Golf Gone Wild: RippedLinks combines golf and extreme sports for a younger audience
Picture this, if you can:
From high atop an elevated tee, Rickie Fowler hits a nice shot to eight feet on a 140-yard par-3 hole. Then Rory McIlroy steps up and drops his approach to 10 feet and Paula Creamer plays her shot to the fringe.
Then all three players slip their three-club quivers over their shoulders, hook onto zip-lines and zoom down to the green in spectacular fashion to putt out. They do this three times, each time from a different tee. The low score after three holes advances to the next round. The other two players are eliminated. The matches continue until only one player ultimately emerges victorious.
It’s fast, it’s furious and it’s oh-so-final. Welcome to the RippedLinks Golf Tour.
Is this the action sport-like future of golf or just a crazy idea two guys dreamed up in a sports bar? Maybe both. Because Colin Weston and Phillip Davis, the partners behind RippedLinks Golf, stated that yes, the concept was born while they were watching golf on one screen and assorted sports on others in a Vancouver bar.
Davis adds: "We looked at each other and both asked, Why can’t golf be as exciting to play -- and fun to watch -- as these other sports? And right there we started designing how it could be.”
Feel free to laugh but remember, the idea of anyone paying good money to watch over-the-hill senior golfers tee it up seemed absurd in the early 1980s. The Senior Tour was born and it’s still rolling three decades later as the Champions Tour.
Of course, you’re not going to see Fowler or McIlroy or Creamer or any of the world’s elite golfers play a format like this. They’ve already got day jobs. The proposed RippedLinks Tour will be for up-and-comers and would-be pros who aren’t already attached to a full-time tour. Still, the idea is definitely out of left field, just like senior golf, competitive skateboarding and long-shafted putters were at one point.
The exact moment of inspiration went like this: “We were watching sports on 14 different screens in this sports bar in January of 2012 and there was a golf tournament going on and we realized that no one around us cared,” Weston said. “Philip and I love golf but we’re not that great. We’re 18- or 19-handicappers but we love to play. We thought, if we love golf and don’t care about this slow-moving golf broadcast, why would anyone else? There were action sports such as skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding on the other screens and we said, Wouldn’t it be great if we could combine some of the action, energy and experience of those other sports with golf?”
Two hours of planning and napkin-sketching later, they had something they thought was kind of cool. They looked at it again in the sobering light of the next day and thought, This could actually work.
So it’s been two years in the making and they’ve now set aside their careers as architects in order to turn RippedLinks into reality. A pair of demonstration events will launch in the middle of 2014 with the plan of starting the RippedLinks Tour’s first stand-alone event later in the year.
The driving idea behind RippedLinks, which is designed as a live-streaming and edited broadcast product more than a live show, is to tap into a different age demographic than the traditional older group that follows televised professional golf.
“We’re not disrespecting the PGA Tour at all,” said Weston, 49. “The majority of the PGA Tour’s fan base is guys like us, guys in their 40s or even older. The Tour needs to get younger and push players like Rickie Fowler but they’re stuck with their business model and can’t be everything to everybody. So we have an opportunity to fill this huge niche by attracting a younger audience, which everyone in the golf community has told us they’d love to do.”
Added Davis, who is 51, “Golf has a lack of connectivity, what we call the appeal gap. There’s a young demographic that is interested in the sport but has no desire to watch traditional golf because the visual impact just isn’t there.”
To keep that younger audience’s interest, the game has to be faster and more furious with a lot less down time. The whole zip-line thing, using tees placed on stages atop scaffolding, completely changes the look of the sport.
“We’re not looking to do mini-golf on steroids,” Weston said. “There won’t be golfers hitting balls off skateboards. These will be elite-level players, below the PGA Tour level, who are 18 to 30 years old with some personality and charisma and a bit of edge.”
Here’s your quickie guide to what you need to know about RippedLinks:
The Billie Jean King Factor.
The three holes to be used for competition will be from 70 to 140 yards. Distance will not be a factor so men and women can compete equally. RippedLinks, in fact, will have every field evenly split between men and women.
“There’s no other elite individual ball sport where women can compete with men,” Weston said. “We’re hoping that a woman kicks butt and beats the guys in our first event. That would be the best thing that could happen.”
Are you calling to see if Annika Sorenstam wants to come out of retirement? “That’s a great idea,” Weston said. “I’m writing that down.”
The Attention Span Factor.
