I WAS lucky enough to whisper my way around the 98th US PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey in July, as an on-course reporter for TNT and the PGA of America. It was while I was talking in hushed tones – providing insights viewers can’t see or hear watching the broadcast – that I realised something significant: Australian golf events desperately need to be co-sanctioned with the US PGA Tour.
Of course we know something about how Jason Day or Jordan Spieth can affect the hype of a tournament, but when you’re seeing their aura from within the ropes, it strikes you that the health of tournament golf in our country really is dependent on bringing the stars Down Under like we have been during the past few years.
The tremendous atmosphere at the US PGA Championship was like a festival. The motivation to play golf yourself – after watching the world’s best shoot sub-par rounds effortlessly – is ridiculously infectious. That’s the most important aspect: when you watch them, you instantly want to play golf. Imagine the roll-on effect of 40,000 people feeling that in Australia?
Every so often I would take a moment to observe the Baltusrol fans and how they were relishing being in proximity to the players. It was clearly a special experience for them to be right there with Bubba, Jason and Scotty, to name just a few.
During my time at Baltusrol, I delved into conversations with network executives at TNT and CBS, as well as golf influencers such as renowned broadcaster Jim Nantz. They were fascinated to hear how tournament golf was perceived Down Under. The general consensus was how impactful co-sanctioning would be in terms of attracting interest in the game, particularly at the junior participation level.
After failing to revive the Australian Masters due to a lack of sponsorship, it would be fair to say that golf in Australia is in a delicate position right now. We are left with only two big tournaments: the Australian Open and Australian PGA Championship. These tournaments desperately need US PGA Tour players to tee it up.
Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler in 2013, and then Jordan Spieth for the past two years, have complemented Adam Scott’s staunch support of Aussie golf.
We’re gaining momentum.
One of the problems tournament organisers are faced with is the US PGA Tour schedule: players are given the choice of playing the smaller events in the US during the same period with $6 million purses, or travel to Australia and play events in which total purses are 25 per cent of that back home. Throw in the absurdly high Australian tax rate and it’s hardly an easy sell.
It’s why we need to lure sponsors that will increase our purses. At this point, it would seem realistic to open discussions with the US PGA Tour to find a way to co-sanction these events.
The Women’s Australian Open has partnered with the LPGA Tour with great success. The world’s best women golfers have to come down, and suddenly there’s Lydia Ko, Inbee Park and Lexi Thompson gracing our fairways every year.
You have to spend money to make money, and investing in our major golf tournaments should be a priority.
It’s not insurmountable to think a large portion of the world’s top 20 male golfers will make the trek Down Under on an annual basis.
But it’s up to us to convince them it’s a worthwhile trip.