Geoff Ogilvy and Mike Clayton saw a need for golf to resume in Australia amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It turned into more than he imagined, a tournament that is more about opportunity than money, along with showcasing Melbourne’s fabled courses in the sandbelt region.
The Sandbelt Invitational, now in its third year, has the look of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland, except that it takes place over four courses, not three.
The amateurs are not the well-heeled from the corporate and entertainment world, but rather juniors. The field is divided as evenly as possible among men and women, pros and amateurs.
“Getting four sandbelt clubs in Melbourne over five days, that’s a bit of a puzzle to put together,” Ogilvy said. “It’s not the easiest tournament to organize. But it’s worth it.”
This year’s tournament, run by the Geoff Ogilvy Foundation, is Dec. 14-17 at Victoria, Peninsula Kingwood, Yarra Yarra and the East course at Royal Melbourne.
Cam Davis, who is No. 42 in the world ranking, is the defending champion in the men’s professional division. Ogilvy said all the top Australians are invited, and the hope is more of them will show up in time to help build momentum.
In an era when golf seems to revolve around money, this is more about putting on a show in one of the great golf areas in the world and showing the way for juniors.
That stems from a question Ogilvy, a former U.S. Open champion who grew up at Victoria, used to get: How could the junior golf experience have been even better?
“We didn’t get to play with the pros very often,” Ogilvy said. “When we did, it was powerful. There was something about playing with someone who had been a pro for 30 years. They carry themselves differently. It’s something that’s not really built into amateur golf, or any sport. Like, you can’t have it in NFL. But you can in golf. You can get any level together.
“We want these kids to play the best courses in Melbourne — some of the best in Australia — set up for tournaments with experienced pros,” he said. “This ticked a few boxes.”
The Melbourne sandbelt is so named for the sandy loam subsoil on which eight of Australia’s finest courses were built, including all four in this year’s rotation. Others include Kingston Heath, where Tiger Woods won the Australian Masters in 2009 and where the 2028 Presidents Cup will be played, and Metropolitan, site of the 2001 Match Play Championship.
Corporate support is not as strong as tournaments with a deeper history, and the tournament operates on a tight budget.
“Raising money isn’t that easy,” Ogilvy said. “We’re quite happy to stay low budget and provide an opportunity because it’s a cool idea. We’re not chasing money that hard.”
His hope for the Sandbelt Invitational is to eventually get bigger sponsorship, and perhaps reduce the rotation to three courses to make it easier to organize. Such is the pride among sandbelt courses that each one wants to provide the purest conditions possible.
“We’re going to let it evolve,” Ogilvy said. “It would be nice if we could get Australia’s best players to come down and play. It could become powerful.”
The high-pitched brogue had become as much a part of the British Open as pot bunkers and the claret jug. “This is Game No. 10. Now on the tee from USA, Tiger Woods,” the inflection always on the first syllable.
That was the voice of Ivor Robson for 41 years. The R&A announced Tuesday that Robson has died at age 83.
Robson was the official starter from 1975 until his final appearance in 2015 at St. Andrews. He also worked big events on the European tour but was best known at golf’s oldest championship. He never left the podium from 6:30 a.m. until the final group teed off a little after 4 p.m.
So popular was Robson with European players they made a video in 2015 trying to mimic how he announced players.
Stephen Cox, a PGA Tour rules official, played a role in the Ryder Cup without even knowing it.
Ludvig Aberg had just finished his senior year at Texas Tech as the No. 1 player in PGA Tour University, giving him a tour card. He said on the “Golf Subpar” podcast that he went to PGA Tour headquarters for a rookie orientation.
“There was a rules official and he told me: ‘It might be a good idea to apply for an affiliate membership with the European tour. If you do that, you’ll be eligible for the Ryder Cup team,’” Aberg said.
He thought that was a stretch, maybe something that would happen in two years, not three months.
“That was the first time we had conversations about it,” he said. “It was quite cool that it ended up the way it did.”
That rules official at the orientation was Cox, who remembers chatting with Aberg but didn’t recall the Ryder Cup conversation until someone at the tour sent him a clip of the podcast.
“He was a super nice guy,” Cox said. “I can’t even remember getting into detail with eligibility and the Ryder Cup. Whatever it was, it must have resonated with him. The rest is history.”
Aberg won the European Masters and was announced as a captain’s pick the next day. And in Rome, he expertly teamed with Viktor Hovland to win two foursomes matches, including a record 9-and-7 win over Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka.
For the likes of former U.S. Amateur champion James Piot and Chase Koepka, the younger brother of PGA champion Brooks Koepka, their future in tournament golf is at a crossroads.
They were among four players who finished 45th or worse in the 48-man standings, meaning their only way back to the lucrative, Saudi-funded LIV Golf League is through a promotions tournament. A date and location have not been announced.
According to current PGA Tour policy regarded unauthorized events (such as LIV), players are ineligible to compete in any PGA Tour-sanctioned event for one year after their final round of the unauthorized event.
That would be Oct. 15, 2024, which would make them ineligible for Q-school until 2025 (prequalifying began in September this year).
They could play the Asian Tour, which has had an infusion of LIV cash and is a viable option, if not better considering the prize money.
Either way, the last two years were not a total loss.
Piot had just over $3.9 million in earnings over the last two seasons. Koepka made just over $6.2 million. The other two who got relegated were Jed Morgan ($3.3 million) and Sihwan Kim ($4 million).
Players with 300 career cuts on the PGA Tour are eligible for a one-time exemption if they don’t qualify for a top 25 or top 50 career money exemption. The policy requires that in most cases they play at least 15 times the previous year. They would be ranked below the Q-school graduates in the priority list. … Tom Kim is the fourth-youngest player to have three PGA Tour victories at 21 years, 3 months. The youngest would be Gene Sarazen at 20 years, 5 months. Two of The Squire’s wins were the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. … Steven Alker of New Zealand (International), Miguel Angel Jimenez (Europe) and Jerry Kelly have been added to the rosters of the inaugural World Champions Cup on Dec. 7-10 at The Concession in Bradenton, Florida. … Takumi Kanaya leads Keita Nakajima by about $8,000 on the Japan Golf Tour money list. Both are playing in the Zozo Championship. Kanaya is No. 125 in the world ranking, while Nakajima is at No. 126.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Joaquin Niemann made just over $4 million this year in LIV Golf without ever finishing in the top three in 13 tournaments.
“I’ve always felt that I was good enough to be a professional golfer and play against the best in the world. Now to be here to — I think — consider myself one of the best in the world, it’s what I’ve been dreaming about since I was 9 years old.” — Talor Gooch after winning the LIV Golf points race.