It is a curious paradox. Australian performances on the global golf scene are as strong as ever – and have been for several years now – while the strength of our domestic professional circuit is arguably at an all-time low.
In the past five years, Australian men have claimed two Majors, with both Adam Scott and Jason Day climbing to world No.1 along the way. Entire seasons no longer pass with a dearth of Aussie winners on the US PGA and European tours, as instead it usually becomes a case of how many trophies our golfers gather. Meanwhile, players the likes of Cameron Smith, Cameron Davis, Lucas Herbert and Curtis Luck emerge to sate our desire for titles to endure in the next generation.
However, our local circuit continues to slide towards global irrelevance with only three primary tournaments each summer. Granted, there is considerable optimism for the Victorian Open now that it is part of the European and LPGA tours and the health of the second-tier events is sound. Yet the big-ticket, million-plus-dollar tournaments look about as healthy as a two-packs-a-day smoker. Even our top-three players – Scott, Day and Marc Leishman – elected not to participate in their own national championship this year.
In short, it’s been a fruitful and exciting period for Australian golfers, just not for golf in Australia.
But we are not alone in this predicament. Keith Pelley, the enigmatic boss of the European Tour, recently lamented the loss of the British Masters from the 2019 schedule due to the exit of its naming-rights sponsor. “So much for a post-Ryder Cup lift,” Pelley said, “or the fact English golf has never been stronger.”
England currently has 10 players ranked in the world’s top 100 but only one European Tour event on English soil next year: the prestigious BMW PGA Championship. And even it is on the move, timing-wise, shifting to September to avoid clashing or being held near the United States PGA Championship, which is itself moving house from August to its new residence in May.
In Britain, everything from Brexit to general political uncertainty is being blamed for the downturn in available sponsorship avenues. As for correlations with Australia, the latter is a relatable situation but not the former.
It’s a strange problem, really. One automatically assumes a sizeable batch of highly ranked players competing with aplomb internationally would automatically translate into a prosperous PGA Tour of Australasia, yet it simply isn’t the case. Interest levels in the game might be high, but that doesn’t convert monetarily. The financial backing of golf tournaments in Australia is seen as a dubious way of allocating sponsorship dollars, particularly when other vehicles offer far greater exposure and for much longer.
Count me among the golf followers who think part of the solution lies in timing. February looks far more inviting a prospect for international players to visit our shores than November and December, particularly as the second month of the year doesn’t contain many significant tournaments on the US circuit. American players should be easier to draw here in February than late in a long year and around their Thanksgiving holiday.
The other solution is a full-scale co-sanctioning agreement with Europe. The Australian PGA, Vic Open and World Super 6 Perth are already part of the European Tour. Why not complete the set with the Australian Open? With a sensible sequencing of tournaments, there is no reason why February can’t be the time when the world’s second-largest tour spends an entire month in Australia. In much the same way many sports lovers here associate January with tennis, it is logical to think February – which is post-cricket and post-tennis but pre-football – can ‘own’ golf.
All of this is worth a shot, even if only experimentally after the 2019 Presidents Cup. Because right now there doesn’t appear to be a lot of innovative thinking going on as tournaments continue to be held at inopportune times of year.