The first-ever Major Series of Putting (MSOP, for short) has wrapped up in Las Vegas, and the reports back from the desert have been encouraging.
The turnout was solid for an event golf really hasn’t seen before, with thousands of golfers trying to get into some of the events through local qualifiers held around the country. The biggest first-place check was $75,000 in the Stroke Play Championship, and a great upset story took shape when Cal Poly grad and young pro Cole Nygren defeated PGA Tour veteran Colt Knost in the All-Pro event.
The purpose-built Vegas stadium — situated in an empty lot behind the Planet Hollywood casino and just a mid-iron across the street from the back of the flourishing Topgolf in Sin City — attracted all kinds of curious onlookers and golfers who wanted to plunk down money to get directly into tournaments, or pay $35 to try out the Nicklaus Design-concocted putting course, or to take part in some legal side-betting in a separate part of the stadium.
For $2 million, the MSOP team, backed by Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, constructed a must-see space for golfers with a small footprint that can not only be made permanent in the right space in Vegas but also be reconstituted in other cities for a relatively small investment.
The event had some real buzz, and it felt substantial as opposed to a one-time sideshow. The folks behind MSOP not only want to have a second event next year in Vegas but create a MSOP Tour that would travel around and offer others chances to compete for big bucks with the flatstick. It’s an easier sell than a long-drive contest, and a pop-up putting contest is a whole lot more feasible than any other golf skill challenge. (Besides, there won’t be a World Series of Bunker Play.)
Year 1 participants will go back home, talk about the fun they had and likely convince a few friends to join them next year. The clear hope is to build a model somewhat akin to the World Series of Poker, which has a month-plus of big events in Vegas each summer while satellite Circuit tournaments unfold at affiliated casinos away from the desert. Frankly, putting is more accessible than the number crunching involved in playing championship poker, so perhaps a putting boom could happen. However, before the Major Series of Putting reaches that Poker Moment, some things have to improve.
MSOP needs a better broadcast partner. It was cool of MSOP to utilize Facebook Live to stream the events as they unfolded, but, as any Facebook user can attest, it’s hard to know exactly when those broadcasts will happen. It would be great for MSOP to have a clear broadcast schedule for next year and a partner who can deliver it in a proprietary-looking way. (We’ll selfishly volunteer.) Big-time events are not reserved only for TV anymore — just look at eSports — but they do need a reliable schedule to draw in potential new viewers.
The rake needs to come down dramatically. At most poker tournaments, the house collects 10 percent of the entry fee toward covering their overhead like dealers, the facilities and the like. Looking at the Stroke Play Championship — the one with the $75,000 first-place prize — the MSOP folks allotted 100 slots to enter at $5,000 per player. That’s $500,000. Only $250,000 went in the pot, meaning the overhead rake was 50 percent. That’s way too high for a serious gambler to entertain. Of course, Year 1 is tough for breaking even, and MSOP had to make their investment back somehow. Savvy players will be more likely to get in the 2018 events if they have a chance at more of the total pot.
These are two substantial areas where the MSOP product is sure to evolve from 2017, which was a great start.
Putting has a low barrier to entry in terms of both cost and perceived skill, meaning scores more are likely to try MSOP’s one-club challenge as opposed to some other gimmicky golf contest. If you’ve seen modern long drivers, you know a driving contest isn’t in your future — at least one where you could win. But, you could putt your way to a lot of money, and that might be a way to entice more people to pick up at least one club. And we can leave the windmills and clown’s mouths at the resort-town mini-golf tracks.