Martin Dempster: Mixed format should be repeated but with more stars

The Iceland team of, left to right, Valdis Thora Jonsdottir, Birgir Hafthorsson, Olafia Kristinsdottir and Axel Boasson with their trophy and gold medals after winning the mixed event at Gleneagles last Saturday. Picture: Getty.
The Iceland team of, left to right, Valdis Thora Jonsdottir, Birgir Hafthorsson, Olafia Kristinsdottir and Axel Boasson with their trophy and gold medals after winning the mixed event at Gleneagles last Saturday. Picture: Getty.
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It certainly wasn’t the highlight of a packed programme of top-class summer golf in Scotland but, at the same time, the inaugural European Team Championships was a lot better than many people, this correspondent included, expected.

Yes, of course, it was a pretty 
low-key affair that was lacking star names, the men’s side in particular not having any real pulling power in terms of attracting fans to the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles for the five-day event.

As a consequence, there were certainly times when you felt that an army of volunteers might actually have outnumbered spectators, though definitely not when the mixed event was held on Saturday as it was the big success of the week.

It was the first time in the professional game that men and women had actually joined forces in such an event and there was absolutely no doubt that it’s something that needs to be repeated because a) the players enjoyed the opportunity and b) it proved appealing to the paying public.

What also struck me out on the course when the mixed event was taking place was that the crowd didn’t seem to be made up entirely of golfing people, so to speak, and that’s where something different like this should be welcomed rather
than being dismissed.

We are too quick to do that in this country. We’re too rigid in our thinking when it comes to golf. We’ve also been spoiled rotten by hosting the Open Championship so frequently and you just sensed people were turning up their noses when they saw both the different formats and the line-ups for this event.

In fairness, there were a few names I’d never even come across before and, if golf is to remain a part of this event going forward, then let’s hope it’s not positioned against a major – the US PGA Championship on this occasion – to give as many players as possible the rare opportunity in professional golf of being a member of a team.

Rarer, of course, in this sport is the chance to compete for medals and, just like the Olympics in 2016, when golf made its return to that stage after an absence of more than 100 years, that’s where this event proved a refreshing change.

It was a profitable week monetary-wise for Michele Thomson. She earned just over £31,000, which, to put that in some perspective, was more than six times what she had earned previously this season and also represented more than half her career earnings.

Yet, you really had to see the smile that lit up her face to know exactly what winning a silver medal with Meghan MacLaren, Liam Johnston and Connor Syme in the mixed event and a bronze in tandem with MacLaren in the women’s tournament meant to the 30-year-old Aberdonian. In short, this was the golfing week of her life and it didn’t need money to make that.

It was clearly a huge thrill, too, for MacLaren, Johnston and Syme to get medals draped around their necks, even if, like Thomson, they will all be hoping that their careers will be defined by individual achievements because, let’s face it, that is indeed what matters most in this game.

It won’t have hurt Georgia Hall, for instance, too hard that she missed out on a medal a week after becoming a major winner, though I must admit that I agree that she and team-mate Laura Davies had a valid point about the format for the women’s and men’s events changing from fourballs in the group phase to foursomes for the medal matches.

Apparently, that was down to a time issue, though hopes of getting
the golf action finished at 5pm in time for the athletics starting in Berlin went out of the window due in part to the weather but also the women’s final being three holes behind the bronze match just after the turn. Sadly, that unacceptable side of golf continues to show its head and is especially bad in the women’s professional game.

On a cheerier note, this event proved yet again why Gleneagles deserves to be showcased to the world as much as possible. It is a top-class venue and, after the Solheim Cup, which takes place next September, joins the 2014 Ryder Cup in being staged on the PGA Centenary Course, it has to be hoped that serious consideration is given by the new owners of the plush Perthshire resort, Ennismore, to it returning as a regular venue.

In fact, where better for the first 72-hole stroke-play event involving European Tour and Ladies European Tour players? Heck, why not add in some PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players, too. Now that really would be exciting.