GolfSixes bring fresh interest, new faces to European Tour

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - MAY 06: Paul Dunne of Ireland and Gavin Moynihan of Ireland (L) celebrate winning the final match during day two of the GolfSixes at The Centurion Club on May 6, 2018 in St Albans, England. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images) Andrew Redington/Getty Images

GolfSixes bring fresh interest, new faces to European Tour

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GolfSixes bring fresh interest, new faces to European Tour

ST ALBANS, England – Sir Henry Cotton had a dream years ago of building inexpensive, short, 9-hole courses around the British Isles to encourage kids to take up the game.

I can only think the three-time Open winner would have been a big fan of the European Tour’s GolfSixes. I certainly am.

Kids with large foam fingers and painted faces scurried all over Centurion Club in the Euro Tour’s second edition of the innovative greensomes, match-play event. Most got their first experience of a game so often regarded as traditionally dull.

Dull and GolfSixes don’t go together.

“There’s loads more kids and women, and I think that’s because this is a fun event,” said Charley Hull, who teamed with Solheim Cup teammate Georgia Hall on the England women’s team. “Golf needs more fun, because it does get too serious sometimes.”

As someone who’s regularly covered 25 tournaments for over 25 years, I’m guessing the average age of spectators at GolfSixes was about 30 rather than the usual 50 at other tournaments. Parents and grandparents with young children flocked through the gates over two days to sample golf with a difference.

There was plenty for those children to do other than watch 16 teams of two play six holes of greensomes golf. Kids were offered the chance of free 20-minute lessons from PGA professionals, nearest-the-pin and long-drive simulators, a pressure-putt challenge, and club and ball fitting bays. There also were basketball, soccer, cricket and tennis challenges. More importantly, this year’s event included a six-hole short course where kids could use plastic clubs and sponge balls, playing to holes slightly larger than normal.

Midway through the second and final day, an estimated 500 kids had tried their skills over the rough, short-hole course. Sir Henry would have been happy.

What happens when these kids meet the traditional side of golf remains to be seen, but just introducing them to the game has to be a huge plus at a time when participation, especially among young people, is dropping in the British Isles.

“The vision of this event moving forward is that it would actually become a festival of golf,” said Eddie Pepperell, who teamed with Matt Wallace on the England men’s team. “If in five years’ time this event can still be here and be a bigger event and get more people involved – juniors, girls, boys, seniors across the board – that would be a great success.”

The European Tour’s decision to include women this year was another welcome development considering there were as many girls in attendance as boys. Hall and Hull, along with Mel Reid and Carlota Ciganda forming a European women’s team, added much interest. And they were not token representatives – both pairs made it through to the knockout stages.

With the moribund Ladies European Tour struggling just to put a schedule together (the LET still hasn’t released its full 2018 schedule), women’s golf in the British Isles needs all the help it can get.

“There’s research in Scotland that shows women are massively under-represented in golf, and it’s just a huge opportunity to get girls and women into golf with role models like Charley and Georgia,” Richie Ramsay said.

Reid was one player champing at the bit to play this year. “This is a huge opportunity to showcase women’s golf,” she said. “We don’t get the coverage and we don’t get as supported I feel we should.”

European Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew agreed. “For the Ladies European Tour, this is just great, great exposure for them to have their players playing in this with the men on TV.”

Hall wants to see more tournaments involving men and women.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for us,” Hall said. “I think there should be more tournaments like it. This could be the start of something moving forward.”

Nothing will ever replace traditional 72-hole stroke play as the purest means of determining the best player in any given week. However, there’s plenty of room in the game for GolfSixes and other innovative formats that allow men and women to tee off together.

“We’re onto something special here,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “This is something that can complement the 72-hole tournament and definitely revolutionize the game.” Gwk

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