One of America’s founding fathers Benjamin Franklin once wisely coined, “Out of adversity comes opportunity.”
Ironically, it was America’s ongoing struggle to control the Covid-19 outbreak that nearly paved the way for this month’s PGA Championship to be played in Australia. How close we came to pulling off the Major coup no one really knows, not on this side of the Pacific Ocean anyway. What we do know is this: we threw our hat in the ring at a time when it looked like there was absolutely no chance it would be played in the United States, let alone at San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park, where you can catch all the action from August 6 [see page 96 of Australian Golf Digest’s August issue] .
Back in February, when the tournament was originally scheduled to tee off on May 14 in San Fran, the PGA of America confirmed it was monitoring the situation closely after the host city declared a state of emergency amid a new wave of coronavirus cases. “We will follow the guidance of public health authorities and take the necessary steps to ensure the safety and well-being of all involved,” the PGA of America said in a statement to Golfweek.
That’s when the PGA of Australia sensed an opportunity and pounced.
“We obviously have a really good relationship with the PGA of America and PGA Tour through our world alliance and we just put ourselves out there and said if there is any way tournaments can be lifted and placed in other countries, like Australia, we’re more than open to work with them,” says PGA of Australia boss Gavin Kirkman.
“We made the offer to host the PGA Championship, a genuine offer, but nothing was taken up.”
It’s not the first time Australia has had the Wanamaker Trophy in its sights. Years ago, before PGA of America chief executive Seth Waugh was calling the shots, discussions took place to move the PGA Championship around the world every four years. It sparked wild media speculation, particularly here in Australia, an obvious candidate and critically important market for the game globally. Alas, the discussions went no further and it would seem lightning really does strike twice with our latest close-but-no-cigar moment.
But Kirkman revealed Australia’s push to get a big-time tournament wasn’t over.
“Our offer wasn’t just for the PGA Championship but any PGA Tour event that needed to be rescheduled or moved abroad, particularly the WGC events,” he says. “They haven’t come back to us wanting to shift anything yet but if they have further problems over there, who knows? Touch wood, we don’t see anything serious come out of the PGA Tour’s return during this pandemic. They’ve obviously had a few players test positive for Covid-19 but I know they’re going through a lot of red tape right now. They’re planning for every possible scenario that could take place.”
One of those WGC events Kirkman eluded to is the WGC–HSBC Champions – its future unclear after China announced it will not stage any international sporting events for the rest of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. At the time of writing, there were reports the tournament, originally scheduled for October 29 to November 1, could be moved to the United States. But the WGC–HSBC is an event tri-sanctioned by the PGA, European and Asian tours, and whatever move made would need the blessing of all three circuits.
Moving it from China to Australia wouldn’t seem too farfetched, at least not logistically. But Kirkman warned there were two big hurdles Australia would need to clear before it hosted anything in the current environment.
“By all means, we’ll offer to host the HSBC Champions – we’re a part of the federation of tours – but the two biggest challenges for tournament play in Australia right now remain: crowds and quarantine restrictions,” Kirkman says.
“When you hear about our football stadiums opening up again with limited fans, that’s exciting. It’s a decision that would need to be addressed with any potential partner in hosting a golf event too… what their expectations would be around having fans.
“Allowing international players to come into the country is also tricky with the 14-day quarantine laws currently in place. Of course, nobody knows where all this will sit at the back end of the year. That will ultimately be a big determination on whether a tournament could realistically come here if we were approached.”
In a country famous for not letting people through customs with a blade of grass on their golf shoes, letting 100-plus players and officials through for a minimum 18-day stay, just four of those for golf, is a logistical horror movie. But Kirkman said the doors would remain open on all our great courses, not just Melbourne where the most recent international events have been staged. “We’ve got so many great courses in every state and we’re ready,” he says. “We have operational, logistic and broadcast teams in place to deliver an international-standard tournament, like we have been doing on the European Tour and of course as the Presidents Cup showed us.
“We’ve got our hand up but we’ll just have to sit back and let the bigger tours make those decisions.”
With big crowds still off limits, could this actually be Tasmania’s time to shine on the world stage? Boasting some of the most spectacular courses on the planet at Barnbougle and King Island, what an opportunity to broadcast them to the world.
“From a players’ point of view and for the broadcast, it would be absolutely beautiful to have a big tournament in Tasmania,” Kirkman says. “I know whenever I’ve been down there I’m always taking more shots with my iPhone camera than with my golf clubs. You could only imagine how amazing it would look on TV to a worldwide audience.
“Again, if Australia is considered a safe place to host and deliver tournaments, the offer is always there to bring them down.”
We shall continue to wait, ever so patiently, for that opportunity.