The Loop

PowerPlay Golf comes to the US.

November 10, 2008

A few hours before golf celebrated its past last night, a group of us in St. Augustine got a glimpse of its future. Or a bit of that future anyway.

We played PowerPlay Golf, a competition which transforms a nine-hole round into a seriously concentrated blast. Wait. Did I say serious? Wrong word. PowerPlay is not serious, as in heavy. It's full of do-or-die moments that make you laugh or cry and has more changes of bragging rights than a Michigan-Ohio State football game. (Um, in the old days when Michigan occasionally won or at least scored.) PowerPlay is already popular in the UK, South Africa and Australia, and it's coming to the U.S.

Here's how it works. First, it's only nine holes. Second, you're playing for Stableford points. (One point for a bogey, two for a par, three for a birdie, four for an eagleâ¿¿.) Third, you're playing to two flags on each hole, one black one white. Black flags are difficult pin placements, white ones easy. Three times and only three times during the nine-hole round, on holes you name before you tee off, you choose to play to a black flag. On those holes, if you make a net birdie or better, you get double the points—6 for a birdie, 8 for an eagle, etc. If you don't make at least a bogey, you're penalized. Essentially, then, you're calling your shots, or at least your good holes.

It's not silly golf for sure. One of the promoters of this new format is Peter McEvoy, the two-time British Amateur champion and many time Walker Cupper. It's a very competitive format for good players, but plenty exciting with higher-handicappers playing net. What it eliminates from the typical U.S. round is the agonizing habit of counting every agonizing stroke so that one can agonizingly recount every agonizing shot for one's agonized friends. I played with my 13-year-old sometime-golfer son, along with eight other groups yesterday. We had a ball.

Because McEvoy and company want to take the format to television—it has that in common with every format ever invented—yesterday we played 8 holes and a one-hole shoot-out for the six highest-scoring players. The finalists were a mixture of handicaps and both high and low-handicap players were in it to the end.

The whole experience felt like the beer league on steroids. It was especially intense on PowerPlay holes, but it was over in two hours and injected nine holes with an 18-hole component of ups and downs. Forget my vote. My son, a video-game lover who usually finds golf way too slow, said: "I like it. I think it's going to be big." Whoa.

--Bob Carney