WHERE did it all go wrong?

In 2008, the Australian Masters was at the peak of its powers. Tournament promoters IMG had just entered into a long-term strategic partnership with the Victorian Government with a blueprint to turn Melbourne’s marquee golf event into a “Best in Class” experience.

Within 12 months they shook things up, introducing a venue rotation policy that saw the 2009 tournament move from its traditional home of Huntingdale to Kingston Heath Golf Club. It was a risk that paid immediate dividends. The Heath was at its beautiful best, Tiger Woods was in town and the sponsors were lining up to get a slice of the action. Record crowds and television audiences watched the sport’s biggest name win the gold jacket and more than $30 million was injected into the Victorian economy as a result. A new benchmark had been set for tournament golf in this country.

The following year, evergreen Stuart Appleby added another feel-good story with his unlikely victory at Victoria Golf Club, a week that reportedly generated a further $25 million for Victoria’s coffers. The best part of $60 million generated in two years! Who needs a grand prix?

But in 2011, things changed … dramatically. The tournament fell victim to the summer of golf scheduling. To make way for the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne, Australia’s most iconic golf event was shafted to the dreaded week leading into Christmas, while the Australian Open and PGA Championship flourished in their prime November dates. The Masters field took a significant hit, as did the ratings …  and like a sinking ship the tournament’s hard-luck story gained more chapters over the coming years, despite Australia’s loyal son Adam Scott winning back-to-back titles in 2012 and ‘13.

In 2015, with no naming rights partner in sight, rumours suggested it was Scott himself that enticed eventual sponsors UniQLO to jump on board at the eleventh hour via his endorsement deal with the Japanese clothing giants.

The final nail in the coffin, though, came recently when it was announced The World Cup of Golf was to be played in Melbourne from November 21-27. Normally, an event so significant would be a boon for golf in Australia, but in a world where corporate dollars are being squeezed to breaking point, decisions are made at the expense of others. The losers this year are IMG and the Australian Masters.

The Andrews Government – already in the doghouse after an auditor-general’s report revealed its decision to scrap the much-publicised East West Link road project had cost taxpayers more than $1.1 billion – now appears to be putting all of its golf eggs into a one-off international exhibition instead of its long-time money spinner. On the surface it looks like an act of a fair-weather friend – happy to prop up golf when the going’s good, but nowhere to be seen when the game needs it most. And, of course, with a lack of government support come the red flags for other corporates.

The appeal of the World Cup of Golf can’t be denied, particularly if Australia’s two highest-ranked players come home to play. But given the heavy playing schedule both face this year, including back-to-back Majors in July followed by the Olympics in August – there’s no guarantee Adam Scott and Jason Day will be in Melbourne this November.

David Rollo, vice president and director of golf for IMG Australia and New Zealand, was optimistic we haven’t seen the last of the Aussie Masters. “Its 37-year heritage is something we’re extremely proud of but we’re not in the business of running marginal events,” says Rollo. “Our business is to run world-class events. We’re in the process of re-imaging the Australian Masters to ensure the delivery of a world-class experience.”

Rollo said the challenge now was to work out how golf can re-energise corporate support and not just from the government. “Golf offers zero risk for sponsors and unrivalled engagement with its audience. It’s a terrible shame what has happened but we’ll sit down and work out how we can get the event back to where it deserves to be.”

Brad Clifton Editor-in-chief @bradcliffo