With professional golf tournaments around the world on hiatus due to concerns of COVID-19, former PGA champion Steve Elkington and his partners have dreamed up a modern-day version of Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf to bring golf fans the fresh content they crave.
It’s called the Secret Golf Match Play Series for COVID-19 Relief and it will consist of up to six matches that will be played prior to the continuation of the PGA Tour season. The matches are expected to be shown on television – negotiations are ongoing and event production is pending discussions with the PGA Tour – and streamed via the Internet to a global audience along with a companion app that includes exclusive behind the scenes and interactive content to enhance the viewing experience as the competition unfolds.
Among those PGA Tour stars committed to partake in the stroke-play matches are Secret Golf regulars Marc Leishman (World No. 15), Jason Dufner, Russell Knox, Andrew Landry, Ryan Palmer and Pat Perez. Each has been allowed to challenge a player of their choice to face them that may not be on its roster of more than 30 tour pros, male and female. (Potential women Secret Golf ambassadors include Stacy Lewis, Brittany Lincicome and Gerina Piller.)
The initial matchups will be named at a later date, Elkington said, along with the courses, but they will all be at private venues that are closed to the public. Players will wear microphones as they talk, interact and informally educate fans about the shots they are going to hit and just hit. Prepare for plenty of trash talk.
“There are levels of trash talk,” Elkington said. “There are guys who make a lot of noise like Pat Perez and those who are more discreet and pick their spot. Jason Dufner is a real quiet and stoic guy, but in our group you can’t shut him up. It just depends who his audience is. He’s like a parrot that never talks when you ask him to talk.”
As for the stakes?
“Pride mostly,” Elkington said. “The scorecard is a big thing for these guys, but could they be making some side bets for added charity money? I wouldn’t put it past them.”
(Video courtesy Secret Golf.)
The players will carry their own bags, and players, crew and commentators numbering less than 10 in total will follow all safe distancing guidelines advised by the CDC. Elkington will provide on-course commentary and color throughout the match, and Diane Knox will conduct pre-during-post round interviews and provide social media support throughout the event.
“We’re going to ham it up,” Elkington said. “You never get to hear what the Tour player is thinking right after he hits a shot. We’re going to ask them what happened – good or bad?”
The PGA Tour canceled the Players Championship after the opening round on March 12 and later canceled or postponed all tournaments through May 17. All of the Secret Golf matches are expected to be released while the Tour’s schedule is suspended. (It is tentatively scheduled to resume with the Charles Schwab Championship, beginning May 21.)
“We huddled and felt we needed to do something to help people of all ages at grave risk from the virus. We did not at the time know what to do, but we knew it would be important to offer hope and maybe some ways to show golf fans how to be safe, and maybe offer up something to help everyone get by as we are virtually in quarantine,” event organizers said in a release. “Our events had to be charity based, fall under the guides of the CDC, and be highly sensitive of how the country’s health was as a whole before we would release our matches.”
“When we see the virus flatten, see positive trend statistics support very positive change, and diligently listen to CDC guidance we will at that time make a decision and begin to release the series,” said Vito Palermo, a founding partner of Secret Golf.
Proceeds from these events will go to the charitable foundations of participating players as well as the United Way Pandemic Relief Fund.