WITH player and tournament announcements coming thick and fast in recent days, February 2017 is shaping to be Australia’s second 'Summer of Golf'.
Karrie Webb confirmed yesterday she will play her 21st consecutive Women’s Australian Open at Royal Adelaide on February 16-19 while the PGA of Australia announced American Patrick Reed and Swede Alex Noren will headline the World Super 6 Perth the same week.
Also revealed yesterday was a new ALPG pro-am style event at Royal Pines to replace the Ladies Masters, with all three announcements coming hot on the heels of Vic Open organisers confirming last week a major purse increase at their event.
Put together, it means there are more significant golf events set for February in Australia than in what has become the traditional ‘Summer of Golf ‘ window of November and December.
THE VIC OPEN IS GOING FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH:
The disappearance of the Australian Masters, at least temporarily, from the local scene in 2016 means the back end of the year now has just two flagship tournaments.
The Australian Open and Australian PGA join the much smaller NSW Open in the lead up to Christmas, meaning what is set to unfold in February could well make the case for being Australia’s real ‘Summer of Golf’.
The new 54-hole ALPG event, already boasting international stars Jiyai Shin and Laura Davies as well as several of Australia’s best known players, kicks things off from February 2-4 at Royal Pines.
The RACV Gold Coast Challenge replaces the revered Australian Ladies Masters and while unlikely to boast as strong a field as that long-running event, will feature some well known names.
But it is one week later that tournament golf kicks into high gear with the most innovative event in the world, the concurrent men’s and women’s Vic Opens at Thirteenth Beach Golf Links near Geelong, to be played from February 9-12.
Approaching its sixth year of bringing top male and female golfers together to fight out two important titles on the same course for the third and final rounds, the Vic Open continues to grow in stature.
The Victorian Government announced last week a boost in funding which will see both the men and women play for purses of $500,000 with another increase expected in 2018.
Karrie Webb’s presence in the 2016 Vic Open is testament to its growing reputation among the players while, for fans, the tournament is a week-long celebration of the game that has proved a huge hit.
The only down side in the February schedule is the clash of events the following week when the LPGA co-sanctioned Women’s Australian Open goes up against the European Tour co-sanctioned World Super 6 Perth.
Traditionally boasting the strongest women’s field in the country each year, the Women’s Open deserves the limelight to itself but the crowded nature of golf calendars worldwide means that is an unlikely scenario.
That the men will be playing an experimental tournament in Perth the same week the world’s best women are in Adelaide sadly dilutes both products, though the time difference between the two cities will allow fans to keep up with both.
The broader issue at question remains whether February is perhaps a better time for Australia to consider running its major golf tournaments.
Until 2001, the Australian Masters always occupied a February time slot and was one of the most successful events in the country.
Several commentators have argued in recent years that the early part of the year makes more sense for Australia to run events with the European Tour, which has already scheduled the Perth event in between Malaysia's Maybank Championship and a pair of events in South Africa.
Both the World Super 6 Perth and the Australian PGA Championship are co-sanctioned by the world’s second biggest circuit and, done carefully, February may attract some stronger fields.
The real sticking point, though, is the behemoth that is the US PGA Tour. While attracting top US-based players to Australia is difficult enough at the best of times, doing so in February would be all but impossible.
The West Coast swing boasts some of the Tour’s most popular events, including the Pebble Beach Pro-Am and LA Open at Riviera Country Club, and is the time of year most of the star players begin their seasons.
But it’s not just the big name Americans who would be hard to attract. So, too, would most of Australia’s US-based golfers.
The likes of Adam Scott and Jason Day are among those beginning their tune-ups for the Masters in February, while for lesser profile players such as former Australian Open winner Matt Jones and Cam Smith, the focus is on earning important FedEx Cup points.
In an ever more competitive landscape for suitable tournament dates, Australian golf has done well to host the number of events it does.
And fans have plenty to look forward to this coming February.
TOM DOAK TO OVERHAUL SYDNEY'S CONCORD GOLF CLUB:
Want video tips delivered straight to your inbox? Subscribe to iseekgolf.com newsletters.