Another blow for Hong Kong Open as two tournaments clash with December event

After losing longtime sponsor UBS, organisers of Hong Kong tournament will find it diffcult to compete with two other events in December

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 June, 2013, 3:26am

Squeezed out of its prime position on the European Tour and still struggling to find a new sponsor, the Hong Kong Open now faces an even tougher fight for world-class players because of a likely clash with two other major events in early December.

The European Tour, which co-sanctions the Hong Kong Open along with the Asian Tour, yesterday admitted the date clash (December 5-8) with the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa could affect the Hong Kong field "slightly".

But there are fears the Sun City tournament - featuring one of the largest prize funds (US$6.5 million) and a field boasting 30 of the world's best players - could further rob the Hong Kong Open of its lustre. Both the South African and Hong Kong tournaments are part of the European Tour's 2014 Race To Dubai.

"This may affect the field in Hong Kong slightly, but no more so than the competition we have faced from other events in previous years," said European Tour spokeswoman Vicky Jones.

The date clash is the latest headache facing organisers of the Hong Kong Open, which had to reduce prizemoney to US$2 million last year, lost longtime sponsor UBS, and then its coveted spot in November as the penultimate leg in the Race To Dubai to the US$7 million Turkish Airlines Open. It is also uncertain of government support from the Mega Events Fund.

In addition to the South African challenge, Hong Kong's oldest professional sporting event also faces a threat from the OneAsia Championship at Mission Hills, Dongguan, with most of the Chinese golfers almost certain to play in the US$2 million event.

"The Hong Kong Open has always been played in a very busy time of year in the golfing calendar and this year is no exception," Jones said.

"It is not unusual for the tournament to be competing with a number of other events in the same week.

"For example, last year the Hong Kong Open was in the same week as the South African Open, which was also a co-sanctioned event, the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan and the Australian Masters. In 2011, the Hong Kong Open was in the same week as the Nedbank Challenge," Jones said.

"It is normal practice for the European Tour to co-sanction two events in the same week when these events are in different territories and not full field European Tour events. This enables us to create playing opportunities for our members."

The Hong Kong Golf Association, meanwhile, revealed it had sought a Mega Events Fund grant once again. "We have applied for funding and are awaiting an answer," said Iain Valentine, the departing chief executive of the Hong Kong Golf Association.

Last year the tournament received HK$15 million from the fund (in 2011 it was given HK$8 million). A large part of this money went to paying an appearance fee for then world number one Rory McIlroy, who failed to defend his title, even failing to make the cut.

But even if the money is available, attracting a world-class field befitting the tournament's long history is still in doubt.

"I still think we will get a very good field," Valentine insisted.