is to provide something every now and again that is much different to that norm. This event will determine if this indeed is an answer and, if so, attention will then turn to seeing how often we might see it.
While essentially a TV spectacle – Sky Sports, the European Tour’s host broadcaster, is giving it the full treatment over the next two days, with celebrities such as Vernon Kay, Denise Van Outen and Kevin Pietersen joining the regular presenters and commentators – there’s no reason why golf clubs won’t be looking at the concept to see if it can be rolled out at grass-roots level as well.
“When you look at every other sport, every sport is looking at ways to broaden the engagement, and that’s what this is,” said Pelley. “Broaden to a different demographic, to a different age group to people who are not necessarily what I call the die-hards. I think in golf right now there is a willingness to look and try different formats. We want to be at the forefront of that. If you are not willing to adapt and try different things, whether in sport or in business, you run the risk of falling behind.
“I am surprised and delighted with the buzz about GolfSixes. We’ve done a lot of things, but I have heard from more people about GolfSixes the last week or so from friends back home [in Canada] and people in the US. Everybody in the golf world are looking at us this week and that’s pretty exciting.”
No-one seems more excited about this bold and brash new event than Andy Sullivan, the bubbly Midlander who is partnering Chris Wood in the England team. The former Scottish Stroke-Play champion joked about how the hosts would try to beat their opponents with “banter” if they were struggling to do that with their golf before taking a more serious tone when assessing how important he felt a tournament like this can be for the game.
“Other sports have fallen into line with the modern era trying to make things a little quicker, it’s about time golf comes into that and hopefully it will be a success,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll ever lose the 72-hole format, but hopefully we’ll see more of this and bring the fun side out and show people that golf isn’t an old man, boring sport and you can have a bit of fun out there.”
With the winning team picking up €200,000, it’s only natural that things will become a bit serious once it gets to the knockout phase, with Warren aiming to become a team winner for Scotland for the second time in his professional career after joining forces with Colin Montgomerie to claim a World Cup triumph at Mission Hills in China in 2007.
“Monty was a similar player to Richie in the sense that both are very accurate from tee to green,” he said. “I think we can blend well together, especially in a greensomes format. Hopefully we can bring out the best in each other.”