Gareth Bale’s sporting influence could stretch beyond football to have a potentially significant impact on golf.
The Real Madrid and Wales winger joins a growing movement promoting formats that make the game shorter and speedier to play. The thinking is that golf, at all levels, would benefit from unearthing its own equivalent of Twenty20 cricket.
For the humble amateur there is much to enjoy from an evening playing a quicker version while professionals competing in made-for-TV contests could give golf’s popularity a big boost.
A new format played over six holes, where golfers are allowed only 30 seconds to execute shots, has been launched and Bale alerted his 17.3 million Instagram followers to SPRINT6GOLF last week. It has also been endorsed by the European Tour.
Players can download a smartphone app which explains the rules and provides a stopwatch. If you take too long you receive a yellow card and a second bad time leads to a one-shot penalty.
“The idea is to speed up golf and give people a viable alternative to the long form of the game,” SPRINT6GOLF founder Tom Critchley told BBC Sport.
“Can you play golf in an hour? Yes, you can. Very simply, it is six holes on a 30-second shot-clock. The moment you put your bag down the clock starts and people get on with it.”
In reality, the clock only comes into play for tee shots and on the green. Strokes in between are self-policed but by then the quicker tone has been set.
Having tried it out, it seems to work and certainly it was a fun way to have an evening’s golf. With handicaps ranging from seven to 24, our fourball covered half a dozen holes, with often lengthy walks from greens to tees, in just over an hour.
But surely the bigger potential lies in the professional ranks where there is a new breed of administrators who appear open to the introduction of ambitious and exciting formats.
New European Tour boss Keith Pelley has spoken of the need to innovate and take risks going forward, while the PGA Tour and LPGA are aligning themselves with Topgolf, a driving range-based format.
“Our vision is very much to go to the professional game,” Critchley added. “I want to see the best players in the world play this.
“The referees hidden away behind the trees would come to the forefront, the players will really get involved with the time pressures, we’ll have the shot-clock on the television – it’s made for it.
“We are starting at the grass roots level but the vision is to get to a professional tournament on the European Tour and other tours around the world.”
- Read: Speed up golf to attract young players – McIlroy
- Read: R&A publishes pace of play guidance manual
Already, European Tour chief executive Pelley has put an emphasis on making regular events quicker to watch.
He identified this issue soon after taking over at the Wentworth-based circuit and has also won support from the new leader at the Royal and Ancient in St Andrews.
“I think it is critical,” Pelley told BBC Sport. “That’s why I’m so impressed with Martin Slumbers and the R&A and the way they have taken to this initiative of curbing slow play and they’re behind it.
“We are totally aligned so I couldn’t be happier.”
The Canadian is pleased with the impact of the slow-play policy he brought in at the start of the year. “It’s really working,” Pelley said.
He cited evidence from the recent Spanish Open. “When we compared our times from the first two rounds the last time we played at Valderrama in 2011 to this year we were 12 and 13 minutes quicker,” he revealed.
“So we are now actually increasing our monitoring programme because we have seen the success.
“I’ve had two or three players tell me that they have learned to play quicker, while a couple of players said to me: ‘I would have liked to have taken a little more time there’.
“But at the end of the day, this is what our fans want and it’s what our players wanted.”
The R&A, meanwhile, has published its findings after its “Time for Golf” conference on slow play last November. Again the aim is to speed up play to make the game attractive to those battling the time pressures of modern life.
To promote shorter forms of the game, there will be a new nine hole amateur event at Royal Troon on the Saturday before this year’s Open Championship.
Golf, at last, seems to be moving out of the slow lane, and a kick in that direction from one of the world’s leading footballers, only helps speed up the process.