Golf: Upbeat outlook for Singapore Open

A large crowd following world No. 7 Adam Scott of Australia, a three-time Singapore Open champion, as he walked towards the eighth green during the final round last month.
A large crowd following world No. 7 Adam Scott of Australia, a three-time Singapore Open champion, as he walked towards the eighth green during the final round last month.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Promoters hopeful of extension following strong support since its return to calendar

Promoters of the Singapore Open are encouraged by the golf tournament's comeback and are hopeful the US$1 million (S$1.41 million) event will continue beyond its current deal with Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC).

Close to 25,000 spectators flocked to the Sentosa Golf Club over four days last month to watch the likes of stars Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els.

The Asian Tour and Japan Golf Tour Organisation (JGTO) co-sanctioned event was eventually won by Thai veteran Prayad Marksaeng.

The 2016 edition, which was the first Singapore Open since 2012 after it could not find a sponsor for three years, drew crowds of about 20,000 and was headlined by then-world No. 1 Jordan Spieth.

Next year will be the final instalment of the three-year contract with Japanese bank SMBC and Patrick Feizal Joyce, the vice-president of golf for tournament promoter Lagardere Sports, was optimistic of an extension.

He told The Straits Times: "We have every intention of beginning the conversation about extending the partnership of this event very soon. I hope I'm not speaking out of turn but SMBC seem to be quite pleased with the event.

MAJOR BACKERS

We wouldn't have the likes of Nikkei, Shangri-La, BMW, Rolex... if they didn't think and know this was a quality product.

PATRICK FEIZAL JOYCE, tournament promoter Lagardere Sports' vice-president of golf, on the big companies associated with the event.

QUALITY OVER QUANTITY

It's better to keep it at US$1 million or US$1.5 million and do it every year rather than do a US$6 million and then not have it for a few years.

MARDAN MAMAT, the Republic's top golfer, on the importance of ensuring the tournament remains an annual affair.

"We've done everything we can do to satisfy their requirements and present the event at a level and quality that we promised them."

In its heyday, the Singapore Open, previously backed by Barclays, had a prize purse that topped US$6 million, making it Asia's richest national Open. The hefty sum put it almost on a par with major international events like the European Tour's PGA Championship and the World Golf Championship-HSBC Champions.

The sizeable pay cheque - with the winner taking home US$1 million - drew big names like multiple Major champions Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy and big crowds, with a record 40,000 fans in 2008.

Joyce conceded that the days of such enormous purses are now unrealistic, given the current economic climate, but the Singapore Open's US$1 million bounty has not lessened its status.

He said: "We wouldn't have the likes of Nikkei, Shangri-La, BMW, Rolex, these kinds of partners and brands if they didn't think and know this was a quality product."

Singapore's No. 1 golfer Mardan Mamat added that it was crucial the tournament's long-term future was secure. He said: "It's better to keep it at US$1 million or US$1.5 million and do it every year rather than do a US$6 million and then not have it for a few years."

The past two Singapore Opens have also been televised live on the Golf Channel in the United States - a first - and the 2017 edition was, for the first time, included as part of The British Open Qualifying Series which will see four players given slots in golf's oldest Major.

Joyce added: "The prestige factor of the event and the presentation, the kind of players that are coming and the appeal the event still holds not just among the golfing fraternity... it still has a great amount of value."

Weather delays remain par for the course for the tournament, whose first edition took place in 1961. But moving the event - which was previously held in November - to another date outside the north-east monsoon season is not an option.

The second half of the year on the Asian Tour and JGTO calendar is extremely congested, he said.

"We want to position it as the season opener, which works for SMBC as well. It gives them a chance to engage their clients and business partners at the start of the year.

"From a player acquisition standpoint, it is early enough from the WGCs (in March) and Masters (April). So the top players are quite amenable to coming and playing here."

Joyce also ruled out a change of scenery for the Singapore Open. The neighbouring and recently renovated $32 million New Tanjong Course will host next month's HSBC Women's Champions and the 2018 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship.

The Singapore Open will however, remain at Serapong, ranked 58th in Golf Digest's list of the World's 100 Greatest Golf Courses last year.

Joyce said: "Last year the focus was on re-launching the event with a bang... This year was maintaining that but enhancing other areas for the spectators and the viewing public. Every year we'll strive to improve on that and add different things to the event."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2017, with the headline 'Upbeat outlook for S'pore Open'. Print Edition | Subscribe