Golf: Japanese bank breathes new life into the Singapore Open

The Singapore Open will be back next year.

That is a popular cry which should please the golf fraternity here and abroad.

But it will not be Asia's richest national Open, as former sponsors Barclays had raised it to be. This time, it is yet another foreign sponsor that comes to the rescue of the iconic national Open.

Japanese commercial bank Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC) announced yesterday that it will headline the Singapore Open in a three-year deal.

But, with an initial US$1 million ($1.35m) prize pot, it is a far cry from the US$6m price tag it carried when it was last held in December 2012.

That was when the British bank chose not to extend its seven-year title sponsorship, leading to a three-year hiatus.

The tournament has a rich history, dating back to 1961, so SMBC's stepping forward to resuscitate it is a laudable move.

Over the years, especially in the 1960s to '90s, top Americans, Australians and Asians have featured in the prestigious event.

Subsequently when Barclays breathed life into it, after a three-year hiatus, in 2006, brand names such as Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Adam Scott and current world No. 1 Rory McIlroy raised the ante further.

Scott won the event a record three times in 2005, 2006 and 2010.

The 2012 edition drew a final-day crowd of more than 20,000, who witnessed Italian dark horse Matteo Manassero's dramatic play-off win over former British Open champ Louis Oosthuizen.

The rebirth is, at least, a start, said organisers World Sport Group (WSG), who are the event's promoters and organisers.

Speaking on the sidelines of the tournament relaunch yesterday at the Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort, Patrick Feizal Joyce, vice-president (golf) at WSG, gave perspective to the event.

He said that a strategy was in place to present the Open at a level that the new sponsor expects.

"In no way is this tournament going to be a step down from what we had in the past," he said.

"Prize money is not the only determining factor in the stature and credibility of the event.

"The presentation (of the event) is going to be world class, and players will travel here because of the event's history, the venue and the overall value they see in competing in Singapore, which will attract a global audience."

The Sentosa Golf Club's iconic Serapong course will once again stage the event from Jan 28 to 31 next year, with the Asian Tour and the Japan Golf Tour (JGTO) stepping in to co-sanction the full-field tournament.

The playing field will comprise the top 60 from the Asian Tour, top 60 from the JGTO, leading Singapore professionals, and players from the world's top 50 players.

When asked if a budget for appearance fees would be made available to lure the game's biggest stars, Joyce said such plans are in the pipeline.

"This is a new chapter.

Phil and Rory have been here, but there are many top players who haven't," he said.

"So you can expect to see new faces who are just as exciting."

The rescheduling of the tournament's dates will also play a key role, he added, as monsoon rains had often plagued the Open in the past when it was staged in December.

"Everything new is a challenge, and any tournament that has taken a hiatus like this will have difficulties," Joyce said.

"Will the prize money return to US$6 million? I don't see that happening in the next three years, but there will be a (gradual) increase.

"We have just announced the most crucial title sponsor, and we are in active discussions with previous sponsors of the Open as well.

"This is a good opportunity to rebrand and rebuild the tournament. It was what it was, and now it's time for something new."

This article was first published on Jan 29, 2015.
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