THE FIRST LIV EVENT IN LONDON
So, everyone’s heard a lot, but what is it actually like to watch a LIV event? I went to the first day of the first LIV event at Centurion Club in St Albans, Hertfordshire. Truly, it was like entering a different world. Golf, but not as we know it. It was rather disturbing that St Albans, the birthplace of the Ryder Cup had been chosen as the first venue for the new LIV tour. The name LIV is taken from the Roman numerals for 54 the number of holes played per tournament.
The first thing to note was that it was very loud from the moment you approached the golf club. Loud recorded music and also marching brass bands. So that set the tone. The guards in their scarlet uniforms and bearskin hats either marched up and down for several hours or spent five minutes blowing trumpets to announce the start of the event.
The ticketing failed. Originally the tickets were on sale at £67. I got in free, and so did everyone else that I spoke to. Various media outlets were given a slew of free tickets and so it attracted a crowd that weren’t really interested in golf but were happy to have a free day out, particularly with a free concert at the end of each day with top headliners.
Once registered for the free ticket, attendees were sent an e-mail that was, quite frankly, draconian. Someone had come up with some really silly rules of attendance. You were not allowed to bring in any bag other than a tiny ladies handbag, really tiny, no woman has a bag that small, we carry around lots of stuff. Otherwise you were allowed to have a transparent bag. I scouted round my house looking for something even remotely like this and the only thing I could find was a pink Poundland special. It would have to do. But when everyone piled on the local bus from St Albans station, all the men had big heavy rucksacks, ignoring the rule. At the entrance the security guards were hapless to enforce the daft rule and let everyone in regardless. No one at the entrance seemed to know where anything useful, like a taxi rank, was. “Don’t ask me, the Job Centre sent me here” was one reply I got.
Once inside there was a Fan Zone to entertain the crowds, which were getting restless, having been let in at 11am with the tournament not starting until 2. This fan zone had obviously had been the brain child of a very clever marketing company who had thrown everything at it.
“Welcome to the future of golf” the logos screamed
“Don’t Blink” screamed another. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it?
As I moved through the fan zone I was startled when four actors, dressed In golfers of Gene Sarazen’s age (plus fours, flat caps) physically leapt out and took my picture. “There she is” screamed one of them. Excuse me? Did I sign a model release form for you? Who gave you permission to take my picture for pubicity purposes? I felt quite startled by the rather aggressive in your faceness of it. I’m used to poorly paid chuggers doing this to fund raise for charity, but this is LIV and presumably these actors were being well reimbursed.
There was a mega putt and chipping challenge, various rather expensive bars and food outlets and at the end of the zone was a large stage. At the end of play big stars Melanie C, Craig David, James Morrison and Jessie J performed.
This was rather funny as Jessie J sang her hit Price Tag:
“It’s not about the money, money , money
We don’t need your money, money, money
We just wanna make the world dance
Forget about the price tag
Oh yes, it is about the money. Winner Charl Schwartzel took,home $4,000,000 just for three days at this event.
The players were on the practice ground and putting green up to an hour before the shot gun start and they looked relaxed and ready to go. The two nine figure golfers, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson who got a two hundred million dollar fee for signing up, came off the practice ground last and refused to sign autographs for the two little boys who were waiting for them. This is what Mickelson looked like as he left the practice ground and walked to the first tee, to change his career forever. His first event since his self-imposed exile he was greeted with a polite smattering of applause and an American shouting “Go USA”, not “go Phil,” but “go USA”.
London black taxis took the players to their designated tees for the shotgun start. And then someone wearing a LIV uniform warned us “Greg’s coming” i.e part like the Red Sea, Moses is coming.
Greg Norman, the CEO of LIV Golf strode onto the first tee to the fanfare of trumpets. Then a flypast of vintage World War 2 aircraft flew overhead.
Someone in the gallery broke ranks about this.
“It’s not the Queen, here we had her Platinum Jubilee last week!”.
Indeed, in contrast to the magnificent celebration of Her Majesty’s 70 years on the throne, these touches seemed inappropriate and even rather tacky.
I watched by the side of the tee as the first tee shots were played and sighed deeply. This was actually happening. There was no turning back now. I pulled my Open Championship 150 baseball cap down over my eyes, oddly hoping that the history of our sport might offer some protection from what was happening. When I pulled it back I saw that Greg Norman had pulled the Chief Sponsor from the Saudi Investment Fund into a long embrace that went on for a couple of minutes. He was grateful for the investment that had made all of this happen. It was an historic moment.
I had tried to make sense of what it was all about. Four players per team. What I noticed was that some of the team names were somewhat aggressive – “Smash”, “Punch”, “Crushers”. And then there were the team logos, quite a few of which reminded of the hyroglyphics I had seen at the Masonic Central Hall in London. This made me feel a little uneasy. There was something rather dark about these logos. Dustin Johnson’s team, the 4 Aces had a red four with what looked like a devils tail. But the Koepka brothers’ team, smash, had a logo which looked rather like how a cartoonist would draw a fart. A Cloud with some kind of explosion to it.
Sergio Garcia’s tean, the Fireballs, had a picture of a golf ball wearing sunglasses bearing its teeth. This reminded me of the dog in the cartoon Darstedly and Muttley. The Cleeks GC (they were all called GC, short for Golf Club. I was once told not to write GC as an abbreviation for golf club, why I don’t know. But LIV seen to have adopted it, so there, I digress).
The Cleeks GC logo looked a bit like the old hammer and sickle of the old USSR flag. Slightly concerning. Mickelson’s team, by contrast to DJ’s red devil’s tail seemed to have angels’ wings drawn into his Hy Flyers logo. Other logos, such as the Iron Heads and Torque seemed to be composed of old bits of piping that a plumbers mate might use. In all, for the amount of money spent securing the talent, this branding seemed rather odd and amateurish.
Also, the LIV website lacks attention to detail. Some lesser known players such as Hennie Du Plessis and Kozuma have their height and weight on their pages as 0ft 0inches and -lbs. This is worrying, that the people running this new tour haven’t got to know the players properly.
So, to the golf. The atmosphere at Centurion Club was rather odd. It felt like an exhibition match and the professionals weren’t really trying, there was such a lack of investment in what they were doing, the lack of competition, though that may come in time. Rentacrowd, passing the time before the live music began, often didn’t seem to know what they were looking at. I was content watching my favourite golf swing, belonging to Louis Oosthuizen, and marvelling at the power of Dustin Johnson and the exhuberence of Sergio Garcia. But I felt sad that I had to go to the circus to see players of this calibre ever again.
My instinct is that they will get bored of playing each other and no amount of money will compensate for endlessly playing a format which is an entertainment product rather than pure sport.
Here’s the competitors