Sixes and Sevens

And so, it is nearly upon us.

What? I hear you cry in your droves or in your ones if this is being read by my normal readership.

The Open? Tiger’s return? The long-awaited release of a super new, accurate, driver that anyone can hit?

Nah! None of the above!

What is about to happen is the first six-hole golf tournament on British soil in recent history. So what? I hear you yell in your droves or in your ones if this… okay, you know where that’s going…

It’s a really important event because believe it or not, it could be an embryonic change in not only the way we watch golf but also the way we play golf. Hard to believe, then read on…

The problem with society today and the reason this new six-hole format may well hit a home run, if you’ll excuse me mixing sports, is that today the human being has the retention span of a gnat and the boredom level of an amoeba. In a world where we touch to pay or swipe cards for anything and everything just because we’re too busy to deal with real money, time is obviously of the essence and anything that takes a long time runs the risk of turning off an audience. Golf takes a long time.

Now, I know, being the old fart that I am (you only have to read my other blog to know that) but being the old fart that I am, I’m sure a lot of you are expecting me to poo-poo the idea of this newfangled format and bemoan that these novel ideas will ruin our beloved game. But, far from it, I actually welcome any intervention that will make the game more popular and get the masses off of their Kardashian plus sized arses, and away from the comfy couch to take any sort of exercise. If nothing else, it might help unburden the NHS with the obese epidemic. Surprisingly, I’m not averse to rock music being played in the background either. I’ve long been a preacher of singing your favorite song in your head as you swing the club. It maintains a regular rhythm. Playing music in the background may be the answer to some of the golfing ills. It probably won’t stop your duck hook, or cure that vicious slice, but I promise you this; it is just as good as all these straps, harnesses and gimmicks we’re being sold by today’s know-all wacky professors of golf.

Although I’ll own up to not being totally on board with the chanting and cheering during the backswing, but then getting well into my old age, I’ll soon be deaf as a rock, so it won’t bother me at all.

Why change the game?

Many are just going to see this tournament as a bit of harmless fun. Trust me it is much more than that. Some think it’s just a moneymaking European tour gimmick. After all, they’re putting their weight wholeheartedly behind the idea. Keith Pelley, the tour’s chief executive has promised amphitheater stands around tees and greens, pyrotechnics, microphones on players, and is hoping to emulate cricket’s 20/20 success. But even acknowledging that the European Tour loses money in non-Ryder Cup years, this is more than just a mere moneymaking scheme to swell the European Tour’s coffers. This really is preparing us for the changes to come….

Pelley tells us, “We want to broaden the appeal of our sport to the millennial demographic and I think this format will do that, not only through the quick and exciting style of play but also with the interactive digital experience fans will enjoy on site and the innovative television coverage people will enjoy at home.

Ah, the new millennial demographic and there we have it, those born after the generation Xers and who have an inbred hatred for baby-boomers and all they stand for. Born after 1982 and before 2013, they can’t remember to breathe without their cell phone reminding them to do so, they binge watch a whole TV series in one sitting because they can’t wait a week to see the next episode and they believe that downloading music and films for free is their God-given right. It is these people ‘the powers that be’ are trying to attract.

So, let’s look at what the 20/20 tour has done for cricket. Yes, it has introduced the game of cricket to a new younger fan base. So, that’s got to be good, right? And yes, it brings in huge, excited crowds, with games regularly getting over 20,000 spectators. Grounds like Lords get in excess of 28,000 paying bottoms on their seats for every game. Compare that with the first-class County game attendances. Middlesex gets approximately that number for a whole season. A season that has been cut to a measly 14 matches long.

The four-day county version of the game is the lifeblood of the sport, supplying not only players but also the audience to five-day test matches and it is dying. Why, because as it’s impossible to binge watch Surrey vs. Somerset in a single sitting and the new audience, the millennial demographic, can’t commit to watching the four-day game. So, instead, they turn to the Big Bash and matches of a similar ilk.

Broadcasters are tired with half-empty stands, sending the message to viewers that there could be something better to watch on the other side. Sponsor and advertisers are beginning to feel that this is not a good spend of their money and the debate has already started on test cricket being cut from five days to four. I don’t see how first-class cricket will survive. It will die out, along with the last of the sandwich-eating, flask-pouring pensioners who watch it.

Cricket’s county championship can be likened the 72 holes four-day golf tournament – a long and laborious slog for anyone other than the passionately, diehard fanatics.

And as far as participation, let’s be honest, who has 4 hours to go play a round of golf? A quick six holes in an hour is just what the doctor ordered on all fronts. Think about it, a game of football – 90 minutes. Rugby – 80 minutes. 90 minutes to golf, sits right in there, doesn’t it?

Six holes squeezed into a long lunch break, perfect. For 18 holes, you need a full morning. Well, that’s what it feels like to the non-golfing partner, who is waiting at home for the golfer to return, so as a family they can all go swimming together.

So, not too far in the distant future, we may have to accept that this 6hole Frankenstein golf format as the norm. We may even have to say goodbye to the odd tour events or two. I’m not suggesting for one moment that The Open or The Masters are in peril, of course not. But events like the Scottish Open where only a little over 40,000 people attended last year’s event, may find it difficult to find sponsors. And it should also be remembered that for the final round of the 2015 Open, Sky’s first year, the viewing numbers dropped by some 75%.

Foul, I hear you calling in your droves, or at least one of you… Our game is sacrosanct and we love it. But that’s the problem with golf; it’s sporting marmite. For all of us who love it and believe it’s the most wonderful game on this planet, many, many, many more couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss about the game. Some don’t even consider it a sport. And while personally, I wouldn’t mind going back to hickory shafts and the gutta-percha ball, I totally understand Mr. Pelley’s attempts to reinvent a game that in essence hasn’t changed since in1892 when the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers changed The Open from a 36hole to a 72-hole format.

Without an audience, tournament sponsorship will dry up. And that audience could easily be evaporated because let’s be honest, while the leader board in any tournament can often be exciting, back down the field can feel a bit like a procession. Think about The Masters, the greatest tournament on the calendar, when does it really become ‘must watch’ TV? The last 9 holes! Or course, we need the previous 63 holes to bring us to that point, but seriously, are the first 3 and a half rounds ‘can’t miss, edge of your seat’ stuff?

The 6hole version is cheaper to televise, anyone can see that. Cameras for 6hole coverage, as opposed to 18hole, would immediately seem to be a third of the price and if the truth was known it’s probably cheaper than that. This also opens the opportunity for the advertising agencies to sell more space to a wider market that can afford to be involved with a 6hole competition but could never run to attaching themselves to the original 72hole format. And trust me. I can assure you, selling 3 sets of six holes will always make more money that selling 18 holes, that’s just the way it works. Making a mockery of Aristotle’s theory that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” not when it’s selling advertising space on 18 holes, it isn’t.

Things change… we have to accept that. Some 20 years ago a friend of mine told me I was nuts when I argued that Textspeak would change the language of the future. Last week he texted me — “U wer rght. I wz wrng”

All sports have to reinvent themselves; we should remember that Ronnie O’Sullivan plies his trade on what until the 60’s was called a Billiard Table, not as it is today, a snooker table. Billiards being the biggest sport of the time, but being a sometimes long and laborious game had to give way in the popularity stakes, mainly thanks to the TV series Pot Black, to the more spectator attractive snooker.

So, on May 6 at the Centurion Golf Club just outside St. Alban’s in Hertfordshire, Pelley’s desire to take the game to a new audience takes its baby steps… but this will not be the last we see of it.

The only downfall I see is The Open had 45,000 spectators for the last day’s play. I struggle to see how that many people can fit around six holes or more’s the point, that many people fitted around six holes would surely struggle to see — if you see what I mean.

Hey, but who knows, this may eventually lead to allowing denim on the links, short shorts, short socks, and Woohoo, women playing any course and at any time of the day they want to.

Personally, I urge Mr. Pelley to go all the way, let’s have a 6-hole nude contest, then we’d really see who swings it the best and I’m sure there are droves of you out there that would disagree with that.


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