20 Oct 2021 | Feature stories | Professional golf |

Clayton: Showcasing the sandbelt

by Mike Clayton

Geoff Ogilvy presser image
Geoff Ogilvy is behind the Sandbelt Classic this year. Photo: Getty

For as long as I can remember, people have dreamed of running a multi-course, professional tournament on the Melbourne sandbelt.

The courses are close together and Melbourne, with New York, London and Philadelphia, is one of the four finest golf course cities in the world.

Importantly the clubs have never hidden their courses behind closed gates. To the contrary they have always embraced competitive golf, something enhancing Melbourne’s reputation as a city filled with fabulous golf courses.

The problem with running big professional events in this country is their reliance on government support, sponsors and television and they all want to know, “who’s playing?”

If you don’t have the best of the locals as well as at least a couple of big-name overseas stars, the investment isn’t there.

When it was apparent the Australian Open was unlikely to happen until the end of next year, Geoff Ogilvy and I had the idea of putting together something interesting and competitive for both men and women to play.

Being one of only two Australians to win the US Open (David Graham being the other) Geoff’s name earns attention and a couple of days of phone calls secured the commitment of Royal Melbourne, Peninsula Kingswood, Yarra Yarra and Kingston Heath to host a Sandbelt Invitational leading up to Christmas, from 20-23 December.

It’s not every day professional golfers play courses the equal of these four Melbourne classics.

This is not an event reliant on the traditional television coverage we’ve grown used to, and there is some prizemoney with hopefully a little more in the offing. At this stage of the year, it’s more important we just play get back to good, competitive golf and give people something interesting to watch.

Geoff started his foundation with the simple aim of older players mentoring and playing with the younger ones and during the year we played at least a dozen single day events which came to be known as ‘The Game’. It put the best men and women together in a competitive environment for a whole lot of players who usually would have been travelling the world honing their games.

It’s the traditional way Australia has developed players going all the way back to Norman Von Nida helping a young Peter Thomson on his way in Britain. Thomson in turn advised generations of players including Graham Marsh, Stewart Ginn and Ian Baker-Finch.

This is not a tournament reliant on who is playing or how much money is in the purse. Rather it’s a tournament played on four amazing courses with players happy to be playing in front of crowds appreciative of good, competitive golf.

The opening round at Royal Melbourne is limited to a gallery of members but the final three rounds welcome spectators, and entry is free.

We’d be happy enough if people are interested enough to come and watch some of the country’s best players including Ogilvy, Su Oh, Nick O’Hern, Elvis Smylie, Matt Griffin, Blake Collyer and Sarah Kemp play some of the finest golf courses in the world.

The promise is it’ll be worth your time.

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