As it has also for those professionals living abroad who come home each year to play in front of family and a home crowd for their national titles.

And although the Tour schedule over the past two-year period has seen players become vocal both publicly, and in private, about the state of our once busy and star-studded circuit, player frustrations are not necessarily new.

To make a living playing the game of golf, an internal focus is required, and complaints about elements that golfers believe factor against them doing just that come as no surprise. However, the state of the professional game in Australia has frustrated a not insignificant group of players to the extent that they felt action was required. And so, the Oceania Golf Players Association (OGPA) was formed.

The OGPA’s website and social media platforms give a window into the group’s motivations. However, there is more at play than meets the eye, including a battle for recognition with the game’s organising bodies and the assembly of a team of players and experienced business people to achieve their stated goals, outlined in a mission statement available on their website. Among the non-player directors is also an American lawyer with experience in Players Associations both here and abroad.

The well-spoken Bryden Macpherson is the co-president of the OGPA. PHOTO: Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images.

“The beginning was born of Dimi Papadatos’ frustration. He didn’t believe that the players were being listened to, to the extent that they should be. A little bit of serendipity, his relationship with Braith Anasta (former Rugby League player turned commentator and General Manager of Searoo Sports) led him to meet Joe Sponholz, who is now our chairman. Then as serendipity continues, me and Dimi were paired the next day,” co-president of the OGPA and reigning NSW Open champion, Bryden Macpherson, exclusively told Golf Australia magazine.

“Joe started talking to me about the concept that Dimi was playing around with, was that we should do something measurable with players rights' in Australian golf. Joe’s basically first condition was that it be for men and women, which I think has been a big win for golf in Australia.”

The flow on effect from the first meeting of Sponholz and Macpherson led to the formation of the OGPA. Things have steadily grown rather than explode as the American-born Sponholz draws on the vast knowledge he gained from his New York days working with the NFL and NHL Players Associations, as well as his involvement in the Rugby League Players Association.

“We have a large number of men and women who want to be involved in the Tour that they play on. And we are standing here waiting to be let in. And we will stand here as long as it takes.” – Bryden Macpherson.

“I think the important pieces that I learned from that part of my life are by working together the players could create a more equal playing field and gain a bit of leverage with the owners or the league or the commission, whatever the governing body was,” Sponholz told Golf Australia.

“It is very difficult for individual athletes to go out and get great commercial and legal representation. But as a body you can, and that is ultimately what changes the relationship between the parties and makes it possible for there to be a more equal outcome.

“We can come together and create a relationship where there must be respect between both sides to create a collaborative outcome.”

Collaborative is a word you hear regularly when discussing what the OGPA is about with any of its player majority board, or members.

The newly-formed group wants to collaborate with golf's governing bodies in Oceania to improve the plight of professional golf. With strong Tours for men and women at the heart of a mutually beneficial growth of the game in the OGPA’s eyes.

But while that sort of thinking sounds straightforward, working together is yet to get anywhere near off the ground, as the PGA Tour of Australasia maintains that its Tournament Players Council (TPC) is the channel for player involvement.

An email sent from PGA of Australia CEO Gavin Kirkman, and obtained by this publication, strongly suggested to members of the organisation that they don’t join the OGPA. And outlined where the group charged with running professional golf in this country saw flaws in the upstart player-led association. The PGA Tour of Australasia were approached for comment on this story but declined.

“Last week your Chair, Rodger Davis, and Directors, led by Ian Baker-Finch, requested the management of PGA of Australia seek further information about the new organisation. Nick Dastey (PGA of Australia Tournaments Director Australasia) then made contact with the PGA Members involved in setting up the new organisation and sought a meeting to discuss the new group’s intentions. The initial request for a meeting was not taken up by the new organisation.

“We advise that the new organisation is not affiliated or associated in any way with the PGA of Australia. The PGA of Australia does not recognise the new organisation as having any official status and we understand it is not a registered organisation for the purposes of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). Unlike the member based not for profit structure of the PGA of Australia, we understand the new organisation has been established as a proprietary limited company with a shareholding structure.

“The PGA of Australia does not endorse the new organisation in any way,” the email dated June 15 read in part.

The contact with members of the OGPA is not disputed, nor the shareholding aspect. And the OGPA has now made an application to Fair Work.

West Australian and Ladies European Tour player Whitney Hillier shares the presidency with Macpherson. PHOTO: Harry Murphy/Getty Images.

Although Macpherson and Vice President James Marchesani were contacted via email, their fellow board members at the time, co-president Whitney Hillier and Hannah Green (who is no longer on the board) were not. Neither was the Chairman, Sponholz.

“We can neither confirm nor deny whether it was deliberate of the PGA to not include Hannah and Whitney on that communication,” Macpherson says of the email recipients.

