It’s all about innovation on the European Tour this week as GolfSixes returns to Centurion Club in St Albans, near London. The second edition of the fast and fun six-hole match play event has plenty of talking points – here are five things you need to know.
1) The wildcards: 16 two-player teams will once again tee it up over the specially created six hole circuit at Centurion Club – but this time there will be some new faces. The introduction of wildcard teams means that some of Europe’s best female players will be part of a field that also includes 23 European Tour winners. Georgia Hall and Charley Hull will team up as the England Women’s Team, while England’s Mel Reid and Spain’s Carlota Ciganda will form a European Women’s Team. Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjørn and his Solheim Cup counterpart Catriona Matthew will become the first male and female professionals to play together in a competitive match play format on the European Tour when they form the Captains Team.
2) The format: The 16 teams will compete over six holes in a group stage on Saturday, with teams split into four groups of four, before the top two teams from each group progress to the knockout stages - the quarter-finals, the semi-finals, a third/fourth place play-off match and the final - on Sunday.
In the group stage, three points will be given for victory with one point awarded for a draw and zero for a loss, and the matches will be played in a greensomes match play format. On Sunday, any tied matches go to a specially constructed play-off hole. If the match is still tied, it will be settled by a closest to the pin challenge on the same hole.
3) Home advantage: The group stage draw threw up a host of fascinating ties, but for home fans, all eyes will be on one match on Saturday - England v England. Matt Wallace and Eddie Pepperell will take on Georgia Hall and Charley Hull at 12.04 pm. May the best (home) team win.
4) Themed holes: GolfSixes will once again feature a different theme on each hole, which means the return of the popular shot clock on hole four. The innovation was a hit with players and fans last year, and to make things even faster the time limit has been reduced from 40 seconds to 30 seconds per shot. Amongst the other themes, Birdies for Good on hole two will see the Official Charity Partners – The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity and the European Tour Foundation – benefitting whenever a player records a birdie.
5) Growing the game: After last year’s inaugural event the Golf Foundation conducted a pilot project to inspire young golfers through GolfSixes in six regional leagues. This summer, the GolfSixes League format will expand to 125 golf clubs from 25 regional inter-club leagues featuring around 1,500 boys and girls across England. GolfSixes League is expanding throughout Europe, having been adopted in Denmark, Belgium and Holland, with more countries to come. On Friday and Sunday at Centurion Club, golf fans can see more than 200 boys and girls from 16 local schools and six golf clubs taking part in a GolfSixes League demonstration.
6) Joy of Six: While the superb shot making, sublime team work and exciting format were clear for all to see last year, it is fair to say that one attendant in particular at Centurion Club caught the eye. Known as 'Six' the brightly coloured pink mascot proved to be a favourite of fans and players alike - and will be back for more this year.