Finding golf’s x-factor

Are Rickie Fowler's now famous Puma High Tops one answer to golf's woes? (Photo: Cobra Puma/Getty)

Are Rickie Fowler’s now famous Puma High Tops one answer to golf’s woes? (Photo: Cobra Puma/Getty)

Despite being a hopeless golf tragic (and a Yankee transplant) many of you will be surprised to learn that I am also a fan of cricket.

Now, before you spit out your tea, keep in mind that my interest is primarily in the shorter versions of the game: i.e. Twenty/20, etc.  Yes, I understand that there are many intricacies in Test Cricket (and I do enjoy The Ashes), but as a member of Generation X (with X equalling a short attention span), we need things quick, exciting and fun.

So, last month I took the family to the Melbourne Derby of the Big Bash League. You may have heard about this particular contest, as it attracted nearly 81,000 spectators!

Howzat! A record attendance for a sport that many people (including many of my Facebook friends) had assumed is all but dead.

Golf is in exactly the same boat, and it’s time that our administrators here in Australia did something about it.

Now, the traditional form of golf (like Test Cricket) will always have its place. But the traditional form doesn’t get today’s all-important TV viewership. Low viewership equals no sponsors, which equates to fewer events, which equals even lower viewership. It’s a repetitive downward spiral.

Golf on TV, in general, is boring. It’s the same-old 72-hole stroke play snooze-fest.  It’s a far cry from the past, when golf on TV was fun and quirky. “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf” was a ripper, featuring made-for-TV matchplay events with the great players. As was “The Skins Game”, which had top players competing for charity. And let’s not forget about the Crosby Clambake (now the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am), with Bill Murray and other celebrities teeing it up with the pros.

These types of events had a bit of the X-factor. They were unique, entertaining and fun.

And this is exactly what Australian Golf needs.

Once the unofficial “Fifth Major”, the Australian Open will likely never regain its footing in the world tours. We are now like the nerdy child in the school playground calling out “pick me…PICK ME!”.  Australian Golf’s administrators have, in my opinion, made fatal mistakes over the years (like locking our flagship tournament into Sydney, versus rotating it to other states, etc.) Now, our three “majors” are a homogenous mix of the same old thing – albeit with very low sponsorship and prizemoney.

So why not do something completely different? Australians are known for innovation and our quirky nature. So why not lead by example when it comes to golf?

Why not create a made-for-TV golf event that is fun, quick and quirky?

Instead of focussing on the standard 72-hole snoozer, let’s invite a small field of high-level players. Stage it in January (the unofficial “off season”, against only the Hawaii events). And make it a made-for-TV charity event.

For lack of a better name, maybe we call it something like the “Down Under Charity Knockout”, aka The DUCK – with maybe Challenge Australia’s “Leuk the Duck” as the mascot/beneficiary (Note: I’m just highlighting an example of how we could match an event to a charity.)

Anyway, first off, we need to let the players wear fun and interesting clothes. Instead of the standard collared shirt and trousers, let them wear, for example, guernseys from their favourite AFL/Gridiron/sport team. Or fancy dress. Or pink (for breast cancer), etc. At the very least, let them wear shorts if they like. Recently, Rickie Fowler got media attention for simply wearing Puma high-tops on the course. Let’s learn from that.

Next, all players would have a microphone and GoPro camera during the round.  We could hear/watch them chat with their caddie or their playing partner, banter with the commentators, etc. They could tell us where (and how) they are going to try and hit the next shot, the club they are using, and their rationale. Make us (the viewer) feel like we are on the course with them!  And why not give pro tips/instruction at the same time?

The day could start at the driving range – where players could have a target challenge (maybe sponsored by Target. See what I did there?).  Maybe they aim for buckets, bells, nets, or even the Range Ball cart as it picks up balls.  This could follow to a Long Drive contest , complete with music, etc.

For the tournament itself, it could be any non-stroke format, really. Matchplay, teams, skins, knockout, Pro-am, etc. And why not take a leaf from the Vic Open, and have women play with the guys! Cheyenne Woods and uncle Tiger could pair up (or go head to head)!

Maybe we split up the event into mini-events?

Players could, say, play 9-holes with hickory clubs. Could you imagine seeing Rickie Fowler in orange plus-fours, teeing it up with a Brassie (and having to slow down his swing to compensate for the whippy hickory shafts). And we’d finally know how current superstars REALLY compare with the greats of yesterday like Bobby Jones, Peter Thomson and others.

Or maybe they play 9 holes with only one or two clubs? How fun would it be to see Phil Mickelson play a greenside bunker shot with, say, a 5-iron?

Maybe there is a random element to the par-3s? Players could hit a shot blindfolded (with the Blind Golf Association getting the benefit). Or maybe a left-handed or one-handed tee shot, (to benefit disabled golfers or wounded veterans, etc). Maybe they tee off with a Cricket bat, tennis racket or a kid’s club (to benefit Junior golf).  Maybe a Happy Gilmore style tee shot on one hole. Or tee off with a putter (see our Facebook page to watch Bubba Watson do this).

Or maybe they play a few holes of “Speed golf” where they jog between shots. Their time (in minutes) to play the hole(s) is then added to their score for the hole(s).  Maybe their caddies could play a hole, with the player carrying the bag? Depending on the location, they could play a quick round of pitch and putt (like the Masters Par-3 challenge, which always has a heap of interest).

All the while, we need some exciting commentary. Instead of hearing Johnny Miller and Nick Faldo waffle on about their glory days on tour, why not give the players a chance in the booth? Or take a note from the BBL and get golf lovers from other sports and areas (like Ricky Ponting, Freddie Flintoff, Andy Lee, etc).

Note that I’m not suggesting ALL of these in one event. Maybe we just pick a couple. But just imagine the global demand for this on TV? Golf enthusiasts will eat it up, while other sports fans will tune in to see what happens.

C’mon, we just need to give it a Bash.

See you on the fairways,


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