Record crowd flocks to Fanling for Hong Kong Open as European Tour enters into negotiations with sponsor
Discussions underway with UBS and the Hong Kong Golf Club after successful week is capped off by Wade Ormsby’s win
A record crowd of more than 47,000 people flocked to Fanling to watch the UBS Hong Kong Open last week as the European Tour enters into discussions with the sponsor on the future of the tournament.
Swiss bank UBS made a surprise return as title sponsor in 2015 – three years after ending their eight-year partnership with the tournament – in a move that heralded a new era for the event with the addition of HK$15 million from the government’s Mega Events Fund.
However, the sponsor’s three-year deal with the tournament expired on Sunday after Australian Wade Ormsby won his first European Tour title in a thrilling finale.
The European Tour released a statement on behalf of the three parties involved in sponsorship negotiations – the Tour, UBS and Hong Kong Golf Club (HKGC), which hosts the tournament.
“It’s been a fantastic tournament with record crowds and a spectacular win by Wade Ormsby. All of our event partners are delighted with the results. The European Tour, Hong Kong Golf Club and UBS are in ongoing discussions regarding the future title sponsorship and will make an announcement at the appropriate stage,” said Vicky Jones, championship director for the European Tour.
In the three tournaments since UBS’ return, a number of big-name players have played at Fanling. Former US Open champion Justin Rose, of England, has been here three times, winning in 2015, and has often been quoted as saying how much he liked the golf course and Hong Kong.
Reigning US Masters champion Sergio Garcia joined him in this year’s line-up, along with fellow Spaniards Rafa Bello Cabera and four-time winner Miguel Angel Jimenez, as well as England’s Race to Dubai winner Tommy Fleetwood.
And generally, the star players have done their best to fulfil their golfing commitments by making the cut and sometimes challenging for the lead.
The presence of big-name golfers has provided a boost to the tournament, which was struggling to stay afloat until the bank stepped in once again in July, 2015.
The HK$15 million from the government has been pivotal in bringing star quality to Fanling, with suggestions that all of that money was spent on appearance fees for Rose and Garcia this year.
Organisers said the attendance over the four days beat last year’s record of 42,000, with free entry on Thursday and Friday.
The Hong Kong Open, which was first held in 1959, is the oldest professional sporting event in the city and has never missed a year since its launch.
The government had invested HK$8 million and HK$15 million in the 2011 and 2012 tournaments respectively but then suddenly withdrew support.
As such, there were real concerns that the 2013 tournament would be cancelled with no sponsor on the horizon.
However, the HKGC, which was responsible for launching the first competition in 1959, came to the rescue – using its own money to keep the event alive.
Prize money dropped to US$1.3 million in 2014 from US$2.75 million, which meant many of the top European Tour players gave Hong Kong a miss.
But the return of UBS in 2015 saw prize money rise again to US$2 million.