EDINBURGH, Scotland – Growing the game is one of the most discussed topics when the golf organizations get together. It’s a laudable goal, but few if any of the initiatives seem to really bear fruit with the younger generations.
On Tuesday night, the European Tour hosted the Hero Challenge on the Castle Esplanade at Edinburgh Castle. While the location was distinctive, the turnout of thousands proved to be telling.
You would expect the “Home of Golf” to turn out for a golfing event, but during the semifinals of the World Cup between Belgium and France, Edinburgh Castle was more like a soccer match than a golf setting.
Singing, chanting, hooting and hollering greeted each of the six participants as Richie Ramsay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Matt Kuchar, Charley Hoffman, Ian Poulter and Shubhankar Sharma played right along, whooping up the crowd before every shot.
The green was a 12-meter-by-12-meter square, with a bull’s-eye of 4, 2 and 1 meters in the middle.
The shots, played from 80 meters, took place from an elevated tee. During the 1½-hour exhibition, the six contestants were whittled down to two American finalists: Hoffmann and Kuchar.
Kuchar would win, but that wasn’t the most impressive part. Those 2,000-plus spectators not only stayed throughout the festivities but actively participated.
With many younger kids in the crowd watching some of the best golfers in the world hit shots in such an atmosphere, they no doubt went home with visions of playing golf, if not professionally, then at least recreationally. They likely will become fans, as well.
That seems to be a positive grow-the-game initiative.
The other remarkable part of the evening was the to-and-fro in the semifinal match between Kuchar and Poulter.
Poulter started the semis by hitting his ball inside the 4-meter bull’s-eye, one of the few all night.
Kuchar then got up and hit his shot inside of Poulter’s. The Englishman responded with another shot inside the bull’s-eye before Kuchar one-upped Poulter yet again.
Sure, it was only 80 meters, and the event was an exhibition, but the mood was something of a Ryder Cup atmosphere.
Keith Pelley, the European Tour’s commissioner, came here from Canada to shake up a stagnant tour. An event such as this one shows not only his modus operandi but a level of success that is sorely needed in golf.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli