More stars on fans' wish list next year

Spectators gather at the 18th hole at Sentosa Golf Club's Serapong Course at the SMBC Singapore Open yesterday. The tournament drew close to 20,000 spectators from Thursday to yesterday.
Spectators gather at the 18th hole at Sentosa Golf Club's Serapong Course at the SMBC Singapore Open yesterday. The tournament drew close to 20,000 spectators from Thursday to yesterday. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The return of the Singapore Open after a three-year absence may have received the thumbs up from local golf fans but they are keen for more star power at next year's edition.

The US$1 million (S$1.44 million) tournament, now sponsored by Japanese bank SMBC for three years after British bank Barclays ended its partnership in 2012, drew close to 20,000 spectators over the four tournament days.

The event goes into an unexpected fifth day owing to a rain delay but is not expected to draw a huge crowd given that it is a working day.

This year's attendance was above expectations and encouraging, noted Patrick Feizal Joyce, vice-president of golf at Lagardere Sports, promoter of the Singapore Open.

He added: "We had hoped for a good turnout for the return of the Singapore Open and we knew there was a lot of interest in the event but even we were surprised at the turnout by the fans."

The arrival of world No. 1 Jordan Spieth, the game's hottest name at the moment, proved to be a massive hit with the fans. Organisers also offered free entry on Thursday to the Sentosa Golf Club (SGC) grounds, to bring in more people.

The 22-year-old American, who won the Masters and US Open last year, consistently drew the largest following every day with more than 3,000 tracking him during his round yesterday.

Hospitality consultant Yashaas Rajan, 26, who was trailing Spieth on Saturday, was thrilled to be able to watch his golfing hero up close.

Said the Indian, who moved to Singapore last year: "It's my first time watching a golf tournament live and everything was well organised.

"The atmosphere was very exciting too."

Even the notoriously fickle monsoon weather, which caused several rain delays throughout the tournament week, could not dampen interest levels.

Said American Robert Blalock, 51 and a resident in the Republic since 2008: "The course was in a great condition. The previous Singapore Opens had bigger crowds but this felt more intimate. You could get really close to the players this time, which was nice."

In its heyday, the Open had a prize purse of US$6 million - making it Asia's richest national Open - and drew a clutch of international stars like Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Adam Scott, Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter.

The 2008 event, won by India's Jeev Milkha Singh in a close battle against Major champions Els and Harrington, drew a record crowd of 40,000 to SGC.

The 2012 edition, which was the last time the Open was held, attracted 20,000 fans to the Serapong Course on the Sunday.

While the latest instalment featured Spieth, the 156-man field had only two other top-50 players, An Byeong Hun (world No. 26) and Jamie Donaldson (No. 50).

Previously co-sanctioned by the Asian and European tours, it now has the Japan Golf Tour Organisation on board. The flow-on effect of the new partnership was evident in the make-up of the largely Japanese and Korean crowds.

The presence of more established stars like Scott and McIlroy is what fans are hoping for in the future.

Said undergraduate David Lim: "Maybe the organisers could look at bringing in some of the other young American players like Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed. That would make the tournament more exciting for sure."

One surefire way to give the 2017 Open a lift would be to bring in former world No. 1 Tiger Woods.

Said heart surgeon Lim Chong Hee, 50: "Spieth just doesn't have the aura of Woods, who is daring and plays risky shots. He has his flaws but that's also what makes him such a big star."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2016, with the headline 'More stars on fans' wish list next year'. Print Edition | Subscribe