Martin Dempster: GolfSixes has an attractive future

Winners Thorbjorn Olesen and Lucas Bjerregaard of Denmark pose with the Golf Sixes trophy. Picture: Getty.
Winners Thorbjorn Olesen and Lucas Bjerregaard of Denmark pose with the Golf Sixes trophy. Picture: Getty.
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Everyone, of course, is entitled to their opinion, but I believe the sceptics have got it wrong on this one. In fairness, you probably had to be in attendance at the Centurion Club in St Albans to get a proper impression of it, but the European Tour’s GolfSixes is definitely the blueprint for a much-needed short form of the game.

Yes, it would have been better if the total crowd over the two days had been more than 9,000, especially at a venue so close to London, and that aspect will certainly be used by some to claim that the inaugural event didn’t prove popular enough to be regarded as golf’s version of cricket’s Twenty20 format.

There were so many other factors, though, that, when looked at collectively and with a clear perspective, they do indeed back up European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley’s belief that this format can “broaden the appeal of our sport to the millennial demographic”.

First and foremost, it proved that golf matches can be meaningful over just six holes and the fact this particular event involved a) a team element and b) was played under a Greensomes format merely added to those short and sharp encounters creating an excitement that is sometimes lacking at a 72-hole individual stroke-play tournament.

So, too, from a golfing perspective did a shot clock being used at one of the holes and, having watched that go down well with everyone except perhaps American Paul Peterson, who was hit with a one-shot penalty for the 40 seconds players were allowed to execute a shot before it was later reduced to just 30 seconds, we can probably expect to see that become a feature at regular events in the future. And why not?

In short, there were certainly elements about this tournament that could well attract a new audience to the game and it was great to see so many families out on the course enjoying the occasion, especially when the sun finally came out at the Hertfordshire venue on Sunday. There’s probably a fear factor about taking youngsters along to a traditional golf event due to the fact that silence is expected most of the time, but that certainly wasn’t a requirement at this one.

Quite the opposite, in fact, though when players were actually hitting their shots there was no difference to normal in that respect and that’s how it should be unless, as Bubba Watson famously did on the first tee at the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah, a player is happy to tee off in a crescendo of noise after whipping the crowd into a frenzy.

Professional warm-up people had been employed to do just that at GolfSixes and it was another aspect that seemed to go down well as fans got involved by either waving flags or giant foam fingers, hammered inflatable thunder clappers together or joined in the countdown whenever that shot clock got to ten seconds or less.

Albeit a minor thing, it would have been helpful, especially if many of those in the crowd were indeed experiencing a golf event for the first time, if the players had been announced before teeing off in the traditional Ivor Robson-style manner, as would the on-course commentators being a bit more knowledgeable about those players rather simply seeming as though they were just trying to make noise for the sake of it.

As with all new things, especially when you are trying to actually come up with something that is revolutionary, some of it worked and some of it didn’t.

Tweaks are required, therefore, and Pelley, in fairness, didn’t try to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes by claiming beforehand that what was rolled out at the weekend was necessarily what we might expect in terms of the overall GolfSixes package in the future.

He has welcomed feedback and here’s something that might be worth considering. There were longest drive and nearest the pin holes, yet both were something of a damp squib. As a basic guide for the fans, the one for the longest drive surely needed to have yardage lines across the fairway.

Also, why not offer an extra point in each of the matches for both those elements? That would ensure they also counted for something and added another bit of extra excitement.

Proper team outfits rather than players wearing similar colours would also be better, as might the event being played under floodlights and also on the Continent, where you get the feeling that fans would buy into the exuberance, but, all in all, it definitely ticked most boxes in terms of what it was trying to achieve.

Having heard very little of it, I won’t even try to deliver a verdict on the TV commentary by a team that included Vernon Kay, Denise Van Outen and Kevin Pietersen joining some of the Sky Sports Golf regulars. What I would say, though, is that there did seem to be an element of almost trying to force people into enjoying it rather than letting them see for themselves that this was indeed an exciting new chapter for the game.