Organisers of the UBS Hong Kong Open are on the verge of signing up world No 1 Rory McIlroy after receiving a record HK$15 million handout yesterday from the government's Mega Events Fund.
"We have been in serious discussions with McIlroy and now we have the money from the Mega Events Fund, we hope to confirm a deal soon," Hong Kong Golf Association chief executive Iain Valentine said.
The MEF yesterday announced it had earmarked HK$26.85 million to support four mega events from its last round of applications. This includes two sports events, the other being HK$8 million for an exhibition game between Manchester United and champions Kitchee next July at Hong Kong Stadium.
The two non-sporting events are the Dragon and Lion Dance Extravaganza 2013 (HK$1.4 million) and the Hong Kong Well-Wishing Festival (HK$2.45 million).
MEF chairman Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung said the prime consideration for funding was over the amount requested by organisations. It depended on how much any individual applicant applied for, not based on us [the committee]," Lam said.
Organisers of Hong Kong's oldest professional sporting event were delighted after bagging the largest funding for an individual event since the MEF was set up in 2009 with an aim to provide financial support for mega arts, culture, sports and entertainment events. Last year the Hong Kong Open received HK$8 million.
"We wanted US$2 million this year and we have basically got what was asked for. We are very thankful for this huge support," Valentine said.
"With this money, we can now press ahead and try to secure McIlroy. We couldn't confirm anything until the money was assured as we would have looked silly if we had gone ahead with a deal only to find out we didn't get MEF backing.
"But now it is confirmed, we hope to make an announcement soon that our defending champion, and world number one, is returning to Fanling."
Money from the MEF cannot be used to boost prize money and can only be used for "promotional activities", which includes paying appearance fees for big-name players.
And they don't come any bigger than the two-time major winner from Northern Ireland, the hottest player in the world, who was also a member of Europe's Ryder Cup-winning team. McIlroy's appearance fee is now believed to be in the region of US$2 million.
"Of course we are talking to other players, too. But our priority is McIlroy. If he doesn't come for some reason, we will approach others," Valentine said.
The MEF funding is a huge boost for the Hong Kong Open which will be played from November 15-18 at the Hong Kong Golf Club. The tournament has endured some anxious times with UBS agreeing to return as title sponsors last month. Prize money has also been slashed from US$2.75 million to US$2 million.
"With MEF support this renowned international golf tournament will be able to strengthen its line-up by inviting leading professional golfers from around the world," said assistant commissioner for tourism Vincent Fung Hao-yin, who is also the secretary of the fund's assessment committee.
"The Hong Kong Open has contributed to raising the city's international profile."
The MEF was established in 2009 for a term of three years with an initial fund of HK$100 million. Nearly half this amount was not utilised at the end of the first term, in March this year.
This money was added to an additional HK$150 million as the MEF was extended for another five years.