Westwood wants golf to 'jazz up' as European Tour innovates
Standing on a specially constructed tee and under floodlights, Alexander Levy played his shot to the 156-yard par-3 hole to the backdrop of ''oohs'' from the crowd and with pyrotechnics going off around him.
It was golf, but not as we know it.
This was the Hero Challenge: an eight-man, one-hole knockout event played as a precursor to the British Masters tournament.
It was the latest innovative event conceived by European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, who wants to bring more entertainment to a sport that is seeing playing numbers dwindle.
About 2,200 spectators watched eight European Tour professionals contest the shootout under lights on Tuesday night. Levy, of France, beat Alex Noren in the final, collecting a first prize of 10,000 pounds ($12,200) that will go to a charity.
Lee Westwood, who is playing in the British Masters starting at The Grove on Thursday, said he would be in favor of expanding the exhibition to a full event.
''Definitely,'' Westwood said. ''Normally people are off work at night, so that's one good reason to have it. I've played night golf. I've played with the glow-in-the-dark golf balls. It's great fun. You can see it a lot easier.''
''It's something that golf needs to do,'' Westwood added. ''It needs to jazz itself up a little bit. I read stuff on the game and people do get a bit bored with 72-hole tournaments week-in, week-out. We need to find new ways of attracting people to the game.''
Pelley is trying his best.
Last month, the European Tour said a new tournament will be played in Perth, Australia, next year that will combine stroke play for three rounds and match play over six holes on the final day.
The World Super 6 Perth tournament, to be played at Lake Karrinyup Country Club from Feb. 16-19, will have a 36-hole cut as in regular tournaments before the top 24 players after the third round advance to a match-play component. It includes unique features such as a 90-meter (100-yard) knockout hole if matches are tied after six holes.
The tour described it as a ''revolutionary tournament designed to retain the traditions of the game whilst appealing to a broader market.''
Cricket has Twenty 20 as its shorter format. Rugby has sevens. Now golf - a time-consuming sport - is looking at shorter forms of the game.
Westwood understands the need to branch out.
''You need to challenge the kids that are coming along that are thinking of maybe taking up football or rugby or cricket,'' the Englishman said, ''and give them golf as an option.''
Andy Sullivan, Westwood's Ryder Cup teammate, took part in the Hero Challenge and called it a ''fantastic way to showcase the characters we have on the European Tour.''
''(It) shows that golf is not an old man's game,'' Sullivan said Wednesday, ''and it is actually fun to play golf.''
Pelley, who is from Canada, has been looking to broaden the appeal of the European game since taking over from George O'Grady as the tour's CEO last year. Among his other priorities has been speeding up the pace of play, with his aim to shave 15 minutes off an 18-hole round.