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Thursday, April 14, 2011

About PowerPlay Golf

PowerPlay Golf logoYou may have heard about something called PowerPlay Golf before, or maybe you just caught Colin Montgomery talking on Golf Central about the first tournament that happens at the end of May. In either case, I thought I'd give you a quick lowdown on the format. You can also get more detailed information from these two sites, which are where the quotes in this post came from:
First, here's the basic idea behind PowerPlay Golf: "PowerPlay Golf is played over nine holes, with two flags on every green. Golfers can score extra points by taking a limited number of ‘PowerPlays’ to the harder Black Flag, creating exciting risk-and-reward decisions on each tee." That's right, two flags -- an easy one and a hard one -- on each hole, and you can decide which one to go for when you reach the tee. The scoring is British Stableford, which means you score points rather than strokes on each hole. And you can choose to make a few "PowerPlays" during the round, which allow you to increase the number of points you get if you're successful.

The game is apparently designed with two goals in mind. First, to make golf more attractive by offering a version that costs less and takes less time. I've been expecting something like this to happen eventually; time and cost are clearly two of the biggest hurdles to the average would-be weekend player. Personally, I think equipment will have to be downsized as well, perhaps to a 7-club set using a 3-wood with a driver length shaft instead of a driver in the standard set. (If players get hooked, they could then expand their sets to a normal 14 clubs.) If manufacturers could get such a set down to maybe $75, they'd be in a better position to compete with other weekend sports.

But I digress...

Apparently the second reason is to provide a made-for-TV sport that can be played in 2-3 hours and increase the excitement level with those gambles to the black flags.

Saab Great Britain Ltd. is onboard as a sponsor -- they've also signed on for the 2011 Saab Wales Open at Celtic Manor, and this first PowerPlay event will be held early that week -- so this format is going to have some serious cash behind it.

And they've picked up some starpower as well. Check out who's playing in the first tournament: "Taking place next month, POWERPLAY GOLF: IGNITION is the first of a series of three unique televised professional golf tournaments, to be broadcast live worldwide in 2011. In POWERPLAY GOLF: IGNITION, sponsored by automobile manufacturer Saab, golf’s global ambassador Gary Player will headline the field. Reigning US Open Champions Graeme McDowell and Paula Creamer, Ryder Cup stars Paul Casey and Ian Poulter, and Major Championship winners John Daly, Ian Woosnam and Helen Alfredsson will also be among the stellar field of 12 players competing at The Celtic Manor Resort, City Of Newport, Wales, on Bank Holiday Monday May 30th 2011 at 1700 BST."

So it appears that these tournaments will include members from all the major tours, regardless of whether they're men, women, or seniors. (Not unlike the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge.) That should be fun! It may also gain new viewers for the LPGA and Champions Tours.

The big question is simply: Will the concept fly? That I don't know, but it certainly sounds interesting. At any rate, we'll find out on April 30th.

So that's your 10-cent tour of the new format. And here's the official site for PowerPlay Golf, in case you're interested.


  1. Twice in two months - "we're going to make golf more fun...easier...more attractive..." changing the size of the hole.

    It ain't gonna work.

    Putting is the easiest stroke in the game - it's why we have miniature golf all over the place. People can swing a putter. Maybe not great - but it's the easiest stroke in the game.

    What drives people crazy are the full and half shots with "...weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”

    We all love watching the pros launch 300 yard drives and hit irons to impossible hole locations. Then we go out and hook or slice or top or pop up balls from the tee. Thin...fat...all of it again and again from the fairway. Lost balls, shots from the trees, penalty strokes.

    Golf on the green can be a little annoying, but what drives people crazy and away from the game is their inability to get the ball to the green, and none of these cute little games on the green will ever change that.

    Not that there's anything wrong with 15" holes or 3 holes with scoring options (aside from the fact that it isn't real golf) - but if it takes people 5, 6, 7, 8 or more shots to get TO the green, and lord help them if they end up in a bunker or have an impossible chip with water on the other side of the green, a bigger hole isn't going to make them feel better about the game.

  2. Took me 8 clicks to get that posted - not sure what the problem was.

  3. I don't know what the problem was with your posting either. That's worse than any problem I've ever had with it.

    The holes aren't different sizes, Court. It's all about the position of the pin. You have a choice of an easy (white) pin or a difficult (black) pin on each hole. The black flags are the PowerPlay flags, and they have double the point values... which means you can double a bad score as well.

    Here's the trick: In the first eight holes, you play 3 black flags and 5 white flags -- you choose which holes you play as which. You can choose to PowerPlay the last hole as well, but apparently the points won or lost on that hole are tripled.