Don’t turn your head, you’ll miss something. The RippedLinks format moves quickly. It’s a two-day event even if it’s a full-field tour stop. The first day, the field of 81 players has nine sessions of three groups. Each group plays three holes, the low scorer advances and the other two are done.
The day’s entire play takes about five hours -- in other words, about how long any one PGA Tour player’s first round takes. The nine winners return for the next day’s semifinals. That’s about 90 minutes. After a break, the final threesome tees it up and bingo, it’s over. Speed golf takes on a new meaning. As an added incentive, some sort of shot clock may be used, possibly as a limit on how long a player has to complete one hole, to help keep things moving.
Also, there will be no extended playoffs that drag on. If two or three players are tied after three holes, the tie-breaker will be a one-shot, closest-to-the-pin contest.
The Urban Myth Factor.
Don’t worry about what great golf courses will be used on the tour. There won’t be any. RippedLinks plans to set up artificial turf greens at locations where the audience they’re trying to reach will most likely be. At the beach. In a downtown setting, perhaps a mall parking lot. Near a skate park, a mountain resort or at a location hosting an extreme sport.
“The quality of the crowd, young and energetic, is very important for us,” Weston said. “Like at a Red Bull event. We’d let fans in free, like they do in action sports. There will be some premium VIP areas to generate revenue. We’ll have three greens in a triangulated course, with the fan zone in the middle.”
A parking lot in Las Vegas could work, for instance. A track or any small outdoor sports facility that has bleacher seating could also be used. “Once we formulate a modular product into three holes, we can drop this into any location that gives us a footprint,” said Davis.
How about indoors at, say, the Superdome? “Absolutely,” Weston said. “It fits like a glove.”
The Moneyball Factor.
Tournament prize money will be determined by the levels of sponsorship signed up. So that has yet to be determined. “We’d be looking at maybe $25,000 or so for the winner, depending on sponsorship,” Weston said. “There could be bonuses for holes-in-one or for advancing through rounds. We haven’t nailed that down yet.”
The Reality Show Factor.
RippedLinks will be golf competitions with personality. Most players will be miked and/or wearing small portable cameras, the better to personalize the action and catch the conversation and banter and add to the experience.
“We are not going to make this reality TV,” Weston said. “They won’t live in a house, we won’t manufacture conflict.”
Added Davis, “Every good story involves a villain and a hero and you’ve got to heighten their roles. We won’t go as far as wrestling but we will make sure the back stories add to the interest.”
Toward that end, the 81-player field, which will allow for some local personalities to qualify at each Tour event, will be carefully selected.
“We’ll look at a lot of college-level players,” Davis said. “It might be like an “American Idol” casting call. Potential players will post videos to apply and we’d look at their skills and personalities. Quality golfers can also come from the surf and skate realm. That cross-cultural mix is very important for us. We’re not looking for just hard-core golfers, we need a mix of guys and girls who have a certain personality that enhances our broadcast product.”
One other wrinkle in the actual competition, and a way to add tension and interaction, is that if one player in a group misses the green, the player who is closest to the hole may be allowed to choose the place his opponent will have to chip from.
The Timeframe Factor.
When does this all finally take shape? The plan is for two demonstration events in summer 2014. The first may be in June on an East Coast beach in conjunction with another action sport. The second is planned in August at a site still undetermined. The first competition event, a sort of dry run, will feature 27 players and one green with three different tees, is planned for September or October at a beach community to be determined in Southern California.
“We’re looking at having the final at night under lights for our first event,” Weston said.
The Potpourri Factors.
RippedLinks Tour players won’t have caddies, mainly because they’d clutter up viewing on the greens and won’t really be needed. Players may carry a special RippedLinks golf bag, designed for carrying a couple of wedges and putter and something easily shouldered for when they strap onto the zip line to transport from the tee tower to the green. “It would be sort of like a quiver,” Weston said. And yes, there would be a sponsorship opportunity for a name on the quiver.
Players may have to use a specific brand of ball. That hasn’t been determined yet but it’s an idea and another potential sponsorship deal. “Golf is the one sport you use your own equipment,” Weston said. “Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t call time out in football to say, “Hey, I’m using my own ball”. We’re looking at selling the exclusive ball and even the exclusive clubs of certain companies. That’s something the PGA Tour will never be able to do.”
That’s the plan. If all goes well, RippedLinks will roll out a five- or six-city tour in 2015. Each event would be streamed live and edited into a show to be aired a few weeks later on a network yet to be determined.
So will the unique style of RippedLinks work? It’s a cliché but it fits -- stay tuned.
If you want to know more in the meantime, you can check the official website, RippedLinks.com