Did you feel the (Port)Rush?

Last month’s Open Championship was an epic moment for professional golf, as we witnessed the return of Northern Ireland / Royal Portrush to the Open Rota, following a near 70-year absence.

For those of you who could not watch the event (sadly, as with nearly all golf these days, it wasn’t on Free-to-Air, but that’s another discussion altogether), this year’s Open proved to be one of the most engaging, energetic and well-attended Opens in memory. It smashed attendance records, with tickets completely sold-out almost a year in advance, and generated a buzz in the media not seen in a very long time.

The R&A admitted that they were surprised and staggered by the attendance numbers for this event. To be blatantly honest, they were probably the only ones on the planet caught off guard, as players, fans and even broadcasters had been passionately lobbying for this change for decades.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that fans and athletes of any sport—when faced with the tedious repetition of the “same-old, same-old”—will clamour to see/play something new and fresh. This has been proven time and time again. The Vic Open is the perfect example of this, with the fairways shared by the men and women during the same week.

So it remains a mystery to me why an event like the Australian Open, for example, continues to languish in the dark ages, handcuffed to Sydney courtesy of a short-sighted money-grab by Golf Australia many years ago.

Our national open has not been outside of Sydney since 2006. And it has bounced around the “same-old, same-old” trio of courses in the area for most of that time. Attendance and buzz in recent years has been weak, and getting more than one or two “big name” players has been nearly impossible, despite the fact that Australia has hosted some of the world’s top players at three World Cups and two Presidents Cups during those times. The fact that we can’t lure top players to our “most prestigious” event –while they are right on our doorstep—speaks volumes, about dates, locations, prize purses and more.

To our governing body, I implore you: it’s time to change. Learn from the success at Royal Portrush. Put our National Open back on a National Rotation. Move it to dates that are more player-friendly (not just for one or two Aussie superstars). Work smarter (not harder) to boost the prize pools. Overcome the obstacles and excuses. Freshen it up. And learn from the success of the Vic Open: consider combining the Men’s Australian Open with the Women’s Australian Open, or rotate them concurrently. It’s time to bring excitement, variety and buzz back to the players and golf fans of Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia…even Tasmania!

Who knows, you might be surprised. Staggered, even.

See you on the fairways

Richard Fellner

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