The ISPS Handa Vic Open enters a new era from Thursday and Geoff Ogilvy, one of the most thoughtful people in the game, says the tournament is set to capture the imagination of the world.

Six years ago, when Golf Victoria chose to bring the dual male/female event to 13th Beach on the Bellarine Peninsula it was a catchy regional event with a unique format that gave it a point of difference, worth a total of just $300,000 in prizemoney.

Those handful of years on it is worth 10 times more at a combined $3 million, and for the first time is co-sanctioned by the European Tour (men’s) and the women’s LPGA Tour. Live television coverage on ABC and Fox Sports (as well as the Golf Channel in north America and Sky across Europe and Asia) is another huge bonus that has been added in 2019.

Ogilvy, who is playing his home state Open for the first time since he was the leading amateur in 1998, says it is the formula that has brought about the growth: the equal prizemoney, the duel men’s and women’s tournaments, the lack of any boundary ropes beside the fairways and greens.

“The Vic Open is a relevant tournament in the world this week,’’ he said today. “People are noticing because of the equal prize money and the LPGA and the guys and girls’ thing.  That’s a big deal.  We would have the same effect if it was the Australian Open.”

Ogilvy did not play the event from 1998 until this year because he was in the US on tour, but he jumped at the chance now that he has moved back to Melbourne with his family, now a part-time golfer a such with a strong interest in course architecture that he is pursuing.

“This two real golf tournaments played at the same time on the same … like the Australian Open tennis is kind of, like it makes sense, right?  You need 36 holes do it, I guess,’’ he said. “So I want to be part of that.  Equal money on both sides, spectators on the fairways, you come into this rural-ish  — not rural, but rural relative to Melbourne communities — that always embraced tournaments.  Always the great venues are the ones in smaller communities because everybody jumps in and everybody volunteers.

“You usually get a feel whether a tournament is good because people come back, the guys come back in the locker room the next week or the weekend and everybody has just been praising on this for the last four or five years.  ‘You’ve got to come if you get a chance, it’s a great tournament, Vic Open’s great, Vic Open’s great’.  That’s all you’ve been hearing in the locker room.

“So I wanted to … I’m glad that I had an opportunity and I was never going to miss that opportunity not being here to do that, so I think it’s hopefully setting a pretty good trend with some of the stuff they’re doing.’’

Ogilvy, one of Australia’s finest players with a major championship and three World Golf Championship titles to prove it, said Golf Australia (and previously, Golf Victoria) was “ticking every box” with the tournament at 13th Beach. “They’re just running a quality event and the field is getting better every year because of that, because everyone leaves and says it’s a great tournament.”

He said an Australian Open with both men’s and women’s titles running concurrently would work, too, possibly in February. “I think you could easily run them now, for sure.  And this is a bigger tournament than the Australian Open right now by a long way.  Maybe not in prestige, but in every other factor, every other measure.  So clearly it can work.”

Ogilvy is one of the bigger names to enter this year, but Karrie Webb is here, too, and Perth’s Minjee Lee, the world No. 7 and now Australia’s top player at just 22 years old. Lucas Herbert, one of Australia’s best young male players, is in the field and looking for his first title at home.

Webb who makes her return to 13th Beach after a gap of two years, was delighted to make the commitment especially now she is spending more time in Australia.

“I think all of us here in Australia have known how great this event is since its conception of equal prize money for men and women,” she said.  “And the way it’s done, too, because a lot of people think, ‘Oh, the women will be on one course, the men will be on the other’.

“The way it’s alternating groups of men and women, I think it’s great for the golf fan that comes to watch because they can watch the best of both men and women and sit on one hole and watch that all day. But I just think now that it’s reached the level where the LPGA has co-sanctioned it and the men’s European Tour, it’s caught the world media, the golf media’s attention.”

First tee-off is at 7am with play on both the Creek and Beach courses at 13th Beach.