Hot, sunny weather greeted players and fans at the second GolfSixes at the weekend as one of professional golf’s most ambitious tournaments and one of the most heavily-scrutinized tried to establish its place as a valid event on the European Tour, writes Ross Biddiscombe.
There were plenty more fun ideas this year; larger crowds on day two in particular; extra TV innovations; some splendid golfing action; and even five top women pros in the field, yet GolfSixes is still far from the finished product both on site and on TV despite the very best intentions of everyone involved.
The good news is that Keith Pelley, the Tour CEO and everyone who cares about golf’s future are far from finished with this event. On the contrary, there seems to be more enthusiasm for GolfSixes than ever. However, it needs to stop being a worthy, necessary idea to grow the game and become a vibrant commercial success on TV and on site, either at The Centurion or as a roadshow tournament at a rota of golf clubs.
No one in their right mind wants GolfSixes to fail, but it needs to progress, and fast because there is no sentiment in the sports business. The format is golf’s equivalent of cricket’s Twenty20 and short-form sports are a necessary product of the digital age – let’s find a faster, more action-packed way to create the same level of passion and excitement. But it’s not just about the time factor, it’s also about an image that will grow the sport, the financial support to attract top players and, if the whole thing makes sense in the context of the rest of the sport, there is longevity.
Twenty20 is the best example because it ticks all those three boxes – it’s image, both on TV and at the event, is top notch; the money involved is bigger than anything else in cricket; and there are leagues in most countries, plus a world cup. It’s the template for GolfSixes.
So, the good news first: GolfSixes was better in 2018 in almost every way than in its rather rushed inaugural year. What got better included:
- Much of the golf was of a high quality (the winners, Ireland, were 21 under par over the two days);
- Both the women’s teams added plenty and were crowd favourites;
- Fans following the players up the fairways in the final was great;
- The extra chit-chat and games on the driving range worked well;
- The England men’s team wearing retro football jerseys is the kind of outside-the-box thinking that should be encouraged;
- The number of children at the event was outstanding;
- The smiles of the players showed they enjoyed it immensely, take the third-placed South Koreans as the best example;
- The shot clock hole was less important than year one, but still worth it.
But, perhaps best of all, a large number of GolfSixes leagues for 7 to 11-yearold juniors have begun around the UK and in Europe too. A partnership with the Golf Foundation has helped this expansion, so GolfSixes leagues for adults has to be the next step – again, all amateur cricketers can and do play Twenty20 matches.
But perhaps the most crucial next step involves the sponsors. Mark Casey, the championship director at GolfSixes, knows that the Tour’s multi-million Euro investment over the first two years is setting a foundation that he hopes will attract those sponsorship brands in year three. “We have Plymouth Gin this year, but we are also talking to lots of brands this week with some potential partners playing in the pro-am and looking at us. We need a commercial partner to grow this event.”
Support is definitely coming from the players, especially all the women players who were overjoyed to have their skills seen next to the men. In addition, Scotland’s Richie Ramsey – one of the few to play in both years one and two – was full of praise and ideas: “This format has longevity and it could be opened up to junior teams or made into a day/night event. The sports markets are ripe for this kind of thing.”
England’s Eddie Pepperell was equally enthusiastic: “GolfSixes could be part of a festival of golf. It needs a vision and more investment so that in five years’ time it’s bigger with more top players involved.”
It shouldn’t be left to the European Tour to organise this as well – where are the other golfing bodies in all this? Talks are taking place, but year three needs to be about action. (Editor’s note: see New Partnership Takes GolfSixes To Club Players )
What needs to happen includes:
- Sponsors on the sidelines need to take the plunge;
- The crowds were larger than last year, but the TV pictures still showed too many blank spots even on the 1st tee and also at the closing ceremony;
- The 1st tee has special entry stairway, flag-waving and music, but a Super Bowl-style player entrance it’s not;
- The TV coverage was much livelier, but there was too much “isn‘t this great” commentary – just make the event great and the viewers will see it naturally;
- There needs to be another ‘big idea’, something that crosses the bridge towards sports-as-entertainment.
The Tour’s tactic for GolfSixes is more evolutionary than revolutionary and that’s perfectly understandable, yet the entertainment-show-or-golf-tournament is a fundamental puzzle that needs to be solved. Many commentators, including myself, want more of an entertainment-style splash, especially on TV.
Even with the expertise of an experienced TV entertainment executive producer (Matt Wilkinson who worked on I’m A Celebrity… for ITV), GolfSixes is still too much like every other golf event to allow broadcasters to schedule it on, for example, Sky One or even ITV. GolfSixes uses the ‘It’s golf, but not as you know it’ tagline, but it doesn’t fully embrace that idea. Maybe a pro-celebrity version on the same weekend featuring some of those players who didn’t make it past day one is another way to pump up the entertainment value.
The Tour will listen to any ideas because GolfSixes is close to Keith Pelley’s heart and has a chance to be a real game-changer for golf, but it’s not there yet. It’s the duty of everyone who cares about the sport to put their shoulder to this wheel and make sure year 3 pushes the event (and, thereby, the sport itself) to yet another level.
European Tour www.europeantour.com