Why having girls’ teams in the GolfSixes can only be a good thing

The Scoop

Including women in the 'radical' tournament won’t just help get more millennials into golf, it will strengthen the ladies’ game as a whole, writes Harriet Shephard

‘It seems like a sport for old men’ and ‘it just takes too long’ are the excuses I most often hear for why someone doesn’t want to play golf.

Because let’s face it, how many people under retirement age have a casual four hours to spare during the week? Or enjoy spending time with ‘traditional members’ who probably aren’t thrilled with the idea of women joining their club and are suspicious of ‘new money’? There really aren’t that many.

The European Tour came up with the GolfSixes tournament last year. Played as a team event over only six holes, with added ‘modern’ elements such as loud music and fireworks, it was designed to ‘broaden the appeal of the sport to the millennial demographic’.

But it did actually work. Last year’s event saw a 42 per cent increase in new golf fans compared to regular European Tour events. The audience were also 14 per cent younger.

So although we millennials might like to think that we can’t be won over by pyrotechnics and simply by calling something a ‘festival’, it did actually achieve what it set out to do. It wasn’t perfect but it proved that golf could actually be fun, didn’t have to take hours and hours and wasn’t just a sport for rich old men.

Of course many hated it and said it had ‘too much razzmatazz’ or even went as far as accusing it of ‘prostituting the game’.

Some people are clearly very offended by loud music.

Traditions can be lovely things but not when they aren’t relevant any more or start to exclude people. In which case it makes sense to break or at least adapt them a little bit.

GolfSixes have now shaken things up even further by including players from the LPGA and Ladies European Tour in the 2018 event.

Yes, actual women. Very modern I know.

There is even a mixed team made up of Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew and European Ryder Cup skipper Thomas Bjørn.

Bjørn said: “I am really excited about playing GolfSixes. There are so many 72-hole tournaments around the world that there has to be room for something else which puts a different spin on golf and brings more interest.

“I think it’s hugely important to also try and break down the barriers that have existed in golf between the men’s and women’s games.’

There is also a ‘England Women’s Team’ made up of Georgia Hall and Charley Hull, and a ‘European Women’s Team’ featuring England’s Mel Reid and Norway’s Suzann Pettersen.

They will love playing together against the men and we will love watching them do it.

Hull said: “I think an event like GolfSixes is good for the game of golf. I’m looking forward to teaming up with Georgia and seeing us play against the men will be exciting and something new for the spectators.”

It will give women’s golf some desperately needed exposure. We know that the Ladies European Tour (LET) has some amazing players but the message still doesn’t seem to have reached the rest of the world.

Like the Solheim Cup, this is another chance for the players to prove how good they are and how entertaining they are to watch.

Women’s tennis, cricket and football are getting more and more popular in the UK, and hopefully events like this will lead to a similar surge of interest in women’s golf.

Last year’s GolfSixes had 24 per cent more social media engagement than any of the other European Tour events. Which when you’re trying to attract a younger audience is important.

Hall, 21, currently has 6,441 Twitter followers compared to tennis player Heather Watson’s 175 thousand despite the fact that they are both at the top of their sports.

But after watching what she can do when teamed up with Hull, a player who is both her friend and just as driven and likeable, I’m hopeful that the internet won’t be able to get enough of either of them.

Perhaps adopting more formats like the GolfSixes will help strengthen the LET as a whole. The majority of the players are young and very marketable so it makes sense to give them a fun and exciting platform.

Sky Sports Golf presenter Henni Goya had similar thoughts when I spoke to her last summer.

She said: “I would like to see the LET trying different formats. I think that’s one thing that the European Tour has done well with the GolfSixes. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea or be perfect straight away, but at least it’s something different.”

Having female players take part might also encourage other young women to watch it or maybe even have a go at hitting a ball themselves after seeing how far Hull can smash it.

After all, the R&A has just announced new findings that conclude that golf will grow if more women and children take up the sport.

Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A, said, “The research demonstrates there is a tremendous opportunity for golf to grow its participation numbers and generate more income if it can attract more women, girls and families into playing the sport.”

I mean, who would have thought?

It’s slightly worrying that it required an in-depth scientific study to work this out but it’s still encouraging that this idea is being promoted to golf clubs.

Either way, including these top female players in the GolfSixes is a clear step in the right direction and just another thing to look forward to this summer.

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