On Saturday, 9 July, 30 amateur golfers will compete over nine holes – likely to be the first five and last four – on the Ayrshire links, where the world’s top players will follow in their footsteps straight afterwards in the 145th staging of the Open Championship.
On one hand, it seems strange that the R&A is hosting such an event so near to its flagship tournament, especially as Royal Troon will be closed by then to ensure it is in tip-top condition for the event’s first visit there since American Todd Hamilton sprang a surprise in 2004.
On the other, however, it sends out a strong message that it acknowledges the need for nine-hole events to be rolled out at club level, something that was made abundantly clear in an extensive survey conducted by the R&A on pace of play and subsequent Time for Golf conference hosted by it in St Andrews last November.
Highlighting the challenges many people face in finding time to play 18 holes, 60 per cent of the golfers surveyed expressed the view that they would enjoy golf more if it took less time. Moreover, 21 per cent of 25-44 year-olds said they’d like to see the playing time reduced by as much as one and a half hours, while 19 per cent said they would welcome the opportunity to play nine holes more often as an alternative format.
“Nine-hole golf is not new, but we feel it is often overlooked as a perfectly valid way to play the sport either with your family and friends or competitively,” said Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive. “We are delighted to introduce a nine-hole championship and will be promoting this format as a way of playing golf in less time which can have wider appeal among people who lead increasingly busy lives today.”
Welcoming the initiative, two-time Open champion Padraig Harrington added: “People who want to play golf are increasingly struggling to find the time and so positioning nine-hole golf as a legitimate alternative makes a lot of sense. I’m really pleased to see the R&A taking the lead in this area. For regular amateur golfers to be able to play The Open venue in championship condition immediately before the best players in the world is a fantastic initiative and I’m sure this new competitive format will encourage more people to get out on the golf course and play nine-hole golf.”
The field for the inaugural event will be made up from two qualifiers from each of the 13 regional qualifying venues for The Open as well as the host venues, Royal Troon and Troon Ladies. From next year, the qualifying will be extended to cover clubs in GB&Ireland.