Sutton Golf Club tackling golf's scourge of slow play
Players can expect to be out and about for up to six hours at the Alfred Dunhill Links
Sutton Golf Club will host the Annesely Williams Skoda PGA 9-Hole Championship this coming weekend. Photograph: Sutton Golf Club
In a sport which has been around for donkey’s years, but one where the question of slow play has become an ever-growing issue in more recent times, innovation is likely to be required going forward in retaining playing numbers and, indeed, to use that buzz phrase, of “growing the game.”
Although the PGA European Tour has rather grand plans to hopefully combat the bane of slow play, it is unlikely to be evident at this week’s tour stop: for the Alfred Dunhill Links pro-am championship, which will be staged over three different courses, the Old at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, is one of the slowest events on the circuit. Players can expect to be out and about for over five and up to six hours.
And coming on the back of six hour rounds at the recent Solheim Cup at Gleneagles, with the excitement and drama of Europe’s unlikeliest of wins over the USA papering over the cracks, it is very clear that players are unlikely to turn into speedsters any time soon.
Against all that, it is fair to say that innovation is being shown on the ground and, for those in the vicinity of Sutton Golf Club this coming weekend, you could do worse that take some time out to attend the Annesely Williams Skoda PGA 9-Hole Championship on the links which, of course, was where the legendary JB Carr learned his craft.
This tournament is an end song, so to speak, of the Irish PGA season and it is quite different to all that has gone before in that it is a matchplay - confined to the leading 27 players on the region’s order of merit along with five invitations - which will effectively see the 32 players thrown into a quick-fire battle in their quests for survival.
“It’s a completely new concept,” explains Paddy Devine, the head professional at Sutton who will be competing in the novel championship of 9-hole knockout matchplay which commences on Saturday and finishes on Sunday. There will be three phases on Saturday, reducing in turn from 32 to 16 to eight players, and then semi-finals and the final on Sunday.
There is a wonderful rawness, back-to-basics feel about this matchplay on something of a hidden gem of a nine-hole links across the estuary from Portmarnock Golf club; an event where the mano-o-mano combat nature of matchplay - in such a quickfire format - is a stark contrast to the how those tour players in the Dunhill Links, with its near €5million purse, will go about their tasks this week.
“The secret will be to get out of the blocks quickly, as fast as possible,” says Devine of the mindset that players will bring into the matchplay. “You don’t have much time to recover if you get off to a slow start . . . but the idea of this 9-hole Matchplay championship is one, at a time when people are looking at the time factor involved in playing a round of golf, that has great potential. Obviously, being a nine holes links, Sutton is an ideal venue.”
Okay, so you won’t get the Shane Lowrys, Pádraig Harirngtons or Paul Dunnes of the professional golfing world going head-to-head; but you will find many of your local club professionals going about their business with the sniff of a matchplay title in the sea air. There’s free entry, free car parking and no chance of slow play.