Australian tournament golf’s evolution – and its audience – took another couple of ground-breaking strides at the weekend.
Across two states, Blitz Golf’s second and third editions played out to generous and engaged crowds.
For the record, Canberra golfing machine Matt Millar won the men’s crown at Curlewis in sweltering conditions on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula on Friday. The PGA of Australia pros then packed up and headed west across the border to Glenelg on Sunday when new pro Zach Murray was victorious.
But unlike your average golfing tournament, or story, this is not really about the final scores of a men’s only event.
On Friday, young Melburnian Montana Strauss won her first event as a professional as Blitz Golf extended its reach to the ALPG Tour for the first time.
And even more importantly, the revolutionary “tournament in a day” format took all the action – including concurrent amateur events in both Victoria and South Australia – to an audience that isn’t those rusted on to more traditional events.
Around the clubhouse precincts of both clubs, players ran through mist machines and were introduced as rock stars by an MC who engaged spectators throughout the day with information from on and off the course as spectators devoured the produce of food trucks and local wineries while listening to music.
It’s golf, but not as we know it.
The format is equally funky.
The field is split into two “sides”, with each playing one nine to eliminate the bottom half. Those who advance then do the same over six holes on the opposite side of the course to that first played. Again, the field is halved with another cut for the final three holes not already played.
Throughout the day, ties are broken by chipping to a short playoff hole with those nearest the pin moving on.
And so it all comes to a gripping finale with the top two players from either “side” among four players in a sudden-death shootout on a hole that ends near the clubhouse to ensure a “grandstand finish”.
Fans were glowing in their assessment of the events, the second of which this past weekend was also the second time it had visited Glenelg which had hosted the inaugural Blitz Golf in April last year.
The extreme weather of Friday doubtless kept more away, but still, 700 people liked what they saw at Curlewis, which also had a generous gallery at the club’s Range facility for a warm-up event the night earlier. Estimates put Sunday’s Adelaide crowd at double that figure.
The consensus among many in the crowd was that the event’s pace was encouraging, its atmosphere energetic and length “about right”.
It makes a lot of sense, especially among a holiday crowd, that precious few – let alone families – can allocate the time or energy to follow a golf tournament over four days.
But with kids’ activities, impromptu coaching clinics from eliminated professionals and smaller competitions around putting greens and the tie-breaker hole, there is enough to keep a younger audience entertained for the lone afternoon it takes to play Blitz Golf.
So what of the players? Is it a bridge too far to have such noise, colour and movement – not to mention the intoxicating aromas of local food and wine – spilling out across the course?
Millar, a veteran of high standing among his PGA peers and no less an authority than to have finished second on the Tour’s 2018 Order of Merit, was glowing in his assessment of the Blitz as a “fantastic concept”.
“I’m not sure you change your major tournaments into that, you need some tradition,” Millar said.
“But any events like this or `Super Sixes’, to get the community out and see it, I think it’s a fantastic introduction for people to tournament golf.
“The new events coming on board need to be a mix of formats, particularly in Australia, I don’t think we can continue to just sell the ones we’ve sold traditionally. The men’s and women’s together at the Vic Open is a great example … in getting people together and generating a talking point that interests new people.
“But all these things we’ve introduced, whether they’re through Golf Australia or the PGA, I think we’re on a winner (as a country).
“You’ve seen the European Tour play Sixes in Belgium this year and I can’t see it being too long until it lands on the PGA Tour as well.
“For different formats, we (Australia) are leading the way and it’s great to see – golf needs it.”
And what of the talk in the locker room?
“They love it, too,” Millar said.
“It’s great to see people out here and happy, having a bite to eat and a quiet drink. That’s the direction we need to take, to be able to get more people and a more diverse range of people at tournaments.
“More music, maybe people feel more relaxed, maybe even more with a drink or two, and I think it’s great.”
It’s easy to see why plans are already underway for another couple of venues to be added for next summer’s Blitzes — and maybe one internationally.
Welcome to the newest addition to the next generation of golf tournaments.