Just before I defended my Wales Open title this year, I took part in a special, made-for-TV event at Celtic Manor along with 11 other tour pros using the new nine-hole PowerPlay format. For those who haven’t come across it, it’s a concept designed to promote more attacking golf courtesy of two flags on each green – a white one normally in an easier location and a black PowerPlay flag that might be cunningly tucked away bunkers or set perilously close to the edge of the green. You have to chose three black flags per round, with an optional fourth ‘PowerPlay’ available on the final hole.
Scoring is via Stableford points with the successful conversion of birdies or eagles on your chosen PowerPlay holes attracting double points and the chance to make a significant move up the field. There’s no downside to a failed PowerPlay other than on the final hole, where bogey or worse sees you lose three points. I hope that makes sense, but I suppose the question is, does golf need a new format? Having now had the chance to experience it twice – once in the pre-event pro-am and then in the main PowerPlay Ignition event – I think the concept has great potential both from the excitement perspective and because of its shorter, snappier format. It’s all over in two hours, rather than four days.
It’s obviously golf’s Twenty20 and definitely involves a fair degree of tactics and strategy. You’ve got to have a good look at the pinsheet before you go out to try and decide where to use your PowerPlays, because there’s no point wasting one where the chances of a birdie are slim. You’ve got to really weigh up the holes, check the wind direction and so on because there’s no doubt some of the black pins are very, very difficult and you need to work out which offer the greatest scope for birdie or better and the chance to double up.
Tour pros will automatically be looking at the par 5s, and that was certainly the case for me, as my only successful six-point PowerPlay conversion came on our sixth hole (normally the TwentyTen course’s 14th), where the back-right black flag was in a spot so close to the edge of the green that had it been a European Tour event there would have been a steady stream of complaints to the tournament referee’s door!
But that’s the beauty of PowerPlay – you can push the boundaries a little. In normal golf, when pin positions get really tough, tour pros will just play safe, make par and get out of there. Patience is often key and par sometimes a very good score. But when you’ve nailed your colours to the PowerPlay mast, patience is the last thing on your mind. Pars are worthless, so you’ve got to play aggressively, fire at the pin and try to make birdie because that’s the only way to score big points and leap up the board.
They’d turned the par-5 18th into a drivable par 4 for us, with the black flag mischievously perched at the front and anything not quite making it ending up back in the water. It was just too far for most in the pro-am – about 280 yards to the front edge in wet conditions. But for the main event they’d moved it up to tempt everyone into a final-hole PowerPlay. Sadly for me, it backfired and a closing bogey sae me lose three points when I’d been hoping to pick up six!
But the potential for excitement and rapid change was highlighted by the eventual winner, Caroline Hedwall, a young Swedish pro who’d just landed her maiden LET title the day before. With three holes to go, she was languishing well down the field on 14 points; an hour, and three closing PowerPlay birdies later, she was 18 points better off and clutching the trophy and winner’s cheque for £100,000. Sprint formats are very much in vogue in a number of sports seeking faster, more TV-friendly formats, and golf may now have joined the party with PowerPlay.