Kim Felton laughs as he looks at the notes from a brainstorming session in March 2019 that would provide the basic blueprint of The Players Series.
A winner on the Nationwide Tour in 2005 and three-time winner of both the WA Open and WA PGA, Felton and fellow PGA of Australia State Manager Nick Dastey were workshopping ideas that would inject new life into the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia.
The world had changed considerably from the halcyon days of Australian tournament golf in the 1980s and 1990s. Female sport was booming and cashed-up companies seeking sponsorship opportunities were now few and far between.
The success of the ISPS HANDA Vic Open – a state men’s Open revived by adding women into the mix and ultimately co-sanctioning with the European Tour and LPGA Tour – provided not only the catalyst but the confidence that a series of tournaments pitting men and women against each other on the one golf course was worth exploring.
“Looking at those notes now, it’s like looking back on something from school in the ‘80s. There were pages of notes everywhere that I’d scribbled on but the basic framework was there,” Felton recalls.
“The Vic Open was obviously a huge success but the next step was to develop a tournament whereby the guys and girls could play against each other.
“That hasn’t been easy and required a great deal of research and planning to set the course up to be as fair as possible to everyone playing but here we are, about to host the first TPS event, and we couldn’t be more excited.”
The biggest name among the men playing this week at Rosebud Country Club is the host, former US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, whose widespread respect throughout the golf world immediately brings the concept a sense of legitimacy.
Our greatest Major champion, Karrie Webb, has been behind The Players Series since it was first presented to her and is anticipated to host an event of her own in the not-too-distant future.
Australia’s leading male players were asked for feedback at the 2019 Australian Open and the ladies at the Vic Open at Thirteenth Beach two months later, their response another driving force in bringing The Players Series to life.
“Our leading Australian players both past and present from the PGA Tour of Australasia and WPGA Tour have all got behind the model,” says PGA of Australia Tournaments Director Australasia Nick Dastey.
“To have Geoff and Su present at the launch on Monday and also Marc Leishman and Hannah Green call in via video to lend their support goes to show how invested they all are in seeing The Players Series become a success.”
“We’re hearing nothing but positives,” adds CEO of the WPGA Tour, Karen Lunn, who has been integral in the development of The Players Series since shortly after that initial meeting in March 2019.
“We ran it across our leading players at the Vic Open last year and Karrie was a big part of that. She was super supportive straight off the bat and said that whatever she could do to help she would do.”
RIGHT: Australia's number one major winner Karrie Webb has been heavily involved the development of The Players Series. PHOTO: Mark Brake/Getty Images.
It was following the Vic Open last year that a teaser video was released featuring Ogilvy and Webb that immediately set tongues wagging.
The initial plan was for the first TPS event to take place towards the end of 2020 in alignment with the traditional summer of golf in Australia, the COVID-19 pandemic causing a delay until this week at Rosebud Country Club on the Mornington Peninsula.
Although the backing of Australia’s high-profile golfers is encouraging, it is the next wave of international stars that The Players Series hopes to develop.
In addition to men and women playing the same course for a share of the one prize money pool, 25 talented juniors will join the professionals for the final two rounds, competing in The Junior Players Series in a professional environment.
To be broadcast live on Fox Sports and Kayo on Saturday (2-5pm) and Sunday afternoon (12-5pm), Dastey said The Players Series aims not only to develop players but connect them to new golf fans.
“The PGA Tour of Australasia aims to be a development pathway for our players to take their games and excel overseas,” says Dastey.
“We’ve set ourselves a target of having a schedule with 25 tournaments by the 2025/26 season, a vision we have presented to the players who are key to helping make this happen. The aim is to have 8-10 events in The Players Series as part of that schedule.
“The all-male and all-female tournament model is still key to both our Tours but we wanted to introduce something innovative to create more opportunities.
“We have seen with the success of the Vic Open that bringing the top men and women together at one venue is popular with fans and attractive to TV.”
It is that attraction to fans and potential sponsors that provides the promise of The Players Series developing into the cornerstones that both the PGA Tour of Australasia and WPGA Tour are built upon in future, the message of a unified game perhaps the most powerful of all.
“It shows the industry working more collaboratively which has been a criticism of golf in the past,” Lunn concedes.
“Certainly in my tenure there has been a lot of criticism of various bodies trying to get various sponsors, broadcast partners or government money independently of each other.
“I know the phrase ‘stronger together’ gets widely used but certainly in golf it can only help us.
“These events appeal to sponsors, they appeal to governments more than your traditional event and to the fans who can come out and watch the men and women at the one tournament.
“We needed to find a product that is going to be able to provide all of us with more opportunities to have events and if it appeals more to sponsors and government then it’s a no-brainer.”