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PowerPlay Golf? Better for the player than spectator?

I finally got around to turning on my PVR and watching the Monday telecast of PowerPlay golf from the relatively uninspiring Celtic Manor 2010 course, the same place that held last year’s Ryder Cup.

For those who haven’t followed it, Powerplay is basically this (from ESPN):

The brainchild of former British amateur champion Peter McEvoy, PowerPlay golf is designed to emulate the speed and success of cricket’s Twenty20 competition. Played over nine holes using the Stableford system, there are two pins on each green, and a player must aim for the harder black flag on three of their opening eight holes, with double points on offer.

 The telecast had some strong names (Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell, Paula Creamer, Gary Player) and some lesser-knowns (winner Caroline Hedwall) and the typical sideshow of John Daly (explain to me why he was there?).

In Canada, PowerPlay has been championed by Barry Forth, the entrepreneurial GM of Copetown Woods near Hamilton. Forth is a smart cat, and has been pushing Powerplay as an alternative to typical golf for a year or two.

Some have heralded Powerplay as a game changer. But after watching the telecast, I’m not so sure.

Let’s get the telecast out of the way — it was basically horrible. Lead announcer Dominic Holyer was full of ridiculous and inane comments, and the crew was trying far too hard to push the “powerplay” concept, with Holyer asking whether a PowerPlay was ongoing with every appearance of a player. Since there aren’t that many of them throughout the nine-hole game, it became redundant pretty soon. The way he hyped the notion of a PowerPlay, you’d have thought for a moment that we were about to witness an ace or an albatross. Instead we were just witness to called birdies.

I found the telecast off-putting, and I’m not sure it helped sell the game, which seemed overly complicated from the broadcast, which is essentially the exact opposite of how PowerPlay is being sold. The premise is that Powerplay is a simpler, faster version of the game everyone players — but that wasn’t how it came across on television.

By the two-hour mark I’d decided that PowerPlay is — maybe in a similar way to match play (though not to the same level) — more interesting to play than to watch. Match play fails on television because it is unpredictable — golfers can falter and be beaten in a dozen holes, and television wants to know that its stars will be there until the last commercial break. PowerPlay tries to alter that by building up to the final hole — but it still seems like something that might be more fun to play (and I have tried it) than to observe.

I also wondered if having a few groups play — even with good players like Paul Casey — was too distracting. It would have been much more interesting if the event was focused on one group — maybe Creamer, Player, McDowell and Poulter — and allowed spectators to focus on this new form of golf. Instead the cameras bounced around from group to group while the announcers screeched about whether someone had a powerplay or not. Frankly, even to me it was hard to keep it straight and be interested.

A breakthrough in golf? I don’t see it. An alternative that might find its own supporters? Quite possibly.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I have no beef with the format, but it won’t develop grassroots support until regular courses have two flags as a default – it’s literally impossible to play without them. So the question becomes how that happens.

  • I always thought the reason they moved the flags around the greens was to reduce traffic in certain areas to reduce compaction and get the grass growing again. Why would you want 2 flags on the greens? I bet Superintendents all over are cringing over ‘Power Golf’.

    What we used to do to make things a little different was this. We normally play off of the Blue Tees, but every once in awhile, we’d play a game where beforehand, you would choose 6 holes to tee off from the Blacks, 6 holes from the Blues, and 6 holes from the Whites. You hit from places you normally aren’t in, and may allow you to go for that Par 5 in 2 that you’ve always dreamed about, etc. If you play the same course 100 times a year from the same tees, day in, day out, that’s pretty damn boring!

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