Date: January 24, 2011

Scheduling shambles

20th century German novelist and social critic Paul Thomas Mann, a Nobel prize winner no less, once wrote that “Everything is politics.” In 2011, we could easily exchange the word “everything” for “golf”. Or “professional golf”, to be precise. There was much excitement on these shores a couple of years ago when it was announced the Presidents Cup, the US PGA Tour event invented some 17 years ago with a view to one day rivalling the Ryder Cup, would once again be played at Royal Melbourne Golf Club. While it has yet to come close to its 84-year-old sibling in terms of excitement from the fans and passion from the players, the Presidents Cup has done a reasonable job of establishing itself as an event worth watching. Any time 24 of the world&aposs best players come together to play matchplay for no money it can&apos be a bad thing. But this years&apos staging of the Cup has become mired in politics at both a local and international level. What should be a wonderful celebration of the game and a festival of golf for Australian fans is turning out to be anything but. First there was the undignified spectacle of the scheduling of our three local events around the Cup. Behind the scenes the jockeying for position among tournament organisers, administrators and television executives, for the plum dates of the week before and after the event was a no win situation for everyone. In the end the PGA Tour of Australasia, dealing with what recent board appointee James Erskine described as an “unplayable lie”, announced in the days after Christmas that the Australian Open would be played the week before the Cup in Sydney and the PGA Championship at Coolum would get the date the week after. The point of all this, of course, is the belief that several of the 24 players teeing up in the Cup will make themselves available for play in Australia on either the week before or after the event. That theory may have its own issues but that is a story for another time. Now that schedule all sounds pretty reasonable. The country&aposs two most prestigious championships deserve to be played either side of what will surely be the biggest single week of golf locally since the last time the Cup was played here. Unless you happen to be IMG, the management and events company who own our third major event, the Australian Masters. The Masters was all but dead in the water three years ago until IMG stepped in and managed to persuade, for a healthy fee, the most electric golfer of his generation to play. Tiger Woods had played the Masters once before, in 1997 before he was Tiger Woods so to speak, but his arrival at Kingston Heath for the 2009 event generated publicity the likes of which has never been seen around a golf tournament in this country. His second attendance, after a 2010 which he would rather forget, didn&apost reach those lofty heights but was undoubtedly a publicity boon. And so IMG can feel rightly miffed that they didn&apost get one of the plum dates surrounding the Cup despite the enormous amount of both money and effort they have invested in the Masters. There has been no comment from the company since the schedule was announced and some experts believe that they will simply drop the tournament altogether. The date they have been allocated (December 1-4) guarantees Woods will be a no show as his own Chevron Challenge is on the same week in California. It will also make it all but impossible to attract any of the other major international stars playing in the Cup. Now this has all been somewhat undignified and could have long term ramifications for the Tour locally but an even bigger issue has now been put on the table. In early January the South African Tour, which co-sanctions several events with the European Tour, announced their 2011 schedule. The South African Open, one of those co-sanctioned events, has been set down for November 17-20 – the same week as the Presidents Cup. Ernie Els is the defending champion of his national title and also number one in the standings for the Presidents Cup team. Four other South Africans, Charl Schwarzel, Retief Goosen, Tim Clark and reigning British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, are also almost guaranteed a spot on the International team. But now they have a decision to make: play their national championship or tee up in Melbourne against the US team. Els, for one, is extremely unhappy with this turn of events. “It doesn&apost make sense,” Els told Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press the day of the announcement. “This is my national Open. I don&apost get a chance to play there often. I don&apost know about the timing of this, but I&aposm sure the U.S. tour had the date set already for the Presidents Cup. Then the European Tour comes in and … why are they trying to (mess) with myself and Retief and Tim? Don&apost they have any regard for the Presidents Cup?” Of course, the short answer to that last question is a resounding “NO”. The European Tour makes nothing out of the Presidents Cup and is in fact locked in a battle with the US PGA Tour for world supremacy. The current world number one, Lee Westwood, is a European Tour player who has actively turned his back on the US in recent years. (In fact Westwood recently announced he would likely not play the US Tour&aposs flagship event, The Players&apos Championship, this year because of scheduling restrictions on non US Tour members). Rising star Rory McIlroy and reigning PGA Champion Martin Kaymer have also decided not to take up US Tour membership and three of the four majors in 2010 were won by European Tour players. It would seem the European Tour is keen to flex its new found muscle after more than two decades of playing second fiddle to the booming US Tour and it has chosen the Presidents Cup as one place to start doing it. Professional golf is a game that is greater than the sum of its parts but apparently the bit players, the US and European Tours, don&apost realise that. In their ongoing turf war there will only be one real victim: the fans. If nothing changes between now and November somebody is going to lose out, either the fans in South Africa who won&apost get to see their home grown stars or the fans in Australia who won&apost get to see some of the best international players. It&aposs hard to see how this benefits either organisation, let alone the game, but as is always the case with politics the bigger picture has been lost in the insular effort to protect one&aposs own patch. Let&aposs hope common sense prevails and something changes between now and November. Otherwise, this whole Presidents Cup campaign could end up doing more harm than good. – Rod Morri 24/01/2011 – _________ Rod Morri is the creator and presenter of Talkin&apos Golf