Hong Kong Open fights for survival

As the European Tour further distances itself, it is up to Hong Kong to ensure its own event's survival, with a little help from Asia's star players

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 November, 2012, 3:16am

It is easily the most raucous confluence on the golf course. At the centre of it all is a red refreshment pagoda that is the one and only refreshment kiosk on the course so it's all happening here. To one side there is the 18th tee box and on the other side is the 11th tee box. In front is the 10th green and just to the left of that is the fifth green and there are people as far as the eye can see, a large number of them queuing up for food and drink.

Common logic seems to dictate that if you are standing in line you can make as much noise as you like. This is also the place to bring crying infants and there is an alarming number of parents who are trying to soothe their children. On the 18th tee box the early finishers are trying to end their tournament on a positive note, but the noise spills unfettered.

This is the oldest golf tournament in Asia, and Hong Kong golf crowds are, supposedly, the most sophisticated in Asia.

"It's like teeing off in a cafeteria," grunts a fan next to the tee box. "Have you ever been to a golf tournament in China?" I ask him. "Never," he says. "This is like a silent movie in comparison," I tell him and it is, without doubt, the best-behaved crowd in Asia. That still does not make it quiet.

However, this year in particular it looks very local, which is not a bad thing if organisers are hoping for any kind of growth. When Taiwan's Lin Wen-tang and China's Liang Wenchong arrive at the 18th tee box, Lin makes a joke that cracks up the gallery.

Standing over his ball, Lin steps back as the noise from the kiosk reaches a crescendo. After a pause he proceeds to pull his drive and someone yells in Cantonese, "you should have waited a bit longer". Everybody, including the players, cracks up. It's a festive atmosphere, at least until England's Paul Casey and Thailand's Prom Meesawat arrive. Neither hits a good drive and both glare at the crowd.

Much has been made about the future of this venerable tournament. Lacking a title sponsor yet for next year and the European Tour moving it back in the schedule, the stature may easily be diminished. But no one I talked to said they thought twice about coming out, despite world number one Rory McIlroy missing the cut.

"I like the event," said fan Helen Choi. "That's not going to change."

Terry Williams, from Canada, is also not happy about McIlroy missing the cut, but claims: "I would have come anyhow. I guess the good thing is there are less people here, although the line for the toilet is brutal. Can you write about that?"

I ask him if he thinks it's in bad taste for McIlroy's girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki, to post a picture on Twitter of him lazing at the beach yesterday in Dubai when he is still getting paid an appearance fee to be golfing in Hong Kong.

"Ah, well I guess he is getting his head right before playing there next week," he says. "But it's not cool. Still he's a kid, he'll learn."

Only time will tell if the lack of top talent means smaller crowds. Having perennially popular Miguel Angel Jimenez playing in the last group and eventually winning no doubt was a help.

Despite some stars missing the cut, attendance for the final round set a record. In the end, it will be up to local sponsors, organisers, media, and golf fans, and to a large degree Asian golfers, to elevate the profile of this event because the European Tour is clearly becoming more detached. If yesterday's crowd was any indication, there will be no lack of passion, or noise.