If you were still indulging in festive leftovers you might well have missed the start to the European and PGA 2012 Tours, both of which got underway last week. Yes quite, it was a fairly inconspicuous start, so you are of course excused. With the post-season competitions and money-spinners, the professional golfing merry-go-round doesn’t seem to stop.
Unless you are one of the Rookie’s on tour, you’d probably have to concede that The Africa Open and the Hyundai Tournament of Champions are a pair of fairly uninspiring season openers. I don’t mean this as a criticism of the respective tours, as we all understand that the flagship events tend to be scheduled mid-season, but it got me thinking….which event really kick starts the public’s interest in the new season?
For the majority (that is, the averagely keen golfer and those without Sky TV) interest is usually ignited by The Masters. For more hardened enthusiasts, the Dubai Desert Classic, the World Matchplay or the Phoenix Open are often the first events that have us tuning in. All of these are great events in their own right, but it’s not rocket science to spot the correlation between level of interest and number of world class players in the starting field.
Personally, I’ll be keeping a close eye on all of these, and perhaps an earlier eye on the Volvo Golf Champions event at The Links at Fancourt. This one is purely down to the fact I’ve played the course a few times and it’s one of my favourites. There’s always extra interest when you’ve played the golf course (one of the special attractions golf has over so many other sports). It’s even better still when you have enjoyed the odd birdie, and affords us to the right to heckle the professional efforts to ‘only score a par’! And, naturally, the conditions they’re playing in are identical to (if not easier than) when you played – that cauldron pressure, off the very back tees…. and everyone’s allowed a mulligan, right? OK, perhaps not, but it’s nice to let yourself dream.
Still, even watching all of these early season events as the players build their form, nothing inspires us to dust off the clubs and go out there and play ourselves more than the sight of rhododendrons in bloom and Magnolia Lane as The Masters rolls around. However, this year there is a stretch of tournaments that I’m looking forward to more than any others in recent years. And bear in mind it’s a bumper year, what with the Ryder Cup upon us again in September.
The most intriguing and appealing run of events for me start at the end of June due to the recent announcement that The Irish Open will be contested at Royal Portrush. This means there is now a run of four weeks that will see three links courses, one Major Championship, one future Ryder Cup venue, and one litmus test for a future Open Championship venue.
The Irish Open (Royal Portrush), Scottish Open (Castle Stuart), and The Open (Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s) promise to be superb, and it is here that will provide a rarity to savour – being able to witness three links courses in use for professional events in such quick succession. Usually, we’re confined to one a year. I only hope that some of the top name players use the first two as a warm up for The Open. After all, and as demonstrated with a few of the early season examples above, a good quality field is essential for raising the public interest. You’d think that 2012 (being a Ryder Cup year) won’t struggle for interest, and with this being prime time for the jostling of ranking points, the fields are likely to be top notch. It’s a given that McIlroy, Clarke, Harrington, and McDowell will play at Portrush, and with many big names opting for the links of Castle Stuart last year in preparation for The Open, you’d think that many will do the same again. There is something extra provided by the vagaries of a good links course, but sadly it’s increasingly a lost art in the professional game. If it wasn’t for The Open, you wonder whether there would be any on display. I know it’s all about access, finances, and galleries but it’s still a shame.
Either way, these four weeks from 28th June – 22nd July look set to provide the season highlight, perhaps with the exception of the Ryder Cup under Jose Maria Olazabal’s stewardship at Medinah in September . The struggle will be to draw oneself away from the armchair and onto the golf course. I can sense a few sneaky evening rounds ahead.
I’d be interested to know which events you’re most looking forward to. There are the obvious and usual candidates, and let’s not forget the Curtis Cup at The Nairn Golf Club, or some of the major amateur events that often provide a fascinating insight into the next generation of players. Perhaps it’s this run of links courses that tick your boxes, too. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.