I’ll warn you all straight away that I’m especially grumpy this month. Not just because I put some extreme stress on my body in an attempt to play 72 holes of golf in a single day, but primarily because I was witness to a “train wreck” of a tragedy for Australian Golf: This year’s Emirates Australian Open.
For nearly a decade, I have been stating, over and over until blue in the face, that Golf Australia’s management of our National Championship has been on the wrong track. Selling it off to Sydney in 2006, repeatedly scheduling it during a time of year where the world’s best golfers are unable/unwilling to come, and the inability to put together a decent prize purse have all combined to turn what was once a glorious, world-class tournament into a lower-tier event that barely raises an eyebrow in World Golf.
During this year’s snooze-fest, apart from the very deserving winner in Abraham Ancer, the most exciting part of the entire tournament was the issuing of a penalty stroke to Jake McLeod for taking too long to tap in a putt. The two “drawcards”, Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker barely graced the leaderboard, and by all accounts, the tiny crowds were uninspiring to say the least (perhaps they were asleep).
During and following the event, social media (and the broadcast media) took Golf Australia to task for the lacklustre event, stating overwhelmingly that the event was, essentially, a disaster. Plenty of solutions were offered by players and fans. Geoff Ogilvy even had a notion that we could charge all golfers in Australia a $10 annual levy (in exchange for discounted Open tickets) with the money going towards the overall event. (I spoke to many golfers about this proposition, with most of them calling it absurd. Please email me and let me know your thoughts.)
For those of you who have read this column faithfully over the years, you’ll know that I have been quite vocal in my own opinions about this. In my eyes, the solutions are simple:
1) Rotate the event around Australia (as it once was), like the (British) Open Championship does. Seeing the same Sydney set-up year after year has become a tiring proposition. At the very least, we could have four or five capital cities, say, Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth each hold the event for a year. The other events in those cities (World Super 6, Aus PGA Championship, etc) could also rotate to ensure that local golf fans get their fix, while also enjoying a bit of variety.
2) Change the dates. Golf Australia has stated that they have scheduled the Open in November/December in order to make it more appealing for our Aussie players like Day, Scott, Leishman and Baddeley to travel down under. Unfortunately, as we saw all too clearly this year, that strategy simply doesn’t work. Plus, the weather this year (and in a few years past) hasn’t painted Australia in the best light. So instead, as I have often stated, we need to schedule the event in January/February, and/or piggyback it on either an Asian swing, or lead it into the PGA’s Hawaii swing, thus making it more palatable to the Americans and top world players. And while we’re at it, why not coordinate Golf Month with the event? This year, Golf Month didn’t rate more than a passing mention anywhere in the mainstream media (from what I saw), so combining it with our flagship Summer of Golf would seem a slam dunk.
3) Follow the leader. The success of the Vic Open, where men and women play on the same course(s) during the same week has been a massive success. In truth, this State Open has far surpassed the visibility, prize purse, overall success and (dare I say) stature of our National Open. So why on Earth doesn’t the Australian Open simply follow suit? It seems like a logical step. And why not get into some serious conversations with a major tour about co-sanctioning (with points for the Race to Dubai or Fed Ex Cup available?)
By doing these three simple things, the event will surely attract more top-level players, sponsors, government funding and, as a result, more money for the prize purse.
In my opinion, it’s time for Golf Australia to either listen to what the golf world is saying (and take some immediate action) or to hand over the reins to someone who will. Either way, it’s time for them to wake up.
As always, I welcome your feedback.
See you on the fairways,