The World Grand Prix is one of the PDC’s longest-standing major tournaments, but has the double-start show-piece outstayed its welcome…
Gary Anderson in action against Michael van Gerwen during last year’s final (credit:Lawrence Lustig/PDC)
The World Grand Prix is one of the PDC’s longest-standing major tournaments, but has the double-start show-piece outstayed its welcome in Dublin?
An annual fixture on the darting calendar since 1998, the Grand Prix has produced a number of the sport’s most iconic moments and stands alone as the only event on the circuit to incorporate a double-in, double-out format.
Think Callaby and Gray, think Dolan’s historic nine-darter, think Van Gerwen’s first major and Wade and Thornton’s nine-dart heroics in the same match. All form part of the tournament’s rich history.
However, while other TV majors are thriving with packed crowds and a party atmosphere, the Citywest Hotel appears to becoming more vacant year-on-year.
Could it be that we’re being force-fed too much darts and are such concepts as the World Series watering down the prestigious major tournaments?
Many are now referring to Mensur Suljovic as a ‘major champion’ following his ground-breaking triumph in the Unibet Champions League earlier this month. Don’t believe such nonsense. The Champions League and other such glorified exhibitions carrying no ranking prestige surely cannot be classed a major?
For the first time since the World Grand Prix’s inception at the Casino Rooms in Rochester 19 years ago, Phil Taylor will be absent from the field, citing no reason for his decision to stay at home.
Taylor, of course, is scaling down his playing commitments ahead of retirement at the end of the season, but having won the event an unprecedented 11 times, surely he would fancy one more crack at glory in what is effectively a no-pressure situation?
But, it’s thought that back-to-back First Round exits and a lack of warmth from the Dublin crowd were among the factors to persuade ‘The Power’ to prematurely don his pipe and slippers and watch the action from the comfort of his couch.
Due to the format alone, very few players relish the opportunity of going far in the Grand Prix, particularly those who are known to struggle in the finishing department. However, the unpredictability of the double-start element has been integral to making it so watchable over the past three decades.
The arena setup at the Citywest Hotel (Photo by Lawrence Lustig/PDC)
Unless you’re Andy Jenkins taking on Mark Dudbridge, starting a leg three or more darts earlier than your opponent will usually be enough to win the leg, therefore making most a foregone conclusion before the scoring has really begun.
In recent times, we’ve seen the UK Open uprooted from its spiritual home at the Reebok Stadium in Bolton to blustery Butlins Minehead out in the Somerset sticks; we’ve seen the Masters head to Milton Keynes and the Premier League touch down in uncharted territory on the continent.
The Grand Prix, though, has stayed put in Dublin since 2001, albeit scaling in size from the intimate Reception Hall in the main hotel to the vast Convention Centre from 2009.
The venue itself is impressive in terms of size and facilities – boasting its own golf course, leisure club and fine-dining, thus allowing players and officials to be based on-site during the Grand Prix and the preceding pair of Players Championship events.
But from a fan’s perspective, it is somewhat of a logistical nightmare – a 20km journey from the centre of Dublin with few reliable transport links and late finishes, particularly during the early rounds.
What’s more, the tournament usually falls during the international football break when the Republic of Ireland are in qualifying action at The Aviva Stadium, which this year happens to be on Semi-Final Friday.
The eight-game sessions in the opening two days mean there is no time for players to be granted individual walk-ons, which one can only imagine comes as a source of disappointment to the players who have worked hard to secure their place in the event and especially for those making their debut.
Despite its apparent flaws, there is no questioning that the World Grand Prix is an undisputed ‘major’ alongside the World Championship, UK Open and World Matchplay. The rest are open for debate.
It is therefore intriguing as to why, when other tournaments have moved forward, the Grand Prix is seemingly being left behind. Perhaps now is the time to shuffle the pack and help restore a once iconic competition back to its former glories.