HK Golf Open to seek government funding again

With a sponsor still to be found, government money will be vital to maintain tournament's status and entice McIlroy back to defend title

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 September, 2012, 2:07am

The Hong Kong Open - the city's oldest professional sporting tournament - will go cap in hand to the government once again hoping for a financial boost to maintain its cachet and attract a top-class field including two-time major champion Rory McIlroy.

"We will be approaching the Mega Events Fund [MEF] in the next two weeks for funding," Hong Kong Golf Association chief executive Iain Valentine said yesterday.

"We hope we will get financial backing from the government once again."

Last year, the Tourism Commission's MEF backed the Hong Kong Open to the tune of HK$8 million. This gave the tournament, which turns 54 this year, the flexibility to attract big-name players, a prerequisite for the success of any sporting in Hong Kong.

MEF backing will be even more important this year as tournament organisers have still to sign on a title sponsor. UBS, which backed the open from 2005, ended its association after last year's event, won by McIlroy. Omega, which sponsored the tournament from 2000 to 2004, was expected to return but backed out of the deal.

It is understood UBS will come in as a stop-gap for the November 15-18 tournament at the Hong Kong Golf Club.

"We cannot confirm anything yet," Valentine said. "All I can say is we - the European Tour, the Asian Tour and us - are working hard to finalise a deal. I hope we can seal it sooner than later."

A spokesperson for the European Tour, Vicky Jones, said: "I'm afraid that we are not yet able to confirm the title sponsor for Hong Kong as we are still in the final stages of contract negotiations."

Omega president Stephen Urquhart told the Post the Swiss watch company had lost interest in Hong Kong's jewel.

"Our interests have moved on. We are looking at bigger events, especially in China," Urquhart said.

Another major issue facing organisers is whether Hong Kong's adopted son, McIlroy, will defend his title. The world number one, winner of the 2011 US Open and this year's PGA Championship, is a big fan of Hong Kong, ever since his days playing as a junior in the Faldo Series.

In 2009, UBS signed a two-year deal worth US$300,000 for the Northern Irishman to play at Fanling. That ended last year and McIlroy now commands appearances fees in the range of US$2 million.

"There is no guarantee Rory will turn up this year," Valentine said. "Of course his price will have gone up now he has two majors in his bag. But we know he has a soft spot for Hong Kong and we hope he will return. It is pretty traditional for the defending champion to come back."