Hong Kong Open

Sponsor UBS cuts Hong Kong Open prize money by US$750,000

City's oldest professional sporting event takes hit with organisers blaming economic factors

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 September, 2012, 1:38am

Organisers of the UBS Hong Kong Open have blamed the "economic climate" for reducing prize money by US$750,000, despite the Swiss bank returning to rescue the city's oldest professional sporting event.

For the first time since the tournament was jointly sanctioned by the Asian Tour and the European Tour in 2001, prize money has shrunk - to US$2 million from US$2.75 million last year. The tournament runs from November 15-18 tournament at the Hong Kong Golf Club.

UBS, which has backed the open for the past seven years, has stepped into the breach for one more year, but it is believed the bank drove a hard bargain by asking, and getting, a reduction in their financial commitments - the prize money.

"The reduction in prize money is simply a function of the current economic climate," said Vicky Jones, the European Tour's client services director, yesterday. "While it is unfortunate we were unable to maintain the previous level of prize money, we do not believe this devalues the tournament."

What it will devalue is the amount of money the world and Asia's professionals will take home. Last year, Rory McIlroy pocketed US$458,330 after winning the tournament for the first time. If he defends his title this year, and does it successfully, the two-time major champion will find the winner's purse significantly lighter, at US$333,330.

"We don't think it is a blow to the tournament. But because of the way things [the economy] are now, we couldn't continue with this upward spiral. The prize money has increased significantly over the past few years," Hong Kong Golf Association chief executive Iain Valentine, said.

Yet it will be regarded as a blow to prestige. The WGC-HSBC Champions two weeks beforehand at Mission Hills in Shenzhen will offer US$7 million in prize money.

The HKGA and the European Tour have also asked the government for HK$16 million, double what they got last year. The Mega Events Fund is set to make a decision by the end of the month.

Money from the MEF cannot be spent on bolstering prize money, instead it can only be used for promotional activity. Government funding is crucial to getting world number one McIlroy back to Hong Kong, as well as other top players.

Last year, on the fourth and final day of the tournament, then HKGA president David Hui Chun-yue said prize money for 2012 would increase to US$3 million. He was optimistic because Omega was on the verge of coming in as the new title sponsor. But this fell through after the watchmaker's marketing policies changed.

The company is now more focused on the China market.