Why a mooted February move for our marquee tournaments isn’t a long-term solution

What’s the one thing you need to hold a successful golf tournament? 

A great course? Though preferable for both players and spectators, no. 

An innovative broadcast partner? Sure, that certainly helps but let’s not put the chicken before the egg.

The answer is simple: players. And by ‘players’, we mean the world’s best players. And what do you need to get the world’s best players to come to Australia to play in a golf tournament? Clear air in the international calendar, for one.

As much as we all like to think a permanent move to late January or early February – “like the good, old days” – will be the saving grace for Australia’s COVID-swept summer of golf, a cold, hard truth remains – it won’t. Our thinking requires far more logic and a lot less nostalgia if we’re ever going to get back to the days of a Greg Norman playing for little more than the cost of his jet fuel, let alone a host of the world’s top players following his lead. 

When Golf Australia and the PGA of Australia jointly broke the news that surprised absolutely no one – that this year’s Aussie Open and Australian PGA Championships were being postponed until early 2022 due to COVID-19 quarantine restrictions – speculation was rife that it could potentially spell the end of their traditional November/December timeslot. 

For years our two marquee events had fallen victim to the ever-growing PGA Tour wraparound schedule that incentivises its players to remain ashore and vie for those much-needed FedEx Cup points en route to the $US15 million cash booty at season’s end. 

Even pinning our hopes on the highest-profile Aussies to come home has become a slog, and who can blame them for making it so?

But February isn’t the silver bullet.

The golf landscape has changed, dramatically. We can’t relive the glory days of the ’80s and ’90s. What worked then won’t work now. Declaring victory to the PGA Tour’s silly season to instead pit ourselves against its popular West Coast Swing would be tournament suicide. The world’s best players love this period on the PGA Tour because they’re playing for huge money on iconic courses like Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach and Riviera.

Similarly, the European Tour has carved out its own successful window at this time, too, with a cashed-up Middle East Swing providing our next generation of stars – think Min Woo Lee and Lucas Herbert – incredible earning potential. We mustn’t forget, professional golfers are sole traders, all looking to set themselves up financially until the end of time.  

So, what’s the solution? Realistically, there’s still only one at this point in time – muscle our way onto the PGA Tour’s successful October Asian Swing. Following the CJ Cup (relocated from Korea to the US again this month), Zozo Championship (Japan) and WGC–HSBC Champions (China, but absent from the new tour schedule for a second straight year), sits a small carrot players would nibble at. And remember, this is all about the players.

As Scotsman Russell Knox told the media at the 2018 World Cup of Golf: “[Australia] is an amazing country and the golf courses obviously have extremely good reputations. If you’re going to sit on a plane for 12 hours [to play in Asia], another [eight or nine hours] is not going to kill you.”

But before any of that can happen, we must get our own house in order. Australian golf must reinvent itself from the ground up, which it is committed to doing after a successful Australian Golf Strategy Conference in August, which invited the heads of industry to come together, albeit over their computer screens, and draw up a new roadmap to take the sport forward. Among the topics for deliberation were unification of all the governing bodies, inclusivity for every Australian wanting to take up the sport, and how we can better sell golf as a spectacle for all and sundry. Such talk sounds like a broken record, sure. But this time it may, just may, be about to play a new tune.

Research from the Nature consultancy group shows that the core constituency of the game in Australia – the 380,000 club members – represented less than 5 percent of Australians who are positively disposed to golf. LESS THAN 5 PERCENT. 

Golf Australia chief executive officer James Sutherland promised the game will move quickly to address its issues, noting an approximate 1 percent per annum decline in member numbers during the past 20 years, at a time when Australia’s population grew by 35 percent.

They’re numbers that – much like our summer of golf’s hopes – have exciting potential for growth if we can get the formula right. The first step forward, of course, is to stop looking back.