This is an opinion piece on the contrasting difference of two golf tournaments in Australia and I write this because I care about our industry as well as our game. Golf is going through a challenging time at the moment and we need to maximise any opportunity we get whenever the spotlight is on.
I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s Australian Open 2018 on the final round as a clubhouse guest. I was invited to attend a lunch there which was fantastic and the clubhouse, as well as the food, was amazing.
I could not fault the course, the way it was run and the presentation in general. What was really disappointing was the lack of atmosphere at the tournament. The Australia Open is our premier golf tournament and at one stage was rated the 5th
Major outside the big four majors. The past winners of the event include Nicklaus, Player, Palmer, Thomson, Norman McIlroy and Spieth. These are legends that most golfers would know and I don’t have to mention their first name for people to know who they are.
I’m sure in the past this was “THE” golf tournament but over recent years, it has turned into a tournament that the big names in today’s golf just do not rate and do not come down for.
I am sure there are many issues, which I will discuss below but if we keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result then we are practising the definition of insanity. I know this sounds harsh but we need to help grow the game and encourage as many as we can to play.
You then look at the World Cup of Golf held at Metropolitan Golf Club in Victoria the week after and it was a stark difference. I was not as fortunate this time to attend but it looked a lot different from the Australian Open. From what I could see on TV, it had a stronger crowd presence and the hospitality tents looked full. To me even watching it on TV there seemed to be a different atmosphere which is what we need at our golf tournaments.
So let’s do some comparisons.
To get big sponsorship money we need as many eyeballs on the tournament as possible. What this means is that it needs to rate well on TV and that all the tickets through the gate must be sold out. This gives the sponsors and advertisers an opportunity to present their brand to as many people as possible.
An example of this is Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson played a head to head match on Thanks Giving Day in America. The prize pool was $9 million USD for two players to go head to head. Let me repeat that, $9 million USD for just 2 golfers. This is not the best 10 golfers in the world going head to head. This was just two and to watch the match you had to buy it on pay per view which means you needed to pay. The sponsors knew they could get a return on their investment because there would be many people interested in watching Woods vs Mickelson battling it out on a golf course. The amazing thing is that they did not even sell a single ticket to the event. The big sponsors had all the tickets and only gave it to “their” customers.
In order to sell out an event, we need “draw cards”. We need to give people a reason to watch and for that, we need the big names in golf to play in the tournament. Think about the first time Tiger Woods came to Australia. It was a smash and I believe we paid him $1 million dollars to attend. The appearance money was almost bigger than the total tournament prize purse but it was worth it. Consider all the interstate and international guests flying in staying at hotels, eating out and spending money on the local economy. These events don’t just drive golf, they drive tourism, interest in our states and country.
So, it would be safe to say we need to start with the players but how do we get them to come down to Australia.
A month ago there was a golf tournament called The CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges in South Korea. To be fair this was a co-sanction event with the PGA Tour but the total purse was $9.5 million USD, $13 million Australian and the winner who was Brooks Koepka this year walked away with $1.71 million USD. Fast forward to the Australian Open, the total purse was worth $1.25 million AUD and the winner walked away with $225 000 AUD. The winner’s cheque at The CJ Cup was almost double the total purse at The Australian Open. Also the big three in Australian golf, Jason Day, Marc Leishman and Adam Scott all played in South Korea.
You then look at the World Cup of Golf. Total prize pool was $7 million USD which is just over $9.5 million Australian and each winner walked away with $1.12 million USD which is once again more than the total prize pool at the Australian Open. This was another co-sanction event but it is a big difference.
Many have said the timing of the Australian golf tournaments are wrong and that we should move them to the start of the year. Some have said that because it is such a long season on the PGA Tour the last thing a Tour Professional wants to do is fly 24 hours to play golf in Australia for very little money. If the purse was $13 million dollars then it would be totally different.
The issue with moving it is that it clashes with the PGA Tour and the Tour really kicks off in Hawaii at the Sony Open which is on the 10th
of January 2019. After that it starts to build so the chances a PGA Tour professional or a European Tour player will come down would be limited.
