What the professional game needs more of, particularly in smaller markets like Australia, is innovation and combining men’s, women’s and All Abilities titles into one big event unquestionably ticks that box.
While we might punch above our weight in terms of players on the world stage the truth is that – for men’s golf in particular – Australian tournament golf is struggling to remain relevant.
(That’s less the case with women’s golf where the reality is more likely that there are unrealised opportunities here. But that is a discussion for a different day.)
Think back on the halcyon days of the men’s Australian Open and they ran for the best part of 40 years from the 1960’s through to the turn of the century.
What started with the ‘Big Three’ of Palmer, Player and Nicklaus continued through the 80’s and 90’s thanks to the home grown tour de force that was Greg Norman.
James Sutherland, Martin Pakula and Karrie Webb looks at the trophies during the announcement last week. PHOTO: Australian Golf Media.
Since around 2000, though, things have been less rosy.
The tyranny of distance from the rest of the game’s traditional markets combined with the exponential growth in money required to attract good fields have made the task in Australia a tall one.
Even our own international players often find themselves in the awkward position of having to choose between maintaining playing privileges overseas or coming home to compete in the national championship.
All of which means that if Australia is going to continue to have meaningful tournament golf, we need to focus on what we do have to offer and for mine, last week’s announcement combines two of the most important.
First is our greatest asset, the Melbourne Sandbelt. Globally recognised and revered, the lure of the likes of Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath make attracting top players a little easier. Not a given, and not for free, but a little easier all the same.
Rory McIlroy declared publicly pre-pandemic that he was considering teeing up in the 2020 Australian Open BECAUSE it was at Kingston Heath.
“If Australia is going to continue to have meaningful tournament golf, we need to focus on what we do have to offer and for mine, last week’s announcement combines two of the most important.” – Rod Morri.
We need to lean into that wherever possible and even expand on ways to convince international players to come and experience the golf on offer.
Second is the mixed format, an innovation that was born here in Australia thanks to David Greenhill (of what was then Golf Victoria) and which has proved such a monumental success.
The format (and variations of it) have not only been adopted globally but met with approval from players and fans alike. Whenever that is the case, sponsorship is sure to follow.
For a game that throws up virtually no barriers to mixed events like the Vic Open it will one day be considered odd that it took so long for the format to become normal.
None of which is to say that all tournament golf should be mixed. Like all good concepts, it is most effective when used in moderation.
However, there is an upside to being the first country to have the courage to contest important and prestigious national championships under this format and one only needs to look at the positive international press from last week’s announcement to see the benefits.
For several years the Vic Open has been the best tournament in Australia to attend. Not the most important, but certainly the best.
Now, the Australian Opens have the opportunity to become not only the most important tournaments in the country but the best.
And not only would that be a win for golf but also give the game something to build on in coming decades.
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