In days of hardship it pays to grab all the good news you might find—and to hold on tight. And while it is excusable that a news release on 20 October didn’t steal all the headlines it once might have—what with the world reeling from a flurry of fiscal blows—it’s a shame it didn’t do just that because it did provide a shaft of light in these uncertain times. One of the arguments you’ll hear repeated ad nauseum by those who hold Asian golf in low esteem is that—while the region has made great inroads in terms of courses and while it has produced a selection of the world’s best players—the game, or rather the events held out here, still don’t really mean much in the greater scheme of things. The UK has the history, the US the glamour. Between them they share the big purses, along with the big names. And the rest of the world makes do with a smattering of stars and considerably lesser lights pairing off with the locals, looking for an easy payday. Or so the story goes.
But times are changing. Consider the implications of that press release:
“Next year’s UBS Hong Kong Open will be the final event prior to the money spinning inaugural Dubai World Championship, in which only the top 60 players on the [European Tour’s] money list will take part. The scene will be set for a battle royal at Fanling next year as players scramble to qualify for the Dubai event, which will carry prize money of US$10 million and a bonus pool of another US$10 million.’’
As impressive as those words are, the message behind them is even more important.
In backing the Hong Kong event, the European Tour has shown faith in one of the region’s longest running and most prestigious events but it has also pointed the way forward.
You don’t try to beat off other events, or even compete with them, you find a way to give the players—and thereby the fans— options that are not already offered. And, of course, involve lots and lots of money.
With six events on the 2009 calendar co-sanctioned between the Asian Tour and the European Tour that can only mean better players out here—and better events.
The positive reaction to the European Tour’s decision has been instantaneous. Already two of the hottest properties in golf—American Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas of Colombia—have signed up for next season’s European Tour.
And both have gone public with the fact that the Dubai event was the sweetener that sealed the deal.
For stalwarts of the European Tour, the news has been a godsend.
“If you want the tour to grow and get to the level that it deserves, there's no doubt that you need those big players," said Sergio Garcia.
Three-time Major winner Phil Mickleson—back in Asia to defend his HSBC Champions title in Shanghai this month— believes the world’s top players simply have to travel more. There have even been rumours that the American might join next year’s European Tour—which would mean it would boast nine of the world’s top 10 players, with only Tiger Woods off its books.
“As a professional golfer we have to adapt ... and that means playing more internationally because that's where the opportunities are and that's where they'll continue to grow,’’ said Mickelson.
So there you have it. Some positive news before you go back to weeping your way through the financial pages.
There are of course a few top quality players who have been coming out here for years—and have seen their games, as much as their bank balances, flourish because of it. For them, the Hong Kong Open’s new role offers a rich reward for their support.
So perhaps the final word should go to one of them—two- time UBS Hong Kong Open winner Miguel Angel Jiménez .
“I’ve always loved playing in the UBS Hong Kong Open because it’s a great golf course and the atmosphere is fantastic,’’ he told HK Golfer. “But the Race to Dubai will take it to the next level. It’s going to make the Hong Kong event even more competitive because players will be fighting to make the top 60 and qualify for the Dubai World Championship.
“I think it’s great for the UBS Hong Kong Open that it now has such an important spot in the calendar. It’s one of my favourite tournaments, I feel comfortable at Fanling and the people are so nice, and now the Race to Dubai gives me even more excuse for going back.”
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