Hong Kong Open's future is safe, says Asian Tour
Chief executive promises to prevent event losing its lustre to high-stakes Turkish Open, saying the tournament will keep growing
The Asian Tour promised to safeguard the long-term health of the troubled Hong Kong Open yesterday after the European Tour sacrificed the "iconic" tournament and removed it from the climactic end-of-season spotlight.
Having struggled to find a sponsor and relying on a government handout to clinch the return of world number one and defending champion Rory McIlroy, the Hong Kong Open has been replaced by the new US$7 million Turkish Open as the penultimate event on the European Tour's Race To Dubai.
The Hong Kong Open is now in limbo and will likely be an opening event next year rather than the high-stakes, make-or-break, last-chance saloon for players trying to qualify for the lucrative World Tour Championship.
But the Asian Tour, which co-sanctions the event with the European Tour along with the Hong Kong Golf Association, which owns the Open, said it would not allow the tournament to lose any more lustre.
"We have always considered the Hong Kong Open one of our iconic events in the region and we want it to continue to grow. It's in our interests that it is healthy and sustainable," Asian Tour chief executive Mike Kerr said yesterday.
"We will talk to all the partners and make sure we ensure the long-term health of the Hong Kong Open. The worst thing would be to go from year to year with no clear understanding as to where we are going.
"From an Asian Tour perspective I'm very confident the HK Open will continue as one of premier events in our season. I have every confidence the Hong Kong Open will not only continue in its current form but will grow. It is very important for us," said former Hong Kong resident Kerr.
The Open at Fanling on November 15-18 has already suffered the indignity of being unwanted by sponsors. The European Tour was forced to go back to UBS cap in hand and ask it to stay as title sponsor after Omega pulled out of a deal. Then the prize pool was cut from US$2.75 million to US$2 million.
"From a commercial perspective, yes, it has been through a little bit of turmoil," Kerr said. "And 2013 onwards is still questionable as to who is going to be involved, but the Open has gained so much value and profile over the years it is a fantastic opportunity for a sponsor to get involved.
"This is an opportunity to reassess what the Open means, what it can be and realign the objectives and targets and build on a long-term basis." . The Singapore Open is also facing an uncertain future after Barclays announced it would pull the plug after next month's US$6 million event.
"Hong Kong is not an unusual situation, It's not unique. We have the same thing happening in Singapore with their Open," Kerr said. "And that's the same situation with every golf tour around the world. It's not just Asia."
The European Tour has lost a number of events because of the financial crisis, the new Turkish Open, a select 78-field event, bucking the trend.
As the underwriter of Hong Kong's oldest professional sporting event, the European Tour takes the commercial risk and is responsible for finding sponsors and revenue, which guarantees the presence of the likes of McIlroy and company.
"If the Hong Kong Open wants to compete on a level playing field, it needs to stand up and make sure it does compete for those players," Kerr said.
"It's tough when a sponsor drops out. You need to find that company or individual who has the same objective aligned with the Hong Kong Open.
"I see untapped value here. When you look at the position of Hong Kong today, not only from an economic point of view but from a social perspective, Hong Kong's future is absolutely aligned with China's future.
"Maybe now is the time to look across the border and welcome that Chinese influence within Hong Kong in the Open itself. Maybe we will see more involvement and interest from Chinese-related companies or companies from Hong Kong or even international companies wanting to take that step into China," said Kerr.