The announcement by the PGA of Australia this week that they will endeavour to ‘recapture golf’s golden years in this country’ with a ‘reimagined tournament schedule’ is a noble one.
Big on potential though still light on detail, the return to a so-called ‘wraparound’ season running from October to March would indeed recreate the halcyon days of professional golf in Australia. In one way, at least.
But the reality of tournament golf here is that scheduling – while unquestionably a part of the problem – has been just one of a myriad of factors working against the game for the past two decades.
The introduction of pay TV and its weekly diet of golf’s biggest stars has had an impact on the public hunger for local golf as has the inevitable lack of a replacement for Greg Norman.
(This is not a knock on the current generation of Australia’s best, by the way. It is simply an acknowledgement that Norman at his peak was in another stratosphere of celebrity than anything Australia has seen before or since.)
"Times were already difficult for Australian tournament golf before this pandemic and you could argue the virus hasn’t made it worse but it certainly hasn’t made it better, either."
Coupled with Norman’s twilight around the turn of the century came an exponential increase in purse sizes in the US which has played its part in sucking the life out of Tours around the globe, Australia included.
Not only does the money on offer in America make it more difficult to attract international stars, it robs many of our home-grown players of the opportunity to compete locally for fear of impacting their status in the US.
Co-sanctioning has long been touted as the answer to many of these issues and of the biggest events on our calendar only the Australian Open remains a standalone event.
Closer ties and more joint events with Europe is one of the concepts flagged in last week’s announcement and under current circumstances that will be a positive for both parties.
But teaming up with other Tours is not a cure-all for many of the issues faced by the game in Australia.
It comes at a price – including a significant portion of places in the field needing to be set aside for players from the partner Tour – and dilutes the local connections to the event.
The Australian Open becoming one of more than a dozen national Opens on the European schedule does little to add to its prestige. And if past experience is anything to go, it also has limited benefits in terms of enhancing the field.
Ultimately, the decision may be a stark one: are we better to make these compromises or lose our local tournaments completely?
Times were already difficult for Australian tournament golf before this pandemic and you could argue the virus hasn’t made it worse but it certainly hasn’t made it better, either.
One can’t help but feel some empathy for the game’s administrators as they try to navigate an extremely difficult path forward.
The tone of last week’s announcement was positive and welcome. Let’s all hope the vision can now come to fruition.