Sense of heritage key to general manager Ian Gardner's vision for Fanling
After a stint away from Hong Kong, the former policeman is back and in charge at Hong Kong Golf Club
Ian Gardner can recall watching from beyond the ropes as the likes of Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer, Greg Norman and Ian Woosnam strode the fairways of Fanling during the 1980s and early 1990s.
These giants of the game were regular visitors to the Hong Kong Open and Gardner was among those transfixed by thoughts of how they would handle the course.
“The layout and difficulty of the composite course meant there was always excitement and usually a close and greatly contested finish,” recalls Gardner.
Gardner has now returned to the Hong Kong Golf Club, becoming general manager last November, with the role throwing the former policeman into a second stint in the city he first called home those few decades ago.
He’s kept watch while away – tuning in from the United States in 2011 as Rory McIlroy fired that shot for the ages from the bunker beside the 18th hole to claim the title – and is now preparing for his first Open as the man who has, in his own words, “overall responsibility for every aspect of the operation and maintenance of the club’s facilities and the management of the team of club employees”.
Gardner has arrived at the back end of a tough time for the event, as it has staved off shifts in scheduling and struggles with securing sponsoring. But the return of a title sponsor in UBS, and the backing of the government’s Mega Events Fund, have brought back the positive vibes for the 2015 edition.
And so, as the 57th staging of the Hong Kong Open arrives, the tournament remains alongside the Masters at Augusta, Georgia, as the only two professional events in golfing history that have been played at the same venue for more than 50 years.
“Once lost, this kind of pedigree and heritage cannot easily be regained,” says Gardner.
“The club took the view that the tournament had to be preserved for the benefit that it brings to Hong Kong as Asia’s world city and for the role that it plays in developing junior golf in Hong Kong.
"For the last two years therefore the club and the European Tour have collaborated by underwriting the cost of running the event, to ensure that it remains as one of the most popular fixtures on the European and Asian professional circuits.”
Now, says Gardner, it feels a little like the tournament is being relaunched, with some of the modern greats preparing for battle, among them major winners Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell, and major-winners-in-waiting Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed.
There are added flourishes such as a revamped and extended Spectators Village. But Gardner knows his work has really only just begun.
“There are many misconceptions about the club which we are working hard to overcome,” he says. “Helping Hong Kong residents to understand more about the club is very important to us.”
To that end Gardner and his team have been busy publicising the junior programmes the club supports – for both students from nearby schools and for members of the various Hong Kong squads – as well as initiatives to expand its reach into the community.
“In addition to our work to develop junior golf and our help to support the government’s tourism and publicity initiatives by hosting the Open, we also work hard to accommodate fundraising events throughout the year,” he says. “Over HK$11.5 million was raised at charitable events hosted at the club in 2014, a figure we hope to assist in increasing to HK$15 million this year.
"The club is also a popular venue for corporate events and public access to the courses is high. Each year over 200 corporate and golf society outings are played on our courses and nearly 45 per cent of all golf rounds are played by non-members.”