“We made it pretty clear on our website and in our communications after the Tour first knew we existed, that it was not a combative thing, it was not us versus them, this is not a rival Tour as has been mentioned. This is a Players Association.

“When the Tour reached out to us, our position was, ‘We want to work with you, we are not ready right now, we can’t wait to work with you’. And that has remained our position ever since then.”

Added Hillier: “Male or female, we are here for each other.

“That’s the whole point of the OGPA, we don’t want to be left out, we want to be a part of everything, every email, every bit of communication, whatever it is, we want to know. That’s the whole part of the transparency.”

For his part Sponholz also doesn’t want to speculate on how or why this happened. But it certainly created additional interest in the group, leading to Golf Australia’s first reporting on the OPGA back in August. A story for which the PGA Tour of Australasia declined to comment.

“We are one organisation, we have co-presidents, we have three female board members, we speak with one voice, we have both male and female members, and however any outside body chooses to relate to us is not going to have any impact on that structure and how we work as an organisation,” Sponholz said.

As for the issue of Fair Work and the shareholding aspect of the OGPA, the group is clear in where it stands on both issues.

“One of the claims is that we are a proprietary limited company that is guaranteed by shares. This is correct, the caveat to that is that in our constitution the only shareholders will be players,” Macpherson said.

RIGHT: The email sent from PGA CEO Gavin Kirkman sent to members of the organisation concerning the OGPA.

“The other one was that we are asking for funding, which of course running any association incurs legal fees, administrative costs, just like anything else. It is written into our bylaws that we can’t profit from this.

With the Fair Work application in process and an unwillingness to debate whether the OGPA exists, the group wishes to work with the Tour, and the WPGA Tour of Australasia soon.

Sponholz pointing to a lack of animosity personally for those in charge.

“There are no hard feelings. I don’t know Gavin. I don’t know Nick Dastey. And I don’t know Rodger or Ian Baker-Finch. I’ve never met them, this is not personal, and so the sole purpose is to try and advance the cause of the players,” he said.

“If tomorrow they switch gears and come back and say, ‘We thought about it, we got off on the wrong foot, can we all just try and solve this thing’ I think that we would be there at the first possible opportunity and be doing whatever we can to help.”

“We wouldn’t be players without the Tour and the Tour wouldn’t exist without us. It is so simple, the stronger we are as a team as a whole, who knows what we could do together.” - Whitney Hillier.

Beyond the argument of the associations validity between the main groups at play, the more important thing for the OGPA is their message and goals.

To be given the opportunity to help advance the local Tours that they do admit have made progress with events like The Players Series of late.

“There have been some good strides, there have been some good initiatives put in. Those most likely are due to the direct involvement of a few individuals,” says Macpherson, a former British Amateur champion who thinks deeply about the game.

“Problem is, what happens when they leave. What happens then?

“That’s part of the problem we are seeing because we are relying on individuals instead of structures.

“There is not a single person involved, I believe, at the Tour or the OGPA who wants to see golf get less successful. I think we all have that in common.”

These common goals have been difficult to achieve in the age of Covid.

Just last week the WA PGA and WA Open needed to be postponed again as the West Australian government continues its hard-line stance on interstate travel. This following the cancellation of both Australian Opens by Golf Australia, the body responsible for the amateur game.

The players certainly have sympathy from some of the golfing public, who want to watch golf in person, and perhaps see the next Greg Norman, Karrie Webb, Adam Scott or Hannah Green strutting the fairways contending for a national crown.

And while the local Tours have valiantly pushed on creating new events and taken a determined approach to getting golf on the calendar for the summer of 2021/22, in fact growing the schedule in a pandemic, it is the long-term health of the game in the region that drives the OGPA.

“We wouldn’t be players without the Tour and the Tour wouldn’t exist without us. It is so simple, the stronger we are as a team as a whole, who knows what we could do together,” Hillier said.

Adds Sponholz: “The only way that we are going to solve this is by expanding grassroots golf for men and women, and a component of that is having a strong Tour for men and women in Australasia that kids can aspire to go play on.”

With the Fair Work application in process and the recent tournament schedule juggling drawing attention to the group, the ball appears to sit with the PGA and WPGA as to what happens next with the OGPA’s aspirations for a seat at the table when it comes to golf’s future in this country. The passionate Macpherson seemingly a perfect front man for the association.

His commitment to the long-term goals of the group and the local circuit, and the players who ply their trade on it, summed up when asked to summarise the goal of forming the OGPA.

“Our goal has always and will always be to represent the players. As part of an equal collaborative relationship with the players. We don’t want to be in charge. We don’t want to be less than equal. We just want to be equal,” the Victorian said.

“We have a large number of men and women who want to be involved in the Tour that they play on. And we are standing here waiting to be let in. And we will stand here as long as it takes.”