The #AusOpenGolf will be played in the week before the Presidents Cup next year, a coup for the event which will now have the luxury of drawing marquee players who will already be in Australia.
Agreement was reached this week over the dates, with the #AusOpenGolf scheduled for December 5-8 at The Australian Golf Club in Sydney. The Presidents Cup, the biennial competition between the United States and the International team, is at Royal Melbourne from December 12-15.
Golf Australia chief executive Stephen Pitt told a media conference that the tournament’s management partner, Lagardere, had already spoken to International team captain Ernie Els about the prospect of some players tacking the Open on to their schedule.
The best Open field in recent history was in 2011 at The Lakes in Sydney when a cluster of the United States and International players in Australia for the Presidents Cup teed it up, including Tiger Woods.
Golf Australia hopes that it will be able to leverage a similar situation next year, although it is likely the Open will run up against Tiger Woods’ own tournament in the US, meaning a few of the top American players will not be available.
“I guess last time around with the (2011) Australian Open, I think we got nine out of the 12 U.S. players,’’ said Pitt. “I think this time around that will flip and we'll be targeting international players. And look, not everyone will play Tiger's event. It's obviously a limited field, but I think that's the challenge that organisations like ours face in terms of dates these days."
Pitt said criticism of the field for this year’s Open was unjustified, pointing out that a decade ago the tournament was “in pretty dire shape’’.
He pointed out that the Open’s move forward to accommodate the ISPS Handa World Cup of Golf in Melbourne had pitched it against the Dubai World Championship on the European Tour, making it tough to attract top-line players, but the tournament boasts four of the top 50 players in the world.
“I think for us, and we obviously are really exposed to it, but we see the younger players coming through. So for us we're getting to a point in Australian golf where there is a passing of the baton and players like Cam Smith and even Cam Davis, who won last year, both had terrific years, and I think we see a time when that baton will be passed to the new brigade.
“We've got five amateurs in the field this week and they're all ranked in the top-20 amateur rankings in the world, so there's a lot of positivity there from previous years.’’
Pitt said it was possible that in the future the Open would revolve around the Australian states, but added that the current contract with the New South Wales government extends to 2023. There are two “out’’ clauses in that contract, meaning that the Open will go to Melbourne in 2020 and 2022.
“It's hard to move,’’ he said. “That's been the reality of tournament life in Australia. The state government partnerships are absolutely critical to the health of the tournament and ultimately you need to make sure the tournament's financially viable and healthy before you can start to do some of those things.
“But we have thought about the future of what that could look like and how we could actually do that (rotate the venues) and there are some ideas, but there's some more of it to go under that bridge because we are contracted in New South Wales until 2023. We have put a lot of thought into what it could look like and how it could have a different reality.’’