There’s a place for innovation in this royal & ancient game. The European Tour is proving that on a consistent basis.
Last week’s GolfSixes Cascais finished with a closest to the pin contest. Competitors hit tee shots over a swimming pool from a tee near a bar and lounge area for spectators. Thailand’s Phachara Khongwatmai did it better than Englishman Paul Waring to see Thailand prevail.
And to think the Open Championship once insisted on a 36-hole playoff.
Two weeks ago, the Made in Denmark featured a tee in a beer tent, with players walking through the beer tent from the 13th green. You won’t see that at this week’s U.S. Open or at next month’s Open Championship. Yet golf’s authorities are starting to take notice.
We could see players in shorts during practice rounds in the Open Championship at Royal Portrush. The R&A is following the example the European Tour started back in 2016 during the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. And why not?
The world didn’t end when Euro Tour players started baring their legs. The game didn’t collapse. No one blinked an eye. We now take it for granted players will tee it up in shorts during practice rounds on the Euro Tour.
It didn’t take the rest of golf long to respond. The PGA Championship allowed shorts in practice rounds beginning in 2017. The PGA Tour adopted the policy in February.
Why players can’t wear shorts in competitive rounds is beyond me, but it can’t be far away. Nor should it. After all, golf club members have been wearing shorts in competitive rounds for years.
The game owes European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley a debt of gratitude for having the gumption to shake things up. Pelley didn’t just bare players’ legs to the general public. He backed music on the driving range at Abu Dhabi and allowed them a playlist to herald them onto the first tee. He was the main driver of innovative tournaments like the GolfSixes, ShotClock Masters and Belgian Knockout. He’s beefed up the Tour’s social media department, encouraging it to produce content to try to encourage youngsters to the game. It’s been a huge success, generating millions of hits.
As Pelley’s repeated many times since taking office in 2014, he believes the European Tour is in the entertainment business. “Content is king” is his mantra, which is why he’s such a huge believer in innovation.
“Innovation is one of our central pillars,” Pelley wrote on the Euro Tour website last week. “It drives our content, our use of technology and our introduction of different formats. In a crowded marketplace, this positioning has resonance with our partners, our broadcasters, but also increasingly with how fans view the European Tour as a brand.
“The prolificacy of consumer choice is why innovation is essential. Fail to innovate and you simply risk being left behind or crowded out.”
He’s right. Traditionalists might bristle at the idea of a closest to the pin playoff, or grown men showing their calves. However, Pelley’s not trying to reach that audience. They are already well served with traditional forms of golf. Goodness knows there is enough 72-hole stroke play golf played throughout the year. There is plenty of room for something a little different.
“I’ve had a great week,” said Waring, despite losing the GolfSixes final. “I’ve really enjoyed myself and I’d love to play again next year. It’s such a stressful season; we take everything so seriously, so it’s nice to come out and have a bit of fun.”
Fun? Isn’t that whole point of this stick and ball game? For many years you wouldn’t know it. Not with so many golf clubs having rules and regulations invented in the dark ages that stifled innovation and closed the door on potential players who saw the game as just too staid and traditional.