Leon Bignell MP & Minjee Lee
South Australia's state government expects a $3.5 million injection to the economy from the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open in Adelaide this week, but according to Tourism Minister Leon Bignell, there is more of a boost to the state than that.
"It's not only about the economic benefits, it's that we encourage another generation of boys and girls to come out and see the best in the world, and you can't beat seeing the best in the world in your own backyard to give you the spur, I suppose not to not just get out there and try a sport but to stick with it,'' said Bignell today.
The Minister, whose government stitched up a deal with Golf Australia to hold the nation's top women's tournament in the SA capital for the next three years, was down at The Grange today chatting with Australia's top-ranked player, Minjee Lee.
Most of the 156-player field arrived in Adelaide today to begin preparations for a tournament that was last held in this city in 1994. Prizemoney is $US 1.3 million with world No. 1 Lydia Ko defending her Australian Open title.
Bignell, an occasional left-handed golfer who owns up to a vicious slice, is playing in Wednesday's pro-am event, and he is excited that Adelaide has drawn another big sporting event to go with cycling's Tour Down Under and the Clipsal 500 motor race.
"We don't have numbers yet but we're expecting 15,000 to 20,000 people out here to see the best golfers in the world play in the Australian Open,'' he said. "It's a stellar field and we're expecting to see some great golf over the next week.
''We're marketing South Australia around Australia. It can be pretty dull around Australia in the first three months of the year, but not here in Adelaide. Our new campaign slogan is: 'Sleep when you get home'.''
SA and Victoria were the main interested parties for the women's Open, which has been held in Melbourne for most of the past few years, but Bignell said there was no animosity; in fact, Victoria's tourism minister John Eren is a friend of his. ''They've got much deeper pockets than us, so we think it's good to have a good relationship. We think we can achieve more by working together rather than having spats across the states.''
Under the terms of the agreement, the Open will switch to Royal Adelaide next year and to Kooyonga in 2018 before there is a review.
Lee, 19, is a world top-20 player and will carry the pressure of being Australia's top-ranked player this week, although it does not bother her. "Every tournament that we go to, I think everybody's goal is to be the winner,'' she said. "Yes, I think I've got a good chance this week.''
The Perth teenager was seventh in the Open at Royal Melbourne last year. Asked what it would mean to take home the Patricia Bridges Bowl, she said: "This is our national championship so it would be really special for me. My whole family's coming out this week so it would be even more special I think, if I did.''