Geoff Ogilvy: Aussie Tour would thrive in February
When, a couple of years ago, the PGA Tour switched to what is widely known as a “wrap-around” season – one that starts in October and finishes the following September – the question of what that would do to the scheduling habits of the players quickly arose. Would they basically ignore the year-end events and start as usual on America’s West coast in January? Or would they embrace the new tournaments and take time off in the first couple of months of the calendar year?
As things have turned out, it appears that many of the pros – even the leading players – have opted to support most of the so-called “Fall” events and stay at home when the tour kicks off again after the turn of the year. That result is only going to be exacerbated by the fact that the World Match Play Championship will next year be played in May rather than the end of February. The match play wasn’t the most popular event on tour, but the top-64 players in the world still showed up in Arizona – and warmed up by entering at least a couple of events in California and Hawaii.
In 2015 that is less likely to happen. Without the carrot that was a World Golf Championship, fewer players will tee-up on the PGA Tour during the first two months of the year. I can see most of the bigger names waiting until the Florida swing in March. And that likelihood has possible implications for three big events in Australia – our Masters, Open and PGA Championships. Should they stay where they are in November/December? Or should they move to January/February in the hope that they may attract stronger and more international fields?
There are pros and cons on both sides of that debate – mostly pros though. If we did move to the early part of the calendar year we would likely have more predictable weather than we currently get in our late spring. We would also surely have a better chance of attracting not only American players but also the leading Europeans. Right now, the Aussie events come at the end of a huge run of massive tournaments on their Tour so they are unlikely to come down in any great numbers. They’re not going to play four weeks in a row then jump onto a plane to Australia. That isn’t going to happen.
So, right now, there is obviously a lot of competition for players in October-November-December. We are going up against the Fall tournaments in the US, that run of big-money weeks in “Europe” and other events like Sun City in South Africa, the Shark Shoot-Out and Tiger’s tournament in California. That’s a lot to take on when you are located on the other side of the world like we are.
On the other hand, Europe does have a great three-week run in the Middle East during January. But after that, things are definitely a little quiet for the world’s top-50 players until they head to Florida in March. So it looks like February might be up for grabs. Yes, America has the LA Open at Riviera. But I can see fewer players going there just because the Match Play no longer follows immediately afterwards. With so many PGA Tour players based in Florida – including many of the leading Europeans – there has to be a strong chance they will wait until the tour comes to them rather than them going to it.
All of which adds up to an opportunity for Australia. While the fields have been decent the last few years, the same promotion budgets in February would surely tempt more of the game’s better-known players to our shores. Plus, a run of big golf tournaments would be a great addition to our overall sporting calendar, right after the Australian Open tennis and before the Formula One Grand Prix.
As an add-on, we could also start moving the Australian Open golf around the country. That may not be possible economically right now, but it is surely something all golf fans would like to see – especially if the field is stronger than it is right now. There are obvious and often iconic venues in all of our major cities. I can, for example, see a lot of guys coming to play an Open at, say, Royal Melbourne or Kingston Heath or Royal Adelaide, particularly if there is nothing much else going on anywhere else in the world. I hear guys saying, “Oh I’d love to play in Australia one day,” all the time on tour. So moving our biggest events to February could very well be all the encouragement they need to do just that.
Look how huge the Australian Open was in 2013. The crowds were off the charts and the event was everywhere in the media because we had the then-Masters champion in Adam Scott going head-to-head with the world’s best player, Rory McIlroy. It was like Greg Norman’s halcyon days-of-old at Royal Sydney. So you can, I suppose, make the argument that things are getting better and that we should leave things alone, at least in the short-term. But, then again, wouldn’t the “wow-factor” we got from Adam and Rory only be enhanced by the presence of even more big names? I think it would be silly not to at least consider the possibilities.
Okay, all of the above would represent an adjustment for the US-based Aussies. We have become used to the notion that we can all come home for the three events then stay for Christmas before heading back to the States. But that is hardly insurmountable. From every other perspective, a move to February can only be a positive thing for both Australian players and fans. Let’s do it.