Watch the USPGA Championship live from Facebook!

For the first time ever, you can stream one of golf’s ‘Majors’ live from Facebook.

No need for Sky, or any premium tv subscriptions to watch the USPGA Championship with all the best players playing starting on Thursday.

Why?

It was announced that the rights to the coverage were won by Eleven Sports, who outbid Sky, who we are used to tuning into for this type of event.

Eleven Sports is a UK-based sports broadcaster owned by Leeds Utd Chairman Andrea Radizzani.

They use a streaming method of broadcasting as opposed to the traditional methods. They have so far picked up the rights to various European football leagues’ matches, some UFC and this could mark their interest in streaming more live golf.

How to watch:

All four days of the USPGA will be watchable from www.elevensports.uk with Thursday and Friday available from Eleven Sports’ UK Facebook page.

You can sign up to a free 7 day trial if you want to watch Saturday and Sunday free of charge.

What does it mean?

It marks a very interesting change to the way in which people will consume golf in the future. Over the last 10 years or so, golf coverage has been largely monopolised by Sky, which a limited number of people have access to – limiting the potential reach of the best that the sport has to offer.

De-centralising the way in which people can enjoy the pinnacle of any sport can, in my opinion, only be a win for reaching new and untapped audiences.

I will be interested to see what the quality of the coverage is like, something that Sky have been recently doing well, but with room for improvement.

Tune in on Thursday to see Tiger and co. battle it out for the year’s final major.

 

Fancy playing in your own major? This Sunday (12th August), ‘The Players Club’, which spawned out of the growth of 1PUTT, will be hosting it’s 3rd major of the year, The Banstead Downs Invitational, an individual stableford event for a cash prize at Banstead Downs in South London. The field is filling up, email harry@1puttgolf.co.uk to enter now.

Hero Challenge Edinburgh: The Verdict

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.

The Need For a New Golf Category (A Response to Iain Carter)

A couple of weeks ago, Iain Carter, BBC’s main Golf correspondent, wrote an article about the heroics of Tommy Fleetwood and Chris Paisley at the unique pairs tournament called the Zurich Classic held in New Orleans. In the article, he focused on yet another controversial topic arising in the Golf world: the tournament organiser’s decision to include walk-on music on the first tee.

Iain went on to say that “the music gets in the way and it must be remembered Coldplay is not cool golf. The sport should have the self-confidence to say it can be “cool” without musical accompaniment.”

Overall, his argument was that the golf itself is the coolest part of the game and it’s about focusing on new golfing formats rather than the razzmatazz surrounding it to reach new audiences.

This is by no means the first time that a new attempt to add something new and quirky into the elite golf tournaments has been met with controversy. Last month I wrote an article about Tony Finau wearing a hoody in a traditional, 72-hole tournament and the response it got. Trying to add in music on the tee is not so different, nor would slightly more radical initiatives to make the game “seem cooler” such as bigger holes, coloured balls, flat peak caps, mic’d up players, time clocks etc.

I think the crux of this matter is not the new initiatives themselves, but that Golf struggles to fit these new initiatives into the right CONTEXT for them to flourish.

Iain is absolutely right in saying that the walk on music at the Zurich Classic didn’t work, it felt forced and awkward and it looked fairly obvious that players felt they were having to do it. Similarly, Finau’s hoody looked horribly out of place in a very traditional golf tournament steeped in history where all other players are wearing smart trousers and polos.

However, where I disagree with Mr Carter is that there is no place at all for new, radical initiatives like the above.

In my opinion, golf is held back from reaching new audiences by the barriers that surround the game, and these include restrictions around music and phones on the course, what you can wear and even some of the traditional rules of the game.

A new environment must be created in which these new, modern initiatives can flourish.

As Iain also touched upon, a lot can be learned from how cricket has brilliantly separated 3 different environments in which different initiatives can flourish. On one hand, whites, quietness during play and snoozy afternoons are hallmarks of a great day’s test cricket. Then you look at Twenty20 cricket and both fans and players are fully expecting a totally different experience with music, dancers, fireworks, coloured kits, flat peak caps and mic’d up players – these are all unquestioned part of the T20 brand.

It is obvious that Golf is trying desperately to move the same way, but what it has failed to see that It needs to create a new context first in order to be able to start bringing these initiatives in and for them to seem normal and not forced.

Playing walk-on music on the tee at the Zurich Classic is the equivalent of the ECB saying that music will be played between overs at Test matches. I just don’t think it fits with the context.

