1st event blown off course

S'pore Open moves to 2022, first major tournament hit by Covid-19 this year

Left: Matt Kuchar during the final round of the SMBC Singapore Open at Sentosa's Serapong Course last year. The American, who won the event, was playing in Singapore for the first time. Below: Spectators viewing the action at the Sentosa Pavilion nea
Matt Kuchar during the final round of the SMBC Singapore Open at Sentosa's Serapong Course last year. The American, who won the event, was playing in Singapore for the first time. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Left: Matt Kuchar during the final round of the SMBC Singapore Open at Sentosa's Serapong Course last year. The American, who won the event, was playing in Singapore for the first time. Below: Spectators viewing the action at the Sentosa Pavilion nea
Spectators viewing the action at the Sentosa Pavilion near the 18th hole during the third round of the tournament last year.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

The SMBC Singapore Open has become the first major sports event in Singapore to be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic this year as organisers announced yesterday that the next edition of the tournament will take place in 2022.

Patrick Feizal Joyce, senior vice-president golf-Asia of Sportfive, said that organisers had worked with various authorities and stakeholders to come up with a way to hold the competition safely.

While Japanese bank SMBC, the Singapore Tourism Board and Sentosa Golf Club (SGC) "were extremely supportive of the various operational options that were formulated", a decision was made to postpone the tournament, which is co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and Japan Golf Tour Organisation, in light of the pandemic.

Joyce said: "Ultimately public health and safety remain the highest priority for us and due to the evolving nature of the Covid-19 situation around the world, we felt it would be prudent for us to stay patient and work towards holding the next edition in 2022."

Last year's edition of the US$1 million (S$1.3 million) tournament, which took place from Jan 16-19 at SGC's Serapong Course, was the last high-profile competition here before the pandemic resulted in the cancellation of many major sports events around the globe. That tournament saw the participation of 156 golfers from North and South America, Africa, Europe and Asia, including winner American Matt Kuchar, the 2016 Olympics bronze medallist, as well as Olympic champion and former US Open winner Justin Rose of England.

Although he was disappointed, Singapore's top professional golfer Quincy Quek, who took part in last year's competition, understood the decision.

The 33-year-old said: "It's better to do it when everything has settled down. Being the event that it is, you'll want it to live up to its name so you don't really want to organise it for the sake of having the tournament. Before this, we'd heard rumours that it was going to be held in March, then in the middle of the year, so it's good that there's a definite answer rather than to leave it hanging."

A CHALLENGE TO STAGE

Staging the Singapore Open could have been challenging given the number of people that would have been involved. Even without fans in attendance, running the event would involve close to 900 people, ranging from players, caddies, officials, volunteers and SGC crew.

Singapore Golf Association president Ross Tan was supportive of organisers Sportfive's call, saying: "While it is truly a shame that the tournament won't be held this year, we have been involved in the discussions throughout the planning process and are fully supportive of the difficult decision that has been made by Sportfive."

A GRADUAL OPENING UP

While the pandemic continues to rage, professional sport has been up and running for some time, albeit with strict protocols such as regular testing of athletes and biosecure bubbles in play.

Golf's top tier, the United States-based PGA Tour, resumed last June and this year, some events are even welcoming a small number of fans to courses.

In Singapore, the easing of measures in the fourth quarter of last year enabled live sport to return to the Republic to some degree.

Yesterday's announcement comes a day after Sport Singapore and the professional men's tennis tour announced that an ATP 250 tournament would take place from Feb 22-28. The third-tier indoor hard-court event will see a 28-strong singles field and 16-pair doubles field.

In a statement on Wednesday, the national sports agency said that the tennis event, which comes immediately after the Australian Open in Melbourne, "will be an important facet of enabling international sporting events to return to Singapore in stages through 2021".

Football's Singapore Premier League (SPL) restarted on Oct 17 and mixed martial arts (MMA) organisation One Championship has staged several live fights since Oct 9, with all of One's events involving overseas-based fighters. The latest edition - Unbreakable - will take place today.

While both the SPL and MMA events had begun behind closed doors, restrictions were eventually eased such that they were able to welcome a couple of hundred spectators by the end of last year, though attendees were subject to stringent Covid-19 protocols such as rapid antigen testing, safe distancing and temperature checks.

One's fights are part of a pilot project the Government hopes will help identify a model that can be widely implemented so more large-scale events can resume safely in Singapore.

The Republic is hosting the M2 World Championship, a major e-sports tournament for the game title Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, which started on Monday and ends on Sunday. The competition features two local and 10 foreign five-man teams.

The MMA and e-sports events featured international athletes who were subject to quarantine and testing upon arrival besides other protocols such as restricted movements between their hotels and the competition venue.

Each of them saw a few of the overseas arrivals testing positive for Covid-19 but they were isolated and treated and no clusters have emerged so far.

The HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens looks set to return this year, although it has been postponed from its traditional April slot to Oct 29-30 while the Singapore Grand Prix is pencilled in for Oct 3. The Republic's other marquee golf event, the HSBC Women's World Championship which usually takes place in February-March, is slated for April 29 to May 2.

Sports business group leader for Deloitte South-east Asia James Walton feels that hosting the SMBC Singapore Open this year would not have made much sense from a business perspective. Uncertainties such as whether top players will travel to Singapore for the tournament and the lack of fans make it less enticing for sponsors.

He said: "For an event like this with a relatively large prize pool, to have pretty much no or very limited number of spectators would be quite damaging because the online and TV viewing numbers are probably not that huge. If I'm the sponsor and there's not going to be any spectators on-site, that affects the value that I'm receiving."

NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL FOR AMATEUR SPORT

The SMBC Singapore Open is not the only event on the local sports calendar that has been impacted by the pandemic this year.

With amateur sport still limited to groups of just eight, the first round of the Netball Super League, originally set to start tomorrow, was cancelled by Netball Singapore. Instead of the usual two rounds, the tournament will have just one, which starts on Feb 20.

The Ministry of Education also announced that this year's National School Games will not feature certain team sports such as football, hockey, and rugby.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2021, with the headline '1st event blown off course'. Subscribe