By Iain Carter
When I’m asked to name my favourite golf course, one particular layout always jumps to mind. It’s not particularly famous, it doesn’t stage big events, it is not very long and it doesn’t even have eighteen holes. But it is brilliant and, to me, it provides precisely the sort of golf I want to play.
If you ever visit the delightful Isle of Arran in the Firth of Clyde, then make sure you head to the island’s west coast and sample the delights of Shiskine Golf Club. It is a picturesque golfing gem with views across Kilbrannan Sound and the Mull of Kintyre, with the course nestling beneath the cliffs of the western shoreline. It has some extraordinary holes – most of them are par-3s and some of those are blind. Yes, it is idiosyncratic and it does not follow any kind of conformist design blueprint, other than to provide golf suitable to the natural links terrain available. It has one other unique selling point and I think could be relevant to the future of golf on some professional tours. Shiskine has only twelve holes.
Some might say this leaves players feeling short-changed by not providing the full quota of eighteen but this is nonsense. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that if you were inventing the game of golf right now, you would aim to make all courses no longer than twelve holes. A game that lasts little more than two hours is ideal for modern life. If this were the norm, courses would take up less space and be less expensive to maintain. Extending this line of thought, I see no reason why the main professional tours should not adopt a dozen holes as the standard for many of their tournaments. This might seem rather radical – and it is, but consider the benefits. Rounds would be shorter and sharper and spectators less spread out – therefore providing a better atmosphere. And events could be structured to ensure competitive integrity is not compromised. Play three rounds of 12 holes, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and then have the 36 hole cut.
An added benefit is that this guarantees the biggest names make it to the weekend while players have exactly the same number of holes to make sure of their pay day, just as they do at the moment. With fewer players left in the field come Sunday, it could be possible to play a fourth round of twelve holes in the morning and to heighten the drama a further cut could determine who makes it to the final afternoon shootout. This would be exciting and quicker to watch and provided pace of play protocols are implemented, it would help address the key complaint about modern day golf – that it takes too long to play (and watch). On the European Tour, there is the perfect opportunity to implement such an idea. The announcement of the Rolex Series (eight high end $7million tournaments) provides a degree of separation in the schedule.
How might the tournaments that sit below this strata distinguish themselves? Well they could become part of a “Super 12” sequence and with the correct marketing, they might be shown to have arrived upon a more popular format. Also, by utilising twelve of eighteen holes, space is created for tented villages and parking facilities at courses currently considered too small to host Tour events. Some of the architectural gems considered obsolete to the modern game might gain a new lease of life. And there is sporting precedent from the world of tennis where most men’s tournaments are best of three sets with the Grand Slams and Davis Cup played over five. No one questions the legitimacy of tournaments that play the shorter format. Of course we do not wish to tamper with the majors and the biggest championships but there is no reason why events lower down the pecking order have to follow a strict diet of 72 hole strokeplay.
Happily there is currently a culture to think outside the box and soon we will have six hole final day matchplay to decide the European Tour event in Perth, Australia. My idea is far less radical than that and I believe it is one that would work. If you are not sure, ask anyone lucky enough to have played Shiskine.