FRANKFURT, Germany -- The R&A is going back to the future in the quest to keep golf valid in the 21st century.
In adding its support to the internationalization of the Mercedes-Benz After-Work Golf Cup (MBAWGC) the governing body (one of two in the sport alongside the USGA) is endorsing a new idea that has echoes of the past.
Already firmly established in Germany, the MBAWGC is a nine-hole competition which typically starts at 5 p.m. and is targeted at the 20 to 50 age range which struggles to fit the sport into a heavy work and family schedule.
In a little over ten years the German series has grown to 3,200 tournaments on more than 300 courses with some 75,000 participants, an expansion rate that the R&A could not overlook, especially as it chimes with evidence from other European countries (Portugal alone saw a 269% increase in nine-hole competitions 2017).
If the concept of nine holes rings a bell with regard to European golf it might be in reference to recent European Tour initiatives such as the GolfSixes, the World Super 6 Perth and the Belgian Knockout (which utilizes nine-hole matches).
But during the launch at Frankfurter Golf Club, Michael Tate of the R&A was quick to point out that nine holes was deeply grounded in the past every bit as much as it is in golf's future.
"If you look back to the 18th century you'll find that golf at St Andrews was played over 22 rather than 18 holes," he said. "Moreover until 1923 there were more nine-hole golf courses in the United Kingdom than 18-hole versions."
It is an intriguing thought; that the sport has become embedded with the idea of a set length of play at the risk of not providing players with a speedy option perfectly in tune with its roots. It's also true, of course, that the Open Championship was originally hosted on Prestwick's 12-hole course.
Following the success of the German series, Mercedes-Benz was keen to take the competition worldwide and the initial phase will see expansion into Sweden, Argentina and South Africa.
"This is a pioneering new competition which enables golfers around the world to play the sport in an exciting and convenient way," said Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A in a statement. "Nine-hole golf is continuing to grow in popularity among golfers worldwide so we are very pleased to support Mercedes-Benz in offering golfers more opportunities to enjoy this shorter format of the game, both socially and competitively."
Only last month the R&A also launched its Women in Golf Charter which aims to increase the participation of women in the sport and the MBAWGC maintains that target, with both sexes open to play and to do so side by side.
On the walls of Frankfurter clubhouse are black and white photographs which detail the long history of the club. They show the original course, which was just nine holes, and the first players, among whom is an unusually large percentage women.
It's as if those walls knew all along.