Australian golf finds itself at a cross-roads
Tour’s international prestige at risk as paying for big name players to show up not the way to go
Published on Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 11:37AM EST
Tiger Woods's taxpayer-funded visits Down Under did nothing to help Australia's ailing golf tour, which is stuck in a losing battle for relevance unless it does more to embrace Asia, according to five-times British Open champion Peter Thomson.
While Woods's tournament appearances in Sydney and Melbourne over the last three years brought crowds and media attention to Australian golf courses, any hopes that it had put Australia back on the golfing map, however, were specious, Thomson told Reuters news agency.
"I think Tiger Woods's impact was minimal barring the few days he was here," the 83-year-old said. "It cost heavily and it changed nothing, fundamentally.
"The tour still struggles to attract top players because we can't afford the appearance fees."
In 2009, the Victoria state government paid half of Tiger’s $3-million appearance fee to attract the 14-time major winner Down Under. He won and in 2010, Woods returned to defend his title... which again involved an appearance fee. Last year, Woods and a number of other top golf stars used the Australian Open as a tune up for the Presidents Cup
The expansion of the PGA and European Tours into Asia in recent years has also hurt Australia’s standing in a crowded golf calendar, leaving tournaments struggling to attract sponsorship.
The European Tour co-sanctioned the Perth International tournament this year, with heavy financial backing from the Western Australia state government. That got them former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and American Jason Dufner as headliners. This past weekend’s Australian Masters saw more modest crowds turn up to see local favorite Adam Scott and Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter. Scott, Justin Rose, Darren Clarke and Greg Norman are all headlining the Australian PGA Championship.
That’s not good enough, according to Australian PGA CEO Brian Thorburn.
"From an international perspective, on an annual basis we're not going to get eight to 10 world top 20 ranked players down here," Thorburn tells Reuters. "The competitive forces and opportunities in Asia and elsewhere and the long distance mean that it's just impractical.
"But will we get two-to-three top-ranked guys down here? Yes we will ... Will we get a Rory McIlroy, a Tiger Woods or a Phil Mickelson down here in the next couple of years? Yes, I believe we will."
Thornburn adds that throwing money at top players will not be the way for the Australian PGA to survive. Rather, he says, they need to take a big picture look at the future of world golf.
"In the long-term there's only going to be three tours, the US, European and one Asian tour," Thomson said. "The rise of Asia is potentially very lucrative for Australia, because China is very keen on international exposure. Of course, they will have a huge number of talented young golfers coming through and we need to encourage them to nurture their careers down here."
Jim Tucker of the Courier-Mail in Australia quoted golf writer Mark Hayes, who said Australian golf needs to stage "one global ripper of an event"
The Australian Masters, Open and PGA will always be on the calendar as the "Triple Crown", but three tournaments worth between $1 million and $1.5 million in prizemoney don't raise the pulse of any world top 20 player.
Whether it is the Masters or the Australian Open, some serious work has to be put in to pull together a $6 million showpiece, get status for it on the US PGA Tour and stage it on rotation at Melbourne's sandbelt courses.
As Hayes pointed out, we have one bumper grand final for each footy code, one Melbourne Cup and one Australian Open in tennis.
One stellar Australian golf tournament?
It will take Golf Australia, the Australian PGA and other factions to hitch to the right promoter to pull off this much-needed plan, or we'll be watching the very best play in Singapore, China, Malaysia and South Africa, 2013's new destination, at this time of the year from now on.
ONE MISSISSIPPI, TWO MISSISSIPPI...: Something happened to Michael Campbell over the weekend that most of us can relate too... problem was, Campbell was playing for almost $2-million in prize money.
The 43-year-old New Zealander, who hasn’t won in seven years on the European Tour but was challenging for the lead at the Hong Kong Open, was practising his swing at the 10th tee when his ball accidentally fell off the tee. Bemused, he picked it up and replaced it on the tee - but then thought about the consequences of such a move.
Fearing the worst, Campbell called for a ruling and John Paramour, chief referee with the European Tour, ruled that he had not addressed the ball and therefore was not in breach of the rules.
“Ever since I started playing golf -- the last 38 years of playing golf -- I’ve never ever done that,” he was quoted by AFP.
“It wasn’t an intentional swing, so I was allowed to replace the ball on the tee. It was hilarious, wasn’t it? So funny. I knew the rules, but I wanted to double-check it. When JP walked towards me with a big smile on his face I knew I was OK.”
Meanwhile, during Friday’s second round of the LPGA’s Titleholders event, Sun Young Yoo was given a one-stroke penalty for breaching rule 20-2a while taking a drop on the par-5 14th hole. That rule states that a player “stand erect, hold the ball at shoulder height and arm’s length, and drop it”. (Check out the video at about the :50 mark)
“They say my arm wasn’t high enough,” she said. “They saw it on TV, so I take it as my mistake. All I want to say is I didn’t I didn’t try to cheat or anything ...I didn’t really think about my arm’s height”.
GOLF OBSESSED: The desire to improve can drive professional athletes to distraction, but for Australian golfer Rika Batibasaga it became a dangerous obsession that saw him handcuffed and thrown into a Florida mental institution. Ian Ransom of Reuters news agency writes that the punishing training regime of 10-hour days hitting hundreds of balls, followed by running and gym sessions finally caused the 21-year-old to just snap.
“This is maybe the olive oil in my joints, and the nice Rioja wine and those things keep yourself fit and flexible.” -- Miguel Angel Jimenez, who at 48 became the oldest winner on the European Tour, on what keeps him going
Files from the Associated Press and AFP were used in this report