I believe the lack of atmosphere related to the lack of crowd size which then related to the lack of stars that played. I am not saying that if Day, Leishman and Scott turned up it would have been way better but it would have helped.
You can say that golf is a hard sport to watch but so is a lot of other sports live. I have been too many AFL games and sat in the nosebleeds and couldn’t see what was going on but it was still great to be there amongst it. I have been to a concert and paid almost $200 a ticket and I could not see the performer. I ended up watching her on the big screen but once again the atmosphere was awesome and I would do it again. I think if you can build the right atmosphere consumers will pay for the experience. Look at how much talk and effort the NFL, NBA, AFL and NRL have on their pre-game, half time, and post-match entertainment. After all, sport is an entertainment product.
You are not going to scream and shout at golf tournament because that is not what the sport is all about but you want people to be able to say, I was there for that.
So what is the solution?
We know for a fact we do not have the money to compete with the other tournaments around the world. Unless it is a co-sanction event with the PGA Tour or European Tour we know we are not going to get the stars or have the money.
Like I said this is a vicious cycle. In order for a tournament to sell out, we need the big name players. To get the big name players we need to give them an incentive to play which generally means appearance money or prize money. We need to make it worth their time to come down and play.
It is easy to crap on everything without providing some type of solution. Will it work, I don’t know but we need to try. I have thought about this a lot over the last couple of weeks and I believe in order for a big star to come down and play we need to turn it into an experience for them.
We all know Australia is a very unique part of the world and we are also very isolated. We have some of the best golf courses in the world and for a professional golfer to say “Hey let’s go down to Australia for a holiday” is going to be very rare. There are many other interesting places which they can visit which are a lot closer for them and Australia gets pushed down the list.
There were 3 major tournaments in Australia this year. The first was the Australian Open in Sydney. The second was the World Cup in Melbourne and the one after that is the Australian PGA in Gold Coast. We also know Australia is a remote destination to come for a week. It would make sense if we could keep a big name star down in Australia for 3 weeks but it is a big commitment.
So what do I mean by experience? Think about when you want to travel to a new place. The amount of research you must do to ensure you get the best experience possible adds up very quickly. But imagine if you had a local tour guide who understood what you and your family liked to do and they took you around to make sure you got the most out of the trip and it was free, now I am sure some will jump at the chance.
Instead of offering some players a large appearance fee could we say to the top 20 golfers in the world, come to Australia, bring your family and we will take care of everything. From flights, accommodation, food, entertainment and transportation we will look after you. All you need to do is spend 3 weeks playing golf. While you play, we will look after your family for you. For example in Sydney we will take your family to the Taronga Zoo, Bondi beach, climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge, tour the Opera House, take them shopping and do all the tourist things while you are at “work”. We will let them experience Sydney like never before and could we use some video clips of their experience during the golf coverage to promote tourism in Australia in what could be a global television coverage.
Then you can do the same in Melbourne and Brisbane/Gold Coast. The beauty is that all three cities are very different and the experience each big name star would get along with their families is something they could never get at home.
Some might say how much will this cost? Well if you do it right and approach the right companies not that much at all. You would talk to an airline company, hotel chain and car rental company. Offer them advertising at the golf tournaments and in return they get the players to Australia, put them up in nice accommodation and give them a car to use while they are here. More then anything, the government both local and federal would be attracted to the investment due to the tourism, after all that is where most of the money comes from now. Oh, but did I mention most states currently ask for players to be exclusive before they invest?
Things have to change.
The greater marque talent we can attract, the better. It means the product is more marketable. The hype creates atmosphere. We sell more tickets and advertising which then in turn can further increase the prize money and make it more lucrative for the golfers. Even Australians would plan to travel between the 3 states to follow the action.
Instead of selling the prize money or how good the golf courses are in Australia, can we sell them on the tourism and travel package "Down Under"? As this is one of the best countries in the world, we are a high targeted tourist destination and yes, we have amazing golf courses to.
So to all the big names out there, come to Australia for a 3 week holiday on us. All you need to do is play the game you love at three awesome and different locations and we’ll make sure your family has a ball. The trip of a lifetime and one that the family will remember forever.
The Golfer wins, Australian golf wins and global golf wins. Surely it’s worth considering right?