FALCONER: Fantastic February - but what now?

Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson

 

In February, Australian golf fans were treated to three world-class events in three different states, sanctioned by three of the world’s most powerful Tours.

Fittingly all four champions triumphed in thrilling circumstances late in the final round, giving each tournament organiser a reason to celebrate come Sunday night.

The Oates Vic Open is the country’s fastest-growing golf tournament and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Its reputation – and combined prize pool – continue to grow and as the only dual-event of its kind around the globe, the Ladies European Tour’s first stop on the calendar has never been more popular with both players and fans.

Then the ISPS HANDA Women’s Australian Open at Royal Adelaide lured many of Europe’s best further west.

With the addition of the LPGA Tour’s biggest stars – including four of the world’s top eight –   the galleries were treated to the best women’s golf field seen on our shores.

Next, the old Perth International was one of the first beneficiaries of the European Tour’s doctrine to make the game more appealing to more people.

On debut, the ISPS HANDA World Super 6 Perth was a raw but roaring success.

Local hero Brett Rumford wasn’t the only winner at Lake Karrinyup, with the progressive circuit busting out a new tournament format that delivered another gripping finish and scope for improvement in 2018.

In February, rusted-on golf fans were exposed to three of the highest-quality events ever held in our country.

Even the common sports fan and those with only a fleeting interest in the game would have been impressed with what they saw.

But while the nation’s top sports jostle for year-round media coverage that continues long after their seasons are finished, golf finds itself in a peculiar position.

The world’s big guns won’t return to our shores until November, with interest in the professional game in Australia again likely to wane through the winter months.

The football codes will retake the limelight, but it’s a shame that professional golf in Australia goes largely unnoticed.

The ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia’s season is underway but its most recognised events in the coming months are overseas, with next month’s New Zealand Open and August’s Fiji International the schedule’s clear standouts.

Later in the year as the PGA Tour winds up and the European Tour reaches its pointy end, Australian golf fans will again be treated to the game’s top talents.

But unfortunately, the 2017 Australian Summer of Golf is in danger of spanning only a fortnight.

The Emirates Australian Open and Australian PGA Championship have successfully negotiated their way into a packed international calendar, thanks to the quality of the events on and away from the course.

Two-time Emirates Australian Open champion Jordan Spieth has indicated he’ll be back, so he can both defend his crown and continue his love affair with Australia.

The Texan’s appearance fee means he won’t come cheap but he’s arguably worth every penny.

The same goes for Jason Day.

The World Number Two is expected to make his first trip home since 2013 next summer, after a string of annual setbacks that have left many wondering whether he’s likely to come back at all.

The partnership born between the European Tour and the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia should also means this year’s trip to the Gold Coast includes more of Europe’s best.

But how can professional golf in Australia be watched by bigger audiences, for longer?

The men’s and women’s Australian Opens both move the needle in their own right, but would playing them in back-to-back weeks – or joining forces Oates Vic Open-style – be worth considering?

Clashing schedules between the world’s top tours – and a lack of desire to accommodate for one another – makes finding a large window to host a string of consecutive events nearly impossible.

But there’s no doubt Australian golf fans want more. More top players, playing more regularly on our best courses.

If the revamped NSW Open can find the right home, an adequate slot in the international schedule and a sponsor with a big chequebook, it has potential to develop into another intriguing spectacle.

The country’s governing bodies have proven they can facilitate engaging tournaments that wouldn’t look out of place in the US or Europe.

Hopefully there will be more top shelf events in the future – and we can all enjoy more months like February.

 

Check back each week for the latest addition to Golf Victoria’s new column by Justin Falconer.