By SANJAY NAIR
TALK is rife that the Singapore Open golf championship will return in April or May next year, with a battle developing behind the scenes between two bodies to sanction the event.
Both the Asian Tour and its rival OneAsia Tour have expressed a keen interest in being a part of what was once Asia's richest national Open, with a prize purse of US$6 million (S$7.6 million).
Organisers announced last week that there would be no tournament this year. Instead, it will be held in "early 2014".
The move from its usual November slot is to stay clear of inclement weather, which has disrupted recent editions at the Sentosa Golf Club (SGC).
The Straits Times has learnt that officials are looking at a date after the HSBC Women's Champions in February, which features the world's top female golfers at SGC.
The search continues for a title sponsor to replace British bank Barclays, which chose not to extend its seven-year deal after it ended last year.
There are also doubts over where the Open will be held, as SGC - its home for the last eight years - has not been approached to stage it again.
It is understood that Laguna National and Tanah Merah Country Club, which have hosted a Korean LPGA event and the Women's Champions respectively, have not been contacted as well.
But the uncertainty has not stopped the Asian and OneAsia Tours from throwing their names into the sanctioning hat.
The Asian Tour - the event's sanctioning body since 2005 - hopes to start talks "soon" with Open promoter World Sport Group.
Asian Tour chief executive Mike Kerr said: "We expect that we will continue to sanction the event and ensure the quality of the field and the profile of the event that the golf fans in Singapore and the region have come to expect."
Since the Open was co-sanctioned by the Asian and European Tours in 2009, elite golfers have graced these shores including Major winners Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott.
Having established itself as one of the region's premier tournaments, the Open has attracted the attention of the fledgling OneAsia Tour, which was launched in 2009 and wants to grow its stable of 14 events.
Its spokesman said: "OneAsia remains committed to expanding and increasing tournament opportunities for our players, and the Singapore Open would certainly be an excellent fit on a schedule already boasting the prestigious national Opens of four countries - Australia, China, South Korea and Thailand."
The sanctioning body is critical to attracting the stellar fields that Open fans have come to expect. Last year, a final-day crowd of over 20,000 witnessed young gun Matteo Manassero's play-off win over former British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen.
If it joins OneAsia, the tournament may appear less attractive to top players because OneAsia events carry fewer world ranking points compared to Asian Tour tournaments.
Local pro Quincy Quek, 26, said: "The Asian and European Tours have built the event up by making it a lot bigger and with more star players.
"Being Singapore's flagship golf competition, it's important to keep the event under them for the sake of prestige and recognition."
Fellow pro Choo Tze Huang, 26, who plays on both the Asian and OneAsia Tours, is not concerned over who sanctions the tournament as long as its future is secure.
He said: "Regardless of the sanctioning body, the new sponsor can still bring in the stars if they pay their appearance fees.
"The most important thing is the Singapore Open carries on, attracts new fans and grows the sport locally."