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19 Dec 2022 | Australian Open |

GA wants Open to stay mixed

by Martin Blake

Aus Open crowd image
Crowds at the ISPS HANDA Australian Open were the highest for more than a decade.

Golf Australia’s Chief Executive James Sutherland says that the national sporting organisation plans to push ahead with a mixed ISPS HANDA Australian Open in Sydney in 2023 after the experiment in Melbourne earlier this month … but there will likely be tweaks to the format.

They include the possibility of a less-severe cut to 30 players on the final day of the men’s tournament, which has been criticised by some players.

Sutherland said the feedback from commercial and government partners from the 1-4 December Australian Open which included men’s, women’s and All Abilities tournaments on the same venues at the same time, was “resoundingly” positive.

He said there would be no pulling back from the concept, which is a first for a national Open in the world of golf. “I don’t think there’s any way that we can go back after the success of this year.”

The 2023 Australian Open is slotted for The Australian next year, but a second course would need to be found if the mixed concept goes ahead.

In a broad-ranging interview for the Good Good podcast, Sutherland said that:

- The men’s and women’s Australian Opens were “not economically viable” as separate tournaments and that the change was necessary. “If we want to be niche and all we want to do is to be something for rusted on fans like you and me, we can do that. But we’re in a downward spiral and the prizemoney for the event and the amenity of the event will be in decline and will not improve. To grow and to be relevant, we need to innovate and do things differently.”

-The logistical glitches in Melbourne were to be expected at first attempt and would be addressed next time. “There’s nothing to suggest in my mind that these things can’t be overcome.”

-A single Big Bash League match this week raised more media rights income for Cricket Australia than the entire season of golf in Australia. “That context and that commercial reality is something that golf pundits, commentators and fans need to understand. That’s the challenge that administrators are dealing with.”

-The final-day 30-players-and-ties cut which was so controversial this year would likely be changed from 2023. “It’s an on-balance decision we have to make, and I’m pretty determined to work through an outcome that sees more than 30 men playing on the last day next year.”

Sutherland said the Australian Open tennis was an inspiration for golf with its inclusive look and feel.

“Commercial partners, Government partners, they absolutely love this concept. That’s where they want to spend their money, and there are not a lot of sports that offer this. Obviously tennis does, and in some ways tennis with the Australian Open is a model for us. It’s a Grand Slam event so it’s very different in terms of its global attractiveness and it brings the best players in the world. But it’s a format of its game that allows you to put men, women and All Abilities on the same stage over a couple of weeks, or in our case over a week, and it’s something that commercial partners relate to and something that fans relate to.

“The thing about golf in Australia that has held it back over a couple of decades now is that it’s not bringing a broader and new audience to the sport. And as a sport we have high aspirations of competing with the biggest and best sports in this country, but we can’t do that unless people speak with their eyes and their feet, come to our events, watch on TV and they want to be a part of it.

“I’ve only been in golf a couple of years, but the number of times people have talked to me about the glory days, the Greg Norman era and all of that, what it used to be like, golf in Australia. Those days have clearly gone, and the whole nature of the sport-entertainment industry has changed in Australia significantly since then … indeed globally. And as a sport, we are trying to compete. We’re basically competing for people’s leisure time, and trying to get people to watch our events.

“The reality is in this event a couple of weeks ago in Melbourne, we had more people attend than we’ve had at an Australian Open since 2011. And that was a Presidents Cup year with Tiger Woods playing.”

Listen to the full podcast here

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