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Opinion: Time to mix up the formats

Dimitrios Papadatos
Dimitrios Papadatos and Mel Reid after winning the Vic Open at the same venue, moments apart.

If I offered you a free scoop of salted caramel ice cream, chances are you’d come running.

But sometime between the first and a 500th helping, I’m tipping you’d have walked away. Right?

So contemplate this …

On the six major men’s professional tours worldwide, well in excess of 150 tournaments were played last year using the 72-hole stroke play format.

On the women’s side of the game, that number far exceeds 100.

By the time we factor in secondary, developmental and senior tours, we are approaching 500.

And that’s before a swag of elite amateur tournaments.

Just like you’d have screamed at me with the ice cream: ENOUGH!

That’s not to say I think world golf can’t sustain 500-plus tournaments; rather, surely we have long since reached saturation point with 72-hole golf.

Let’s not forget something that’s absolutely indisputable in modern life: golf is competing against all other forms of entertainment, not just sport, for its place in the sun.

So if you were running around in my role trying to make an editor take an interest in a 317th scoop of salted caramel ice cream, you’d better hope that he/she is a complete glutton, or you’ll soon be telling your story walking.

Perhaps the irony of this is that if I were to go to my club 200 times this year, I’d probably be able to play a different style every day. I’m talking games, number of holes, scoring formats, team play, the works. Each takes only a minute or two to explain and you’re away on another, different, fun-filled adventure.

But apparently, that’s not something that has dawned on, let’s say, 300 tournament directors who wonder why sponsors are harder to find, or why tickets don’t sell as quickly as they used to.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating the abandonment of 72-hole medal play.

Far from it.

But let’s not make it the default style because “that’s what we’ve always done”. That simply can’t be a defence mechanism any longer.

Majors, national championships and events that build towards a finale with a need for a common style – the FedEx Cup playoffs, for example – should be the only events that aren’t obliged to have a rethink.

And I don’t want to hear, “Our event is too important to tinker with that modern rubbish”. Please.

How important once were dozens of events that no longer exist, let alone thrive?

I give you the Australian Masters as prima facie evidence. Arguably Australia’s most popular golf tournament just two decades ago, now on an increasingly concerning break about to reach two years. And if you haven’t noticed, tournaments that take lengthy breaks rarely resume their places on tour schedules.

Imagine, for argument’s sake only, that the Masters were to become a mixed stableford event that was part of a calendar stretch that featured the ISPS Handa-backed tournaments World Super 6 Perth and the Women’s Australian Open. What a month that would be! Innovative events that give world-class players reasons to visit and the media reasons to be involved, rather than excuses why not to be.

Throw in the wildly successful Vic Open – concurrent men’s and women’s tournaments (yes, I realise they’re 72-hole events!) into that mix, and Australian golf would have the absolute stranglehold on cutting-edge male and female events woven into one tight little bunch that drives interest on so many levels.

In fact, the Vic Open and Super 6 tournaments are the perfect examples of the forward-thinking required in this era – and it’s no surprise to see that they’re both thriving.

But that’s just one off-the-cuff idea; back to the problems.

One of the largest issues with current efforts to promote and expand golf’s reach is that too much of the administrative effort ends up preaching to the converted; talking to those who can’t understand why crowds aren’t queuing for hours before the first drive is struck.

But imagine if you tell a newcomer to golf that if they tune in on Thursday morning that they won’t see anything close to a result for more than three days and approximately 20 hours of TV coverage.

It’s precisely why Test cricket (bar the Ashes) is on the nose globally and why Twenty20 cricket is humming along. It’s bite-sized, easy to package and has an instant “understandability” for an audience of “theatregoers”, not those glued to members’ seats for five days of a drawn Test match.

Translate that to golf … I personally love match play. It’s easy to follow if you come in late; it doesn’t take four days of commitment to get involved. Every shot means something instantly and you get a steady diet of results.

But nothing should be set in stone, that’s exactly the point.

Let’s keep trying different styles of play and scoring formats to see if we can add another couple of battling “traditional” events to the list of those who’ve tried something different and are soaring.

Anyway, that’s enough. You get my drift.

I’m going back to the freezer. I’ve got rocky road, choc-chip and Neapolitan flavours I’ve got to get to. You know, that whole variety thing.