    Since the points are calculated after you apply your handicap, it's a way to add some strategy and challenge to a shorter game. (Obviously you get more points on the more difficult holes, but a better player will have fewer holes to take that advantage. A weak player and a strong player could have a really competitive game.) I can only imagine the gambling games that the format might spawn...

    There's a short video explaining the basics here:

  4. And here's the rules page:

  5. Whichever way - that's fine - Power Play is the same size holes in different spots - could be different sized holes - massive 15" holes at Pine Needles was another option.

    The point wasn't the holes - the point is that this isn't going to draw new players. This is a putting game and you still have to get to the green. You might get some folks out to a golf course with a putting course for a social night - but it's not going to make getting to the green easier.

    It sounds like fun - but I already know how to swing a golf club to get to the green.

  6. You already know I agree with you about that, Court. I went through that stage of having a great short game but not being close enough to the green to use it! The only cure for that is simpler teaching.

    But I doubt that's what they're worried about. I think they're hoping to either attract people who are too intimidated by a long course or who don't have the time to play a longer round. It could be a good way to introduce a new player (who can hit the ball decently, of course, so they could feel competitive) to the game. And it could be a great alternative for those days when you just don't have time for a regular round but you're with some competitive buddies.

    In looking back over the rules I found something I had wrong... and it might actually make this version more attractive for good players: You can't get less than zero points on any hole except the last. Since a net double is zero points, it makes no sense to play the hole any more once you miss bogey, so it could really speed up gameplay.

    That alone might make it worth consideration!

  7. Still a stretch - might be a fun game on a short par three course. Players who can hit the ball decently are already playing regular golf - this becomes a good betting game.

  8. I think it would work well on a regular course as well, but I'll use a par-3 hole as an example of why. Imagine this scenario:

    You and your opponent -- who's almost as good as you, but has been coughing up blood the last couple of holes -- reach the 9th hole tied. This hole will determine the winner, and there's a little money riding on this game.

    The last hole is the equivalent of the 12th at Augusta. The white flag is on the left side of the green, the black flag is just over the bunker on the right. Neither flag is a bargain, but the white flag is clearly the play here -- the way he's been playing, you're pretty sure your opponent can't get a par at either flag. You know you can make par on the white flag.

    But here's the rub: Your opponent gets a shot on this hole and you don't. (This is a tough course, Court. The 12th at Augusta isn't the #1 handicap hole!)

    Your opponent is up first, and he shocks you by announcing that he's gonna use his PowerPlay. Then he strikes a beautiful shot that rolls just over the back edge of the green into the thick rough. He can probably get a bogey-net-par now.

    And you're screwed! You can't just play to the white flag and make par; according to the rules, if you both get par points, he wins because he played the harder black flag. You can win if you birdie the white flag, but that's a long shot.

    But if you also PowerPlay and go for the black flag, you still have to make a regular par if he gets his net par and try to win through a tiebreaker. Again, a birdie here would probably win it for you, but that's a really long shot.

    One last thing: Assuming you both make pars and finish in a tie, and if you both played the black flag, the first tiebreaker is how your total for all the black flag holes you played. (This should have affected which holes you PowerPlayed early in the match.) Which of you has more points that way? Can you win if it goes to a tiebreak?

    So you're standing on the tee and it's your call. What do you do?

    Strategy plays an even bigger part in PPG than in regular golf. That's why I think it might succeed -- it's is a competition junkie's dream.

  9. Hmmm - I signal the beer babe, buy everyone something to drink - and ace the friggin' far as they know - my strategy was to get them loaded so they couldn't see straight.

  10. Mike,

    Your breakdown of the 'risk and reward' aspect of PowerPlay is one of the best I have seen written. You have captured the essence of the game perfectly.

    As I see it the beauty of golf is working out ways of getting the ball to the hole as quickly as possible. In this respect PowerPlay is no different except that you have a choice between 2 routes and you have to decide which way you are going to go and work out the best course of action according to your skill level.

    The longest ever putt was about 150 yards on a par 3 at St Andrews by a guy who wanted to keep the ball under the 45mph gale that was blowing...he holed it from the tee for a net albatross...that would be 10 points if he had been going for the black flag!!

  11. Thanks for the kind words, Stuart. And thanks for the info on that putt -- the longest one I'd ever seen was 200 feet (133 yards). Dave Pelz made it while recording an instructional segment at Whistling Straits for the Golf Channel. There's a copy of the video on YouTube, if you're interested: