For­mer Aus­tralian Open cham­pion Ge­off Ogilvy writes that our na­tional cham­pi­onship isn’t what it used to be and sug­gests what changes need to be made for it to re­turn to its glory days.

Grow­ing up in Mel­bourne, I was al­ways told that the Aus­tralian Open was golf’s ‘fifth ma­jor’. It had such a great his­tory, so the case was per­sua­sive. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nick­laus and Gary Player had all reg­u­larly come down to play and all three had won the event. So I was sold.

But, look­ing back now, that our Open was hailed as the fifth most im­por­tant event in the game is hard to imag­ine. We be­lieved it then though, be­cause Greg Nor­man played ev­ery year and so did so many other iconic names of that era.

It all made sense. The Aus­tralian Open, af­ter all, was the big­gest event in a coun­try that has pro­duced so many good and great golfers. It was one of the tour­na­ments ev­ery­one wanted to win. It might not have car­ried the big­gest purse in the game, but, along with other na­tional Opens around the world, it was re­ally im­por­tant. I mean, who doesn’t want to win some­thing called, say, ‘The Scot­tish Open?’ A ti­tle like that car­ries with it great his­tory and pres­tige.

I speak from ex­pe­ri­ence. When I won the


Aus­tralian Open at The Lakes back in 2010 I was com­pet­ing around the world at the high­est level. So that vic­tory wasn’t the most im­por­tant thing for me at the time. Back then, my head was full of the money and the ex­emp­tions and the no­to­ri­ety that comes with win­ning any­thing. And the Aus­tralian Open didn’t pro­vide much in any of those de­part­ments.

But as the years go by, that vic­tory is more and more a source of great pride for me. By the time I am done play­ing, it will rep­re­sent the sec­ond-big­gest win of my ca­reer af­ter the 2006 US Open. Big­ger than any of my three World Golf Cham­pi­onship wins.

The Stone­haven Cup is just a re­ally cool thing to have on my man­tel­piece. Over time it will mean a lot more to me than, say, the Buick In­vi­ta­tional on the PGA Tour. I’m not re­ally go­ing to re­mem­ber that too well in my old age. But I’m never go­ing to for­get the 2010 Aus­tralian Open. The pas­sage of time makes it more and more im­por­tant. And that is what ul­ti­mately proves it is a great tour­na­ment.

Given that fact, the Aus­tralian Open is the one tour­na­ment in this coun­try that has a real chance to get re­ally big, which is not to say that mak­ing it re­ally big is go­ing to be easy. The eco­nomic clout of the PGA Tour has done much to ‘ruin’ so many events held out­side the United States. Only those in the Mid­dle East and maybe the HSBC event in China have been able to com­pete fi­nan­cially. You need sub­stan­tial cor­po­rate back­ing if you want to hang with those run­ning $10m tour­na­ments.

Money is just one of the prob­lems fac­ing the Aus­tralian Open to­day. Maybe 25 years ago the prize fund was com­pet­i­tive. But that is no longer the case. In fact, we are now play­ing the Aus­tralian Open for less money than when I turned pro­fes­sional two decades ago. It was a big tour­na­ment back then. Played to­wards the end of the north­ern hemi­sphere sum­mer it was sur­rounded by a few other big events. So play­ers from else­where could bring their fam­i­lies and make the long trip worth­while. It made sense.

Now it makes less sense. The tour­na­ment date is an is­sue. This year, for ex­am­ple, the Aus­tralian Open clashes with the DP World Tour Cham­pi­onship in Dubai, the sea­son-end­ing event on the Euro­pean Tour. So there is no pos­si­bil­ity of any of the top-60 play­ers on the world’s sec­ond-big­gest cir­cuit tee­ing-up at The Lakes. It also clashes with the big­gest event on the Ja­panese Tour, the Dun­lop Phoenix, which means the Aussies ply­ing their trade on that Tour will be there and not at The Lakes.

Plus, for ev­ery for­eign vis­i­tor, there is a tax is­sue in Aus­tralia. There is tax ev­ery­where, of course. But in Aus­tralia we have a 48 per­cent with­hold­ing tax. So ev­ery player loses half of their prize money. They could win, say, $100,000 in the tour­na­ment, only get $50,000 and then have to pay their ex­penses on top. So maybe they take home around $30,000. That’s a lot of money, but the same play­ers could go to a ‘Silly Sea­son’ event in the United States, make the same money and stay at home.

Lo­gis­ti­cally, the Aus­tralian Open has been squeezed into a box that is dišcult to es­cape from. No one did any­thing wrong to cre­ate that part of this sce­nario. It’s just what has hap­pened. But plenty of mis­takes have also been made along the way. Mov­ing al­most ex­clu­sively to Syd­ney was a great deal fi­nan­cially. But it has changed the iden­tity of the Aus­tralian Open. To­day, it is just a ‘nor­mal’ tour­na­ment that hap­pens to be played in Syd­ney. We’re not play­ing our na­tional Open on a rota of our best cour­ses.

Which is not to say that The Lakes, The Aus­tralian and Royal Syd­ney are not part of that rota. But we need to be show­ing the world what

we have. And to al­most shut out the likes of Royal Mel­bourne, Kingston Heath, Royal Ade­laide and New South Wales is a mis­take. A golf tour­na­ment in many ways is an ad­ver­tise­ment for the host coun­try and we are not show­ing our­selves to our best ad­van­tage. Imag­ine if the US Open sold it­self to one city. What a waste of re­sources that would be. And the same is true of Aus­tralia.

An­other con­se­quence of past de­ci­sions is that, lo­gis­ti­cally, the tour­na­ment is be­ing run so poorly. So much doesn’t work too well … lit­tle things that make a di€er­ence. Park­ing. The rop­ing-o€ of the fair­ways. I hate to say this, but the Aus­tralian Open feels like a sec­ond-sec­on­drate tour­na­ment now. I’m sure it is run in the same way it was 30 years ago. But tour­na­ments else­where have pro­gressed so much. And the di€er­ences show.

That is true when you com­pare the Aus­tralian Open with other big sport­ing events in this coun­try. The Open ten­nis, the Mel­bourne Cup, the Grand Prix and the AFL Grand Fi­nal are all miles bet­ter than the golf. They are mas­sive events. And the Aus­tralian Open golf should be in that sort of con­ver­sa­tion. But it has fallen be­hind all of those other sports. There is an ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion. The big­gest suc­cess story in golf is the Mas­ters at Au­gusta Na­tional. It is the only tour­na­ment that never talks about money. They don’t ad­ver­tise or mar­ket them­selves. They just go out of their way to run the best tour­na­ment they can. They want the best tees, the best fair­ways, the best ropes, the best food, the best park­ing – all to pro­vide the best ex­pe­ri­ence for ev­ery­one in­side the gate. And, over the years,

that con­stant at­ten­tion to de­tail has cre­ated the world’s best golf tour­na­ment (the other three ma­jors are cham­pi­onships), one that ev­ery­one wants to see. That is a great ex­am­ple for the Aus­tralian Open. The aim should be to run the best golf tour­na­ment in Aus­tralia. Do that and the money will come. How do I know that? There is a per­fect ex­am­ple much closer to home than the state of Ge­or­gia in the US.

The Aus­tralian Open needs to fol­low the ex­am­ple of the Vic­to­rian Open. The Aus­tralian Open needs to make it­self a bet­ter prod­uct. For­get about the money and just run a great tour­na­ment. Build it and the peo­ple will come. The Vic Open is liv­ing proof of that. Armed with a great con­cept – com­bin­ing men and women’s events – and an in­ter­est­ing venue it has, in four or five years, gone from be­ing a largely ir­rel­e­vant state Open to a Euro­pean Tour and Ladies Euro­pean Tour event. It is now maybe the sec­ond-big­gest event in the coun­try.

All of which has been achieved by just run­ning a nice tour­na­ment. Money was tight, so they clearly de­cided just to be the best tour­na­ment they could be. The re­sult is that many of the best women play­ers now come and play. The men too – and there will be more than ever of them next Fe­bru­ary. Proof that a qual­ity tour­na­ment – run well – doesn’t have to chase the cash. As I said, get it right and the money will even­tu­ally come.

Think about it. Over the past few years the Vic Open has been widely talked about as the best event in the coun­try. And now they are be­ing re­warded for that. Next year it will o‘er more prize­money than the Aus­tralian Open. Which is ridicu­lous. Word of mouth is a pow­er­ful thing. And shows how pos­si­ble it is to cre­ate a big event by do­ing all the lit­tle things well.

Sadly, the Aus­tralian Open seems to be head­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. For ex­am­ple, this year the event will not o‘er (as it has done in re­cent years) on-course ra­dio cov­er­age to spec­ta­tors and, through the in­ter­net, golf fans world­wide. That is a mis­take. Golf Aus­tralia should be em­ploy­ing young­sters to go out on



the course so that they can tweet and In­sta­gram ev­ery­thing they see and hear. Lit­tle things like that pro­mote the event bril­liantly. We need to tell the world how much fun you can have at the golf. Make it a cool thing to do. Get that mes­sage out there. Via the in­ter­net, the po­ten­tial mar­ket is seven bil­lion. Via Aus­tralian tele­vi­sion the mar­ket is a pro­por­tion of 24 mil­lion.

Other things would ob­vi­ously help. The Aus­tralian Open would overnight be a big­ger deal if all of our best play­ers were in the field. Ev­ery player who any­one has ever heard of needs to be com­pet­ing. But the sit­u­a­tion we have now – Ja­son Day, Marc Leish­man and Adam Scott will all be miss­ing this year – is not the fault of the play­ers. It is the fault of the tour­na­ment.

A bet­ter job needs to be done with player li­ai­son. Ques­tions need to be asked. What do you want? Why aren’t you com­ing? Let’s fix it.

This might sound odd, but nearly ev­ery­one would want to play, even in a low-purse Aus­tralian Open. All we have to do is make it a lit­tle bit eas­ier for them to come. I am ab­so­lutely cer­tain that, with the ex­cep­tion of the top-dozen play­ers, if you gave just about any PGA Tour player a first-class ticket – do a deal with Qan­tas if that is what it takes – booked them a nice ho­tel room and fed them for a week, many of them would play in the Aus­tralian Open. In the big scheme of things, that is not too ex­pen­sive.

In the medium-term, a struc­ture needs to be cre­ated where the Aus­tralian Open bounces around the coun­try a bit more. Go­ing to Mel­bourne in two of the next few years is not good enough. Gov­ern­ments shouldn’t own the na­tional Open; the golfers should. I’m not sure what club mem­bers across the coun­try would think of this idea, but here goes.

One way to raise money to op­er­ate the Aus­tralian Open would be to charge ev­ery golf club mem­ber, say $5. Or maybe a small per­cent­age of what­ever dues ev­ery mem­ber pays. In our an­nual fees we al­ready pay in­sur­ance and some other lit­tle things. So why not an ‘Aus­tralian Open’ fee? Let’s say we have 500,000 reg­is­tered golfers giv­ing $10, that’s $5m and the to­tal bud­get for the event.

For that ges­ture, ev­ery golf club mem­ber could get a dis­counted Aus­tralian Open ticket, all for con­tribut­ing in a small way to the tour­na­ment fund. In other words, give ev­ery club mem­ber own­er­ship in the tour­na­ment. Make it their event. Cre­ate some loy­alty. And give them credit dur­ing the cov­er­age. Tell them it is through their gen­eros­ity that the tour­na­ment ex­ists. Now come and see what you have done.

If some ver­sion of all of the above comes to pass, there is no rea­son why the Aus­tralian Open can­not com­pete with our other great sport­ing events – at least in terms of qual­ity. No, it might not – at least in the short-term – en­gen­der the same re­spect world­wide. But give it time.


Ogilvy ranks his 2010 Aus­tralian Open tri­umph as a ca­reer high­light, due to the tour­na­ment’s rich his­tory.

Crowds gather round the 2nd green at The Aus­tralian dur­ing last year’s Open.

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