Honma Hong Kong Open

Hong Kong Open likely to switch dates to avoid another clash with Hong Kong International Races

Organisers trying hard to move date with the ‘week before or the week after’ looking the most likely, says highly placed source

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 December, 2016, 10:52am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 December, 2016, 10:54pm

Organisers of the UBS Hong Kong Open are “doing all we can” to find a new date for next year to avoid another clash with the Longines Hong Kong International Races.

“We are doing all we can,” said a highly placed source from one of the stakeholders. “I’d say there is an 80 per cent chance, with the week before or the week after looking the most likely.”

The Hong Kong Jockey Club turned up the pressure on the European Tour, the title sponsors, and Hong Kong Golf Club by saying it is “not in the best interests of both events” to be held in the same week.

Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges then added fuel to the fire by saying after Sunday’s meeting: “I only can say the HKIR is the greatest show on turf and that includes the golf.”

He then used the decision by 2015 Hong Kong Open champion Rose to head to Sha Tin following the end of his fourth round on Sunday to underline his stance, saying: “And it looks like Justin Rose knows it, too.”

The European Tour would only say it is looking at the “best available dates” for Hong Kong’s oldest professional sporting event that has been bounced around various months in the past few years.

Sunday saw the final round of the US$2 million Open, first played in 1959, taking place at Fanling on the same day as the HKIR at Sha Tin with HK$83m in prize money on offer across the four main races dubbed the “Turf World Championships”.

But questions are being asked why the clash, which also occurred in 2013, is allowed to happen, given Hong Kong’s limited number of top-level international events.

Engelbrecht-Bresges said it was “impossible” for the Jockey Club to move the event, which attracts runners from around the globe, including Australia, France, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“There is absolutely no flexibility. If you have an established world event over a period of 15 years which is one of the biggest events in the world there is a connectivity.

“There isn’t a common organising committee like golf which allocates tournaments; there are certain gaps in the racing calendar where horses can travel,” said Engelbrecht-Bresges.

“We have an established pattern, and if we do this we would jeopardise our event in terms of quality of overseas runners, as nearly half of the field comes from overseas, and a shift of a week back or forth could have significant impact on the quality of the event.

“I think our friends from the golf know that this is impossible for us to move.”

Both events drew record crowds this year with 46,728 spectators on Fanling’s fairways over the four days, while a record 100,710 fans turned up at Sha Tin and Happy Valley to watch the day’s racing, with a total of HK$1.518 billion bet.

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“We voiced our concern when there was a clash in 2013 and now we have it in 2016 and there is the likelihood that this would be an ongoing clash, so we expressed that we do not think it is in the best interest of both events,” said Engelbrecht-Bresges.

“If you have an event that generates [over HK$300 million] in public benefits in relation to tax etc, and you suddenly move the event, then you risk significant quality and community issues,” he said.

Hong Kong Golf Club captain Kenneth Lam said Hong Kong had the “capacity” to host two of the biggest sporting events in the same week.

“We have discussed some issues, but probably because our golf event is growing there is some concern about having two significant events in the same week,” said Lam.

“Hong Kong has the capacity to host two international events in the same week, but if there are concerns we can address that together.

“There were concerns raised, but there was not a specific request to move. If there are issues, they can always be resolved amicably,” he said.

The Hong Kong Open is co-sanctioned by the European Tour and the Asian Tour and had been played in October for the past two years, and in December in 2013 and November in 2012.

The Open is at the mercy of the tours, particularly the lucrative European Tour, with the event appearing on its calendar for the 16th time this year.


Watching Rose, Hend and Jaidee coming up the 18th at the #ubshongkongopen @europeantour

A video posted by Zac Purton (@zacpurton) on Dec 8, 2016 at 6.03pm PST

This year, the event attracted the likes of American Ryder Cup star Patrick Reed, Olympic gold medallist Rose and Masters champion Danny Willett, largely thanks to a HK$15 million handout from the government’s Mega Events Fund.

“We are aware of the potential date clash with the Hong Kong International race meeting and are in the process of discussing the dates for next year’s UBS Hong Kong Open,” said European Tour chief operating officer and director of international policy Keith Waters.

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“We are working closely with our partners at UBS, the Hong Kong Golf Club, the Hong Kong Golf Association and the Asian Tour to find the best available date for the next edition of this great tournament, which has grown into one of Hong Kong’s premier sporting occasions in recent years.”

The 2016 European Tour season contained a total of 51 events, including the new Olympic tournament won by Rose as well as the World Cup in Australia, while this year’s Hong Kong Open was actually the third event of the 2017 calender.

Not all of the 2017 schedule has been released, meaning it might be some time before the 2018 dates are announced.