Third rival event another blow for Hong Kong Open
Tiger Woods' World Challenge will be held in December, which means three major events will rob city of chance to secure top players
Another stake has been driven deep into the heart of the Hong Kong Open with news that the Tiger Woods hosted World Challenge will be played on the same dates as the Fanling tournament - a move bound to rob the city of many of the world's top players.
The World Challenge is scheduled for December 5-8 at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California, where it has been since 2001. A limited 18-man field, it will attract the world's best from both sides of the Atlantic. Although many of the leading players on the US PGA Tour are likely to feature in this tournament before the holiday season, the bigger worry is that the top names from the European Tour could also turn up in California.
One such player is Northern Ireland's world number nine Graeme McDowell, who is the defending champion.
"Yes, it could have a bearing on the Hong Kong Open and who will be available to come here," said Iain Valentine, chief executive of the Hong Kong Golf Association. "I'm surprised that Tiger is having this tournament in the same week as the event in South Africa, but I guess since this is a limited draw, he is going ahead."
The tournament in South Africa, the Nedbank Golf Challenge which offers one of the biggest purses in the world - US$6.5 million - is expected to take away the gloss from the Hong Kong Open with a world-class field expected in Sun City. Both the Hong Kong Open and the South African event are held under the umbrella of the European Tour.
When news that the Nedbank Golf Challenge would clash with the Hong Kong Open became public last month, European Tour spokeswoman Vicky Jones admitted: "This may affect the field in Hong Kong slightly."
The race to nail down marquee names will become even harder with the World Challenge also in the picture. Last year, the World Challenge offered a first prize of US$1 million with the last player in the 18-strong field guaranteed US$120,000. To add even more stress on local organisers - and as if the calendar was not crowded enough - Asian Tour rivals OneAsia will hold its US$2 million OneAsia Championship at Mission Hills, Dongguan, in the same week, which could result in all the leading Chinese players, including Liang Wenchong, staying away.
The Hong Kong Open is facing a hazardous time as it also struggles to find a major title sponsor as well as funding from the government's Mega Events Fund.
Hong Kong's oldest professional sporting event was forced to reduce prize money from US$2.75 million to US$2 million last year. Longtime sponsor UBS pulled out last year after eight years of supporting the tournament, a move no doubt hastened by the fact that this year the tournament had lost its coveted spot in November as the penultimate leg in the European Tour's Race To Dubai to the US$7 million Turkish Airlines Open in Antalya, where Woods will be the marquee name.
"We are still working on a title sponsor with the European Tour taking the lead role," said Valentine. Meanwhile, Valentine said the association was still awaiting news from the Mega Events Fund. The tournament has received HK$23 million over the past two years from the fund - HK$15 million last year and HK$8 million in 2011. Most of this money is spent on paying appearance fees for the top players.