Confirmation that the Australian Open is guaranteed for the next eight years will be music to the ears of golf fans and golf executives alike. Whilst there was never any suggestion that our national open was struggling for commercial support, in this age of economic uncertainty the bird in hand is more valued than ever.
The eight-year contract to keep the Open in Sydney was anything but a foregone conclusion. Word is that the Victorian Government campaigned heavily in an attempt to wrest the championship away from New South Wales. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is an avowed golf tragic, and clearly an influence on Victoria’s concerted push to bring the event back to Melbourne’s sandbelt. In the end it was the financial muscle of the state tourism body, Destination NSW, that held sway, one of the few times that the Harbour City has bested its southern rival when both have their eye on a major sporting prize.
The good news for the Australian Open is countered by challenges elsewhere to keep long-standing events afloat. Most surprising in this respect is the state of the Australian Masters. Formerly the jewel in the Australian professional golf crown, the Masters has struggled to find corporate support in recent years, with sponsorship naming rights often being sold at bargain basement prices. Many are of the opinion that the tournament is commercially wounded, and that relocation is the best chance of restoring it to its former glory.
One possible destination is Perth, in place of the incumbent Perth International, allowing tournament promoter IMG an opportunity to take a recognised brand, albeit somewhat faded, into a new market.
The silver lining in this cloud is that should this come to pass, there will be no long-term championship scheduled to be played in Melbourne. Given Melbourne’s reputation as the home of golf in Australia, this is surely an omission that will rankle Victorians. The Andrews government has already shown it is unlikely to stand idle and watch the sandbelt twiddle its thumbs during the Australian summer of golf; it recently announced both the World Cup of Golf and the Presidents Cup will be played in Melbourne in coming years. Subsequently, it stands to reason that there is a gilt-edged opportunity, with state government support, to establish a marquee tournament in Australia’s ‘sporting capital’. In effect, the long-term contracting of the Open in Sydney and the troubles experienced by the Masters in Melbourne may indirectly lead to another championship being added to the PGA Tour of Australasia schedule.
The only fly in the ointment to this plan could be if Victoria looks to take control of the Australian PGA Championship when its contract in Queensland concludes. Leveraging the status and history of the PGA is an easier proposition than establishing a new brand from the ground up. The challenges of attracting a quality field and seasonal weather issues in southeast QLD may also be factors that determine this outcome.
What we do know, however, is that the Australian Open’s future is assured for a minimum of eight years. That’s a long time in professional golf; something not lost on anyone who has been involved at the coalface of the game in Australia in recent times.