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Comments

Posted by Gavin at
10/09/2017 11:50 AM
I love the idea of a "double par " comp where you can get some benefit from scoring a birdie or eagle in a par comp. Most players I know don't like the par comps we have at our club. Numbers are usually down on regular weekly comps for par comps .Time for a re jig of some formats to bring people to the game.
Posted by John Erichsen at
10/09/2017 09:23 AM
The Super 6 concept is an exciting addition but only as a one off event on a tour. Match play events provide plenty of escape from the 72 hole stroke "norm" so perhaps add one of these events to the lesser tours. The PGA tour has this covered via the WGC events. Clubs can be as creative as they want on the weekends but the majority of club golfers don't want more Ambrose, foursomes or other team formats. They simply want to play in a single event, or 4 ball, so they can be handicapped. Par v stroke and Flag comps can be added to calendars to add some variety to stroke and stableford formats. The comparison with cricket is an interesting one, but not entirely accurate. Test cricket is far from dead, and T20 will be popular for only a short period of time, as the attention span of those who really enjoy this format wont allow a life-long love. The best players still rate and value test cricket as the most important format, just as professional golfers rate 72 hole stroke events as the flagship of their game. Ryder, President and World Cup events add all the variety they need, with some enjoying a token Super 6 week here and there.
Posted by Charlie McDonald at
24/08/2017 09:38 AM
Having organised a few club calendars in the past, I can assure you that it is impossible to please everyone, and sometimes anyone. Purists love their stroke, single stableford rounds, funsters love the ambrose. Few like a par event and no-one understands American or Canadian Foursomes. In the end however, with the exception of matchplay (which is my favourite, but difficult to have regularly at club level) it is the person with the fewest (nett) shots that wins, regardless of format. Stableford, Par, 4BBB formats attenuate good and bad holes to make the game more enjoyable for an average player. A scratch marker will generally rate his round in terms of over/under par while an 18 handicapper is more comfortable with a stableford score. A scratch marker is unlikely to have a snowman or even a bogey train, while a B/C grader will count bogey 2 pointer as an OK result. In the end it all relates back to the pure form, stroke play. There is nowhere to hide in a stroke round, which is why stroke is the best format for the pros. It sorts them out. Imagine a stableford round in a professional tournament. Would it change anything? Are we happy for Jordan Spieth to take a miss on the 12th at Augusta and go on to win? Ernie Els 6 putt on the first? Miss and move on. The shot heard around the world? Plus. There is a reason for stroke play. It allows the cream to come to the top. And it takes 72 holes (and more) to get the best.
Posted by max waters at
23/08/2017 07:40 PM
Fred ford has no idea , people work every week to enjoy their stroke , bogey or stableford events , not rubbish like texas ambrose , or 4bbb we want to be able to be handicapped
Posted by DeanoBravo at
23/08/2017 03:56 PM
I'm sick of Stableford as an amateur, its played more than stroke or any other format. Mix them up play all sorts of different comps. Only problem with pro's is its their livelihood and team events would not work for that reason.
Posted by Nicky at
23/08/2017 03:14 PM
For the players & of course sponsors. There is a lot to be said for mixing up the way golf is played under Tournament conditions. It has been proven to entertain the players & the public.
Posted by Ross at
23/08/2017 01:45 PM
Golf has to be one of the last sports to try and reinvent itself and appeal to and attract a younger audience. We have lost all the 30 somethings as well as other population bands. Unfortunately the leaders being administrators and the pros ,appear reluctant to forge a change. There was a number of years between the Surfcoast knockout and the event last year in WA, on which basis change will be extremely slow. Easy quick fixes must be available to the current formats such as 1) putting the clock on the pros so rounds will be quicker sending a message to club golfers, 2) have events within the event ie 18, 36, 54 hole winners instead of the event coming down to the last 9 holes on Sunday. Must be a number of other initiatives that could be considered around the current events. Off course attractions/ sideshows have been tried at events but I think actual event changes will have a bigger impact. Maybe this is a place to start with ......elite leading the way for grassroots to follow.
Posted by Ken Wilson at
23/08/2017 10:57 AM
I like it, change & variety are inevitable. The average club golfer doesn't like playing 'par' comps, but I've played a game referred to as 'double plus' or double par' and hey when you get reward for that birdie where you get a stroke and suddenly par becomes enjoyable. We need to think outside the square at all levels not just at tournament level.
Posted by Rory at
23/08/2017 10:52 AM
I agree Mark! i believe only only the format needs consideration, but the golf courses too. I'm sick of all these super long and penal tournament courses! i think more fun, interesting and quirky need to come back - it's that the reason we love golf? surely not to punish us!
Posted by Gerko at
23/08/2017 10:51 AM
I don't think Test Cricket is anywhere near being "on the nose" and 20Twenty is just a p***-up for spectators with little interest or knowledge of the game. If you want world golf turned into the US version where every drive is followed by a "mashed potato!" and every 18th is surrounded by a bunch of drunken corporate louts yelling their support, then by all means change the game. Maybe 9 hole events held under lights and lasting just long enough to get two or three schooners in?
Posted by Phil Shaw-Dennis at
23/08/2017 10:45 AM
Cannot agree more. The Pitch and Putt par 3 short golf courses provide the opportunity for every format that would encompass time, fun , competitive challenges , tv coverage, grest viewing etc etc etc. It is the perfect analagy to cricket where 20/20 cricket is its younger sibling in golf. Still enough time to enjoy decent servings of salted caramel.
Posted by Fred Ford at
23/08/2017 10:28 AM
I think this is also the reason club's especially regional clubs are struggling. turn up every week play single stableford with stroke, or in our case par in winter, for monthly medal a couple of ambrose events and an odd fourball event. Players are getting sick of the same old every week. If clubs want to survive and attract players they too need to get innovative not only with day to day club events but also local tournaments. I agree I think golf is the least evolving sport we have. Time to jazz things up

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