PowerPlay Golf: Will it work?

Peter McEvoy looks to the future and sees Powerplays and black flags.

Peter McEvoy looks to the future and sees Powerplays and black flags.

Yesterday I took the 75-minute drive down to Copetown Woods to see a demonstration of PowerPlay golf. The notion, developed by former British Amateur champ Peter McEvoy, was to develop a version of golf that was shorter than typical 18 hole rounds, which many feel are too long and are keeping people away from the game. It is an interesting notion and one seized by Barry Forth, the GM at Copetown and a fairly entreprenuerial fellow.

McEvoy’s concept was conceived out of finding something that dealt with the problems facing the game — namely the length of time it takes to play. He first became involved with a six-hole course north of London, but that failed to spark interest. Then he considered something along the lines of 20/20 cricket, and five-a-side football — something that took the traditional concept of the sport and reinvented part of it.

He came up with PowerPlay Golf, which is played over nine holes and has two flags on each green. The white flag is the traditional flag and is the easier pin; the black flag is much more difficult and is worth more points for a net par, birdie or eagle. Players get to try three “powerplays” over the first eight holes. He unveiled the concept a couple of years ago.

“We invited the audience with the greatest degree of cynicism,” he said. “So we invited journalists.”

It went over very well, he said, and the concept moved forward. Powerplay is now in 21 countries, with Forth starting it in Canada this year. The next step is pro events — 16 player fields in the US and UK, involving IMG Sports, which represents many of the game’s best golfers, including Tiger Woods, Mike Weir, Sergio Garcia, etc. McEvoy envisions a 3-hour televised event involving four PGA Tour pros, 2 Champions Tour players, 2 LPGA players and a mix of 8 others (top club pros, amateurs, others).

“We’d have an eccletic mix of players,” he says.

For Copetown, the club is rolling out the concept on Wednesday and Thursday at specific times. Forth sees it as a way of generating rounds in off-peak times, especially late in the day when most people cannot play a full 18 holes.

The RCGA was there too — hedging their bets, it appeared. Peter Palmer, one of the managing directors at the RCGA, made it clear the organization would support the concept — if it garners some sort of popularity.

“Of course we hope it takes off,” Palmer says. “And if the results warrant, we’d look forward to increasing our participation.”

What’s my take? I’m skeptical about it, though there are some interesting points as well. One can play badly for most of a round, but have a couple of good “Powerplay” holes and make a bunch of points. That would keep anyone interested, I would think, as was my case, where I started out with two poor holes and then drove the 12th green at Copetown, setting up a birdie chance.

But I also wonder whether there’s enough risk/reward in the game. On our final hole, each was allowed a fourth powerplay. However, if we made bogey or worse, points were deducted. It strikes me that this might be the more viable option — allow powerplays on each hole, but if one makes net bogey or worse, deduct points. It might add more variation and excitement to the concept.

So truth be told, I’m not sold on Powerplay yet. It is an interesting concept and the folks behind it are passionate about it. Will we be talking about it in two years? I’m not so sure.

McEvoy is more certain: “I’ve personally seen thousands of people play,” he says. “I know it works. I know they love it.”

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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.

8 CommentsLeave a comment

  • What I struggle with under this concept is the idea that people don’t have time to play 18 holes, so PowerPlay Golf is the alternative. Why isn’t simply playing 9 holes (and making nine-hole rates more compeitive at, say, only 50-60% of the 18-hole rate) the alternative. I’m with you Robert, in that I’m not sold. I think it makes for an interesting club event from time to time in the same way a best ball or alternate shot event does.

  • Jeff is 100% spot on. There is a reason Subway sells a 6 inch sandwich – people get that.

    This seems like a convoluted way to offer something simple.

  • I also think it is branded poorly. The name could be better but what is with the skull and cross bones? It conveys more of an X-Games feel which would through off most people.

  • The question isn’t ‘Will it work?’, but ‘Will it work in Canada?’. It’s already working elsewhere in the world, including the USA. Much like cricket, football (ie: soccer) and rugby – other global sports which are massively popular worlwdwide outside North America, and which have all made big changes over the last decade to adapt to modern life – golf has been looking for something new for a long time. This is borne out by how quickly the sport’s key administrators worldwide – including the major Tours and agents – have seen the potential of PPG, and I predict Canadian golfers, just like all the rest, will be knocked out by PowerPlay Golf soon. It’ll become part of your normal golfing diet, and won’t replace your 18 hole round, but it will be a hit on TV because it’s shorter, and gives good TV-friendly drama. I write as an interested follower, from England, who has played PPG several times and who is hoping they will pull it off. Golf is plateauing, while other sports are pulling ahead. I hope many Canadians will have a go for themselves! Neil, England.

  • Cricket and rugby are massively popular worldwide? Maybe in places that speak some English (other than NA of course). So this 9 hole concept takes slightly longer to play than playing 9 holes normally (what with all the fancy figuring of bonus points and all). What time is being saved? If the hole was made bigger or something (maybe different diameter circles chalked on the green and no putting – like horseshoes), perhaps that would make the average time to play the hole less. This takes more time to play each hole. What is faster and easier about this?

    As an aside – it looks like Peter McEvoy needs to start playing more 18 hole rounds – walking. Yikes.

  • And by the way – how popular something is on TV does not translate into participation – how many tackle football (the real football) games do you see recreationally? And squash is awful on TV and quite popular in the GTA.

  • I saw it in action one day on our Torrance Course. I wouldn’t invest in it even if I had Magna and twenty Russian banks willing to help launder it. Not enough time to play regular golf, go to a range.

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