ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Looking relaxed in his black shorts and ankle-length socks, Thongchai Jaidee took aim at the range and hit a shot into the cloudless sky to the backdrop of “The Zephyr Song” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Minutes later, the playlist had moved on to a dance song by Scottish DJ Calvin Harris.
Welcome to the modern-day European Tour.
In the latest move to make golf more entertaining and fun for both players and spectators, music is being played on the range throughout the week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. The intention also is for music to be played on the walkway to the first tee, giving it a feel comparable to the build-up to a boxing match.
The soundtrack to golf will no longer be just the thwack or ping of club on ball, or the ripple or roar of applause from the galleries.
“We’re in the entertainment business,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley told The Associated Press outside the clubhouse at Abu Dhabi Golf Club on Wednesday. “As long as you are always conscious of the integrity and protection of the game’s magic. But you are always looking to improve your product, in any business that you run.”
With a background in media, marketing and brand development, Pelley – the former head of a Canadian conglomerate Rogers Media – is seen as something of a visionary when it comes to golf.
Since becoming CEO in 2015, Pelley has overseen the implementation of a policy that allows players to wear shorts during practice rounds and pro-ams. He has also introduced measures designed to speed up the pace of play, and added to the schedule an event in Australia that will conclude with a six-hole shootout on the final day.
Some say the revolutionary ideas are gimmicky. Others say they are much-needed to drag golf into the 21st century.
“There will be a time in five years when you’ll say, ‘You mean there was a time when music wasn’t on the range?'” said Pelley, his eyes lighting up. “I think the range represents a great opportunity that we have not explored in this game. It is a great opportunity for fans to sit and watch players and this unbelievable talent that they have.”
Pelley said there will be music at the range on the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May, as well as at other events in the European Tour’s Rolex Series, and that soon it will be “synonymous with golf.”
Players seem to have embraced it, with many already accustomed to listening to music on headphones at the range.
“I’m always turning on music to practice at the range at home,” Jaidee told the AP in an interview at the back of the range. “If it’s going to be like this all the time, I would enjoy that. It can be any song, I don’t mind. It feels very relaxed.”
Swedish player Henrik Stenson has been at Ryder Cup matches and exhibition events where there has been walk-on music at the first tee – “They always play Dancing Queen when I come walking up,” Stenson said, referring to the song by Swedish group ABBA – and he likes the idea of music on a golf course.
“I’m all for it,” the British Open champion said. “I’m sure not everyone is going to be delighted, maybe. But I would imagine the majority of players and the majority of the fans will like it. It creates a nice atmosphere, and I think that could be a good way going forward.”
In Abu Dhabi this week, the playlist on the range consists of songs requested by players, with the Red Hot Chili Peppers particularly popular.
On Wednesday, the music wasn’t loud enough to be heard out on the course. Tuesday was a different story, though.
“I didn’t like it on Tuesday,” said Paul Lawrie, a 48-year-old Scot who won the British Open in 1999. “When they turned it down, it was fine. But before that, you couldn’t hear your caddie.”
Lawrie is on the tour’s committee that approved music on the range.
“You need to try (these ideas) to see if they work or not,” he said. “Everyone seems to quite like it but I’m just old. I’m old-school.”
U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson, playing a rare event away from the PGA Tour, said the idea could catch on in the United States.
“It keeps you kind of relaxed on the driving range,” he said. “Have a little music going kind of keeps the mood light. Hopefully it will attract some other people to come out and watch and enjoy the game of golf.”