Dubai: The growing trend of sports launching shorter formats to lure new audiences continues this week with Aussie Rules football and golf looking to follow on from the success of rugby sevens and Twenty20 (T20) cricket.
In Adelaide on February 15 Aussie Rules will hold its first AFLX games, involving seven players, not the usual 18, with new rules to eliminate stoppages, and rectangular pitches, not oval, to make it easier to export.
If successful, organisers will look to take it global with Hong Kong, New York, Singapore and London cited as possible stages on an eventual rugby sevens-style World Series.
Closer to home and on Friday, Dubai’s Jumeirah Golf Estates will also host the first round of golf’s new and improved 10-stage Long Drive World Series (LDWS).
It follows on from last year’s three-stage pilot season, which also kicked-off in Dubai before heading to London and Portugal.
The series is separate from the European Tour but was held on the sidelines of last year’s Portugal Masters and looks to do similar tie-ups with mainstream golf events at planned stages this year after Dubai, in; Mexico, South Africa, the USA, UK, Sweden, Russia, Portugal, China and Turkey.
Dubai’s event pitches 12 of the world’s biggest hitters and four wild cards into knockout matches whereby each contestant has three minutes to hit eight balls as far as possible, for a share of the Dh94,500 (£19,000) prize purse.
Around the outside are pyrotechnics, walk-on-music, DJs, food trucks all amid a licensed setting, making it anything like the sombre 72-hole game.
After European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley admitted a need to embrace shorter formats and speed up slow play to cater to the internet-age millennial demographic, who experience golf through gaming, pitch and putts and nine holes, the Long Drive World Series certainly fills a gap in the market and follows on from numerous experimental six, seven and nine hole events.
“Keith is absolutely right, golf does need something to shake it up, the viewing figures are not great for four to five hour TV shows,” said LDWS operations director Jamie Marland.
“What’s great about Long Drive is that people have time to go to the range and hit the ball miles but they don’t have time to practice three hours of putting and three hours of chipping.
“Our event takes one and a half to two hours, and we can condense that into a 45-60 minute highlights show, so it’s great for TV and great for spectators.
“We want to make golf more accessible and get more juniors into the game and if we can do that through Long Drive then so be it.”
Dubai defending and former world champion Tim Burke, added: “It’s like golf to the extreme bringing all the excitement and energy, you don’t have to be super quiet like traditional golf and it creates a new aspect that will help grow the game, it’s quick, short and explosive to watch and will help a lot.”
Fellow former world champion Joe Miller said: “By no means is this going to replace traditional golf but it can run alongside and that is what we are looking to achieve.”
Another contestant James Tait, agreed: “There will always be people who say it’s not the true form of golf, but people said the same thing about T20 cricket.
“You can still grow to respect different types of play. When you’ve got guys hitting it over 400-yards it can be pretty impressive to watch and it won’t be long before people say: ‘wow, actually this is pretty cool.’
“It’s new, fresh, there’s definitely a lot of interest not just from the spectators point-of-view, but also it encourages guys that may have tried and failed to turn professional in mainstream golf.
“There are other shorter formats of golf becoming popular and this fits in perfectly. It will definitely draw a different crowd and give people a different perspective.”
The fear is as shorter formats become the new route into sport for the next generation, skill sets typical of the longer game will be lost forever. The game will lose a certain charm and finesse, and styles of play and player will become less varied. As it is Pablo Larrazabal was left bemoaning how golf was ‘going crazy’ after the cut was made at five under at last week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
Larrazabal implied the game was becoming more and more about the big hitters with courses being too easy and failing to adequately punish those who went awry.
“We must tight (sic) the fairways, grow the rough and firm the greens to make it tougher … now a days, all about hitting it hard and putting contest,” he tweeted.
“It’s always going to go that way,” said Miller. “As technology gets better and athletes get fitter and stronger, developing the way they train, new things will happen. You’re never going to see a decrease in anything speed and power wise it will always keep peaking.
“Yeah, it’s a hitters game, and some courses have become obsolete. It was the Tiger Woods effect back in the day and it’s more than just Tiger doing it now, there are 10 or 12 guys in the field every day.
“Will it change the game? Yeah probably. There’s a lot of talk about technology being held back and the ball changing slightly, but what can you do? You’ve got to move with the times and people are going to have to accept that.”
Dubai series opener
Over 1,000 people attended last year’s LDWS opener in Dubai and organisers hope to build on that this year. This year’s event starts at 7pm on February at Jumeirah Golf Estates. Entrance is free with VIP packages available for purchase. Fans can also attend qualifiers from 10am and seeding from 3pm (both at the same venue on Friday). Those wishing to compete for a wildcard should register via http://www.longdriveworldseries.com/player-registration/ or simply show up on the day. The cost to participate is Dh996 (£200) and includes VIP tickets to the event and access to the players’ lounge during the event, among other benefits. For more information visit www.longdriveworldseries.com