Golf needs to go full in on a total new atmosphere and experience, or keep it really traditional and pure. No in between, no blurred lines. In future, I think we will see more tournament organisers willing to play all out rather than go 50:50, with the most exciting players, new look clothing, mic’d up players, music everywhere and whatever format that generates traction.

This would then make conversations around controversies redundant, and allow the new, shorter and more forward thinking environments to create innovation for traditional Golf, just like what Twenty20 has done for test cricket.

 

1PUTT could be that new category that golf is looking for. 1PUTT events create an entirely new environment and atmosphere, where new thinking and innovations can flourish. Past events have included and welcomed: bigger holes, on-course music, team formats such as ‘best ball’ scramble, mixed teams, a new scoring system that doesn’t include pars, shootout holes and much more. Check out 1PUTT in action this coming bank holiday with their next London Major Event at Farleigh Golf Club.

Written by Harry McInley

Waste Management: The good, the bad & the future.

written by Harry McInley

This year was the first year I watched a good amount of the Waste Management Phoenix Open in Arizona. It’s one of the better known events on the PGA Tour because of the iconic Par 3 16th hole which is completely surrounded by a stadium. Generally, I was very impressed with the event and the viewing experience had me gripped. In saying that, it still could have been better – so whilst this is a positive sign for golf I still the the sport misses opportunities to double down on what it’s doing right.

THE GOOD

The Stadium Hole (see cover photo) – This is just an awesome addition to any tournament. To have the players come through a tunnel and be greeted by a raucous stadium brings out the best and worst of the characters in golf. I think this is what people want to see more – how they react when the pressure and the atmosphere is cranked up a notch. We’ve seen what it does to certain players during the Ryder Cup but why shouldn’t there be more party-like atmospheres at other events? I’d like to see this concept being used at other golf events.

Noise Levels – There were several occasions where players encouraged the thousands of fans to keep the noise levels up as they hit their shots on 16. We’ve learnt from this and the Ryder Cup that professionals can still hit shots when it’s not stone cold silence. Of course, at many golf tournaments this isn’t going to happen and shouldn’t happen, but really, does there need to be complete silence every time someone takes a shot?

The Attendance – There was a record attendance of 719,000 across the whole week and 216,000 on the Sunday which is amazing numbers for a PGA Tour event. The positives of these numbers don’t really need to be spelt out, and this was on Superbowl Sunday too.

Protracers – More and more pro tracers are being used now both on tee shots and shots from fairways which makes watching each shot 10x better. In fact, once you’ve seen a few any shot which doesn’t have a pro tracer seems ridiculous – you can’t see anything. I’d like to see graphics of where the hole is so you can see where the players are aiming and more insight into the shot shapes from commentators. I don’t think it will be long before every televised shot has one.

This putt by John Rahm:

THE BAD

The Playoff was on 18 – It seemed stupid to me that the big feature of the whole week was the par 3 16th, and yet the playoff between Gary Woodland and Chez Reavie was still played on 18. Traditionalists will say that a playoff hole shouldn’t be played on a Par 4, but a playoff on the stadium-encapsulated 16th would have made for great viewing. This is an example where golf isn’t willing to double down and take a bit of a risk.

BBC Sport – I refreshed the BBC Sport feed a few times on Sunday evening to check the leader board. Not only was the golf nowhere to be seen on the main feed, when I chose ‘golf’ as the sport there wasn’t even a live leader board, only an article from the standings from the previous day. This is not helping any new audiences hear about a cool golf event.

The Commentary – Boring, old, dull commentators on Sky Sports really took the shine off what was a very forward-thinking event. It was topped off when Rickie Fowler hit it on the water from his tee shot on 15 – a huge moment – only to be greeted with 10 seconds of silence and then a single line of ‘that’s a mishap from Rickie’… I’d like to see younger, more exuberant characters taking up the mic and why not give the players a mic so we can get some insight into their psyche?

Lack of Music – I really think you can double down on the electric atmosphere created on the 16th hole. I like the idea of entrance tunes for certain players (maybe not in an individual event) or DJs playing as the players walk from tee to green.

The Field – Whilst there was Rickie, Phil and Rahm, there were several big names missing who I think should all be present at this tournament.

THE FUTURE

There are certain golf tournaments that should always stay the way they are. We’re talking the majors, and some events that are steeped in history. The quiet fairways and the respectful galleries are all part of what makes them so great. For me, however, there are far too many ‘boring’ tournaments that don’t stand out due to a lack of creativity and unwillingness to change. The Waste Management Phoenix Open is clearly run by a group of people that are willing to think a bit differently and I think they are paving the way for more event and tournament organisers to create more attractive atmospheres around the sport. This will only help audience levels, participation levels, sponsorship interest and a general evolution of the game.