Golf participation is booming, so why are professional players leaving after COVID?

He hasn’t played a professional golf tournament since the Victoria Open in early 2020, one of the last before the pandemic took hold in Australia. He has no intention of coming back.

For the record, Brandt-Richards said his partner’s cancer diagnosis and other life factors made his decision easier.

But he’s not the only one frustrated with the sport and the lack of opportunities for veteran professionals in Australia since COVID hit, despite rising participation rates in states like NSW, where public classes are. remained open.

“Golf courses are making more money than they ever made and we couldn’t play golf?” Weren’t there enough to hold Pro-Ams? Some went ahead and we got a few invites, ”says Brandt-Richards.

“I used to joke when I started, I’m going to go to open an envelope. As long as there was money in it and it could be opened, I was going. The participation side was booming, but on the professional side, there was nothing.

As the Australian national scene slowly wakes up from its COVID slumber – Australia’s PGA in January will be the biggest event in two years – a cohort of seasoned Australian pros have moved away from the game, or are set to do so .

It has been a golden year in some ways for the sport in Australia, with young guns Cameron Davis and Lucas Herbert securing their first victories on the PGA Tour, Min Woo Lee winning the Scottish Open and sitting in the dawn of the world top 50, her sister Minjee Lee claiming her first female major and Hannah Green cashing in a $ 1 million “life-changing” bonus on the LPGA Tour.

Lucas Herbert scored a decisive victory on the PGA Tour this year.Credit:Getty

But there are just as many stories of others unable to continue as the country opens up again.

The men’s Australian Open – which relies heavily on the return of the country’s US and European touring regulars mixed with a pinch of international power – has been called off in the past two years.

In October, Golf Australia announced that this year’s event at The Australian had been scrapped due to travel and quarantine restrictions. The next day, New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet announced that the 14-day isolation for vaccinated travelers from overseas would be lifted within two weeks.

Aside from a rush of events earlier this year ahead of the Sydney Delta variant outbreak – including Braith Anasta’s TPS Sydney, the Queensland Open and the NSW Open – Australia’s professional golf calendar has been stifled in 2021.

“I think there has been a big devaluation of what it means to be a professional golfer in Australia. We are considered a second-rate sport.

Callan O’Reilly

“Some of my best friends who I spent 12 years traveling the road with, they haven’t played a golf tournament in 18 months,” says former pro Callan O’Reilly, who has given up on touring to become a real estate agent in Newcastle. .

“Over the past two years I’ve expressed what I thought was a little disrespect to the guys who play in Australia. I think there has been a big devaluation of what it means to be a professional golfer in Australia. We are considered a second-rate sport.

“But the caliber of the players in this country is enormous. Per capita, our performance [overseas and domestically against visiting golfers] It’s incredible. Maybe this showed that participation is going to explode again without professional golf in Australia. “

O’Reilly, who has reached a career high of 447 in the world, is happy with his call, although he called it “massive.” He had partial status on the Japanese tour when COVID took hold of the world – he returned to Australia a day before the hotels were quarantined – and used his time away from golf to buy his first home. He is also preparing to become a father.

Callan O'Reilly at the New Zealand Open in 2018.

Callan O’Reilly at the New Zealand Open in 2018.Credit:Getty

“I spent 10 years as a traveling golfer and then all of a sudden my life changed,” says O’Reilly. “There were times when I had run out of my credit card and you were wondering, ‘How am I going to move on to the next one? Can I go to another state? But I was lucky to have a lot of support at home.

“I used to check the COVID case tracking website every day [in the first few weeks of the pandemic] and I thought, ‘we’re not leaving this year’. And I basically went out to find a job.

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“This is now the 30-year career. Towards the end, golf … it got tough to be fun.

To voice their concerns about the state of the local game, more than 50 players have joined an advisory group called the Oceania Golf Players Association, led by veteran player representative Joseph Sponholz.

He has worked on the NBA and NFL collective agreements, while the grand female champion Green is aligned with the movement and spoke last month about players wanting to have their voices heard.

But how many tournaments in Australia are viable?

“The economics of golf tournaments in Australia are not a pretty sight,” said Golf Australia Managing Director James Sutherland. “I think there are people who have unrealistic expectations about this possibility.

“We can’t get on with hosting money-losing events that aren’t fan-adopted either. We all have a role to play in that. That doesn’t mean I don’t. have no empathy for the tour professionals who have had a really tough time, we’ve all had a tough time during the COVID time. If we thought we could have organized these events, made them work and washed up face, then we would have.

“But we can’t lose money because every dollar we lose on a tournament is a dollar less than we can invest in growing the game in the sense of participation.”

