Most major sports have unveiled plans to return at some stage in 2020, including golf. The PGA Tour’s June restart combining with other factors to perhaps push our national Open off the schedule this year.
“Everything we are doing now is up for grabs. So, there is a blank bit of paper around the (Australian) Open,” Golf Australia Chairman, Andrew Newbold said on the organisation’s own Inside the Ropes podcast two weeks ago regarding when the tournament will be played.
“It strikes me that our borders probably won’t be open before Christmas, so, that will necessarily prevent anyone from outside the country coming in to play the Australian Open.
“That in of itself I think causes us to think about the timing of the national open. But I don’t want to get too far out in front of that decision but it is something we will work on the next six to eight weeks.”
The potential for closed borders is just one of the factors affecting the decision, however.
The men’s Australian Open not having a set date, even before the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, meaning there is an ever closing window to play the event before the end of 2020.
RIGHT: 2019 Australian PGA winner Adam Scott is one player certainly to be playing The Masters in November the week prior to when the Australian Open was likely to be played. PHOTO: Chris Hyde/Getty Images.
“It is," Golf Australia’s operations boss Simon Brookhouse exclusively told Golf Australia magazine when asked if the tournament was still on the calendar for 2020. “At the moment it is scheduled, we haven’t set an exact date but it would be towards the end of November. Having said that, that could well be impacted by the closing of the borders. And additional to that, there may be a Victorian government decision that may preclude crowds being able to attend events such as the golf.
“The scheduling is difficult in the best of times, let alone in a COVID-19 situation, and the PGA Tour is now talking about The Masters being played the 15th-19th of November, which is generally the week before when the Australian Open would be played.
“So, depending on any overseas restrictions and those affecting players coming back, that then puts on pressure on, and we don’t know what the quarantine rules will be.
“For instance, if Cam Smith wants to come back and play the Australian Open, there is a high likelihood he is going to play The Masters. Can he actually physically come back and be quarantined and able to play an event at that time of year?”
Beyond the rules that potentially could be in place limiting players availability due to compulsory quarantine measures needing to be undertaken, there is a very slim possibility that many would make the journey from Augusta, Georgia to Melbourne the week after a major to play for what is relatively small prizemoney. Particularly when the RSM Classic will take place in nearby Sea Island for a larger purse with a short drive the only required travel.
“It is fluid at the moment, we deliberately haven’t set a date at the moment to make that decision only because of the unknown." - Simon Brookhouse.
Another cause for concern is that currently golf is not allowed to be played by anyone in the state of Victoria due to government restrictions in place that could be lifted on May 12 when the State of Emergency is understood to be lifted.
These difficulties and more faced by a November Australian Open could see the event shifted to 2021, with no ideas considered bad ideas among the decision makers at Golf Australia.
The possibility of the men’s Open taking place one side of the Vic Open with the Women’s Australian Open to run the week after, potentially placing a three week stretch of tournament golf in our country during a period where people may be considering the prospect of once again travelling themselves. A hurdle Brookhouse acknowledges is a concern when looking towards events like the women’s open next year.
“We are certainly looking at all of our events to be honest, because of the unknown, we have to have strategies for the worst case scenario and for the best case scenarios.
“And certainly it’s not as urgent at the moment to be thinking about those events (Women’s Australian Open and Vic Open). The bigger issues I think is not so much the impact COVID-19 will have on the event itself, it’s the impact that it is going to have on international players’ desire to travel. The Vic Open being LPGA and European Tour events, the Women’s Australian Open being on the LPGA Tour, we rely heavily on players coming from overseas to play those events and our government contracts are tied to that. They are the things we have to consider. Will particularly the girls from the LPGA Tour want to travel?”
With all this to consider, the organisational body has understandably been non-committal with a date to expect an announcement on, firstly, the men’s Australian Open and any other tournaments under their jurisdiction.
“It is fluid at the moment, we deliberately haven’t set a date at the moment to make that decision only because of the unknown,” says Brookhouse. “When we know more, let’s say May 12 seems to be a big date here in Victoria with the state of emergency maybe being lifted and changes to not only elite sport but community sport as well … it would probably be remiss of us to set a date. Once that all comes out and we get through May and next week, we will know a lot more, particularly in Victoria.
“And obviously for us too, the Victorian government are a major partner in the Australian Open being played at Kingston Heath, so we need to be respectful of their views, and at a point in time we will all be able to sit down and have a much clearer picture of where we are going to go with it.”
One thing that does appear more certain than whether the event will be played in 2020 or not, is the Australian Open is very unlikely to be played without fans like early season PGA Tour events and the rebooted NRL and AFL competitions.
“For us, an Aussie Open in November with no crowds and borders shut, we have to assess the financial viability of that with our partners, obviously Lagardère, who put the event on,” Brookhouse said. “As Andrew noted, nothing is really off the table, but again, no decisions have been made because we just don’t know, because the unknown for everybody in sport is so great at the moment.
“One of the things that is very different to us and the PGA Tour, is the benefit of the PGA Tour getting so much funding via TV rights to us a lot of the funding for these events come from ticket sales, corporate hospitality packages at the event and there is an expectation from our commercial partners to have those hospitality opportunities, and if there is no crowd well I imagine that would be impossible. Even though I don’t know what the government might say, but it certainly doesn’t have the same impact for a commercial partner if there is no crowds at an Australian event.”