My, how things have changed.
October 14, 2021, was the blackest day in Australian golf, according to some on social media. It was the day our worst-kept secret was revealed: the men’s and women’s Australian Opens were being postponed until the back end of 2022 due to logistical issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hardly terminal for the sport but highly emotional for those who live and breathe it.
Players were up in arms about missing their national Open for the second year running, the public equally vexed at losing the chance to watch live golf for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. As other domestic sports powered on through the pandemic, golf’s decision-makers copped an absolute bollocking from all and sundry, accused of incompetence and poor management among a host of other things not fit for this clean column.
Fast-forward two months and the tournament landscape Down Under has shifted dramatically, thanks to these same decision-makers and three of our greatest-ever players.
First, it was Geoff Ogilvy coming to the aid of our golf-starved nation, launching the Sandbelt Invitational with the assistance of Aussie golf’s ‘Jack of all trades’ Mike Clayton [see page 18]. Ogilvy’s vision is to make the new mixed event more than just a ‘golf’ tournament. “It will be an event everyone can come to,” he says. “It will inspire the kids to play golf, get people out there walking and come see their friends and be social. It’s just like the races or the footy – it’s more than just the game.”
If nothing else, Ogilvy’s grand plans helped soothe some of the rage within the local playing fraternity. But there was some more antidote on its way.
Next up, Karrie Webb flew home to announce the inaugural Australian WPGA Championship [page 22], a ground-breaking new event that will see 24 of Australia’s best female golfers compete for the Karrie Webb Cup that, get this, will be designed by the legend herself.
“Playing in the Women’s Australian Open and the Australian Ladies Masters was critical to my development as a tour pro, so I know what having another 72-hole championship event will mean to the future of women’s professional golf in Australia,” says Webb.
But wait, there’s more. Another name familiar with millions has promised to deliver something big for his homeland in the not-too-distant future. Greg Norman has been busy orchestrating a series of 10 new marquee events to be staged annually on the Asian Tour during the next 10 years [page 42]. The Shark’s new venture, LIV Golf Investments, funded by the $500 billion sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia known as Public Investment Fund, will commit a staggering $US200 million ($265m) to support playing opportunities and prizemoney, immediately making it one of the single biggest investments in the history of professional golf.
And not only has Norman confirmed Australia is a chance to host an event, Australian Golf Digest understands those conversations with our powers that be have already begun.
What Aussie golf fans should be most excited about, though, is the fact these events are going to be anything but one-hit wonders, meaning the summer of golf calendar is going to look as strong as it ever has next year when we return to normalcy.
Ogilvy’s lofty ambition is for the Sandbelt Invitational to one day rival the Australian Open as the country’s marquee event. The intention is for the Australian WPGA Championship to be a stand-alone event from 2023 onwards. And talk is getting louder that Norman’s inroads Down Under won’t begin and end with a possible event on the new-look Asian Tour. Rumours are rife the World Golf Hall of Famer is in the final stages of planning an F1 teams-style golf league that will target the biggest names in the sport. Could we see an all-Aussie team playing a ‘home game’ against America – think Ryder Cup matchplay vibes – at, say, Royal Melbourne in 2022?
“This is just the beginning,” Norman declared upon announcing his new full-time gig.
And to think there were some out there who feared this was the beginning of the end…
Strap yourselves in, folks!
Getty images: michael dodge