You’ll be excused for not knowing that the Hero Challenge – a new format golf event – took place in Edinburgh last Wednesday, before the Scottish Open. To be fair, it did clash with the England Croatia semi-final, which is the “mother of all clashes”, but it’s up for debate whether you would have heard about it anyway.
As I was obviously throwing beers over myself in Hyde Park for the football, I watched the full repeat of the Hero Challenge on YouTube, but I skipped through large chunks of it.
Now I understand that this event exists largely due to its sponsor Hero, India’s leading motorcycle company. Random? Yes. Questionable? Absolutely. The bottom line is that I don’t know exactly what the company’s strategy exactly is and what they want to get from the event. The other fact is, and there’s no doubt that the European Tour would agree, is that an event like this, broadcast online worldwide, presents a fantastic opportunity for the sport to reach new audiences, debunk some traditional perceptions about the sport and, ultimately, grow engagement and participation.
So, if the event was indeed trying to do these things, here’s my verdict, based on 5 main criteria.
1: Venue / set up: 9/10
Let’s start with the positives. Hats off, the set up for this event was a jaw dropper. Managing to secure one of the most visited spots in the UK, this event took place next to the fantastic Edinburgh Castle. The stadium lining each side was also great, and the platform for the players made for a great centre stage. The only let down was the tin pot-looking target which the players had to hit, made from what looked like a patch of nylon. It was all set up for a cracking event….
2: Atmosphere 2/10
Again, it must be mentioned that this event clashed with an England World Cup semi-final, which is obviously going to hurt the atmosphere. Despite this, the atmosphere was shocking. To start with, the stadium wasn’t full, which pretty much nullifys the buzz of the whole event when it’s the first thing that you see on the coverage, glaring at you in the face. Clapping and cheering had to be awkwardly encouraged by Vernon Kay (more on him later) and the whole thing just feels staged, awkward and unwatchable.
Of what crowd there was, from what I could see it was made up of lots of mums and guys wearing Ping caps. Not really the sorts of people you want generating buzz around the sport. Again, if the sport is about reaching the ‘new generation’, it has to practice what it preaches. This means marketing the event solely to 18-35s, and including something in the lineup that’s going to excite this crowd. A good bar, live performer and a unique event by the Castle should be a perfect start to a night out in Edinburgh, would it not?
3: Style 1/10
If golf was looking to attract new people to the game from this event, they’re not going to be very cool. Creating a stylish, fashionable and “cool” event is not always easy, because the more you try often the harder it gets, but is absolutely necessary to build excitement. A lot of it comes down to the people involved, not as much about the golf.
The competitors are a major problem. Taking nothing away from their absolutely mad golfing skills, this event featured Ian Poulter, Shubankar Sharma, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Richie Ramsay, Matt Kuchar and Charlie Hoffman. With 3 of these guys being over the age of 40, and the rest being awkward personalities at best, this was a major sticking point of the event. New audiences want to see people they know, who crack good jokes, wear fashionable clothes and are generally comfortable on a stage. Hitting beautiful 56 degree wedge shots is secondary.
The compere is also all-important. There is no doubting that Vernon Kay is very good at what he does. In principle, he did a good job of rallying up a half full crowd and getting the players to crack their God-awful jokes. But to say that choosing Vernon Kay was a ‘play it safe’ would be a huge understatement. As soon as I see Vernon Kay, I think of Tuesday evenings, catch up television and grandmas. Cool? Not really. Enough of VK, this is the last time I want to see him at an event like this.
4: Format 3/10
The format was again just a bit confusing, complicated and illogical. As always, it took me a few shots to realise exactly how it worked. Firstly, the bullseye target was too small, with players consistently scoring 0 or 5 points with scores of 10, 15 or 20 for the inner rings being much too rare. It was just too boring to watch either a miss of the tin pot target or a 5 pointer.
It’s clear that the event organisers are still testing and playing around with different ideas to come up with something that works, but they still haven’t found it. Simplicity is key here.
5: Coverage 7/10
The coverage of these events, on the whole, is pretty impressive. The live streams across Twitter is great – I would also like to see it on Facebook (excuse me if it was) and the fact the whole event was uploaded to YouTube is also a plus. Camera work was all good, pro tracers of the shots helps too.
Overall score: 22/50
I can’t comment on how successful this event was for Hero Motorcorp, but unfortunately, this event fell way short of the mark as an initiative to improve the image of golf and bring new audiences to the sport.
I feel that the major problem is, to reach new audiences, (ie. people who don’t necessarily know and love golf as it is), by definition requires thinking outside of the current golfing paradigm to provide ‘hooks’ to those to turn people’s heads and incentivise them to give golf a chance, even if it’s 10 minutes of YouTube streaming, or a sharable video on Facebook. To me, this event looked like the same golf-paradigm thinking – the same players, wearing the same thing, with the same terminology, only echoing elements of the game people in the sport already know and like.
It’s all well and good to sit here and moan, so what’s the answer?
If the sport wants to grow engagement and participation rates then key stakeholders like the European Tour and sponsoring brands like Hero have to take more responsibility to actually put together a plan that takes a blank canvas approach and views the event from the perspective of someone completely new to the game.
In my next blog article, I will outline some of my ideas I would put forward for an event of this kind – stay tuned!
Harry is the co-founder of 1PUTT Golf, a new golf format and experience designed to break down the barriers and modernise the game. Check out the video of a similar “shootout” type event 1PUTT held at Brancepeth Castle Golf Club for University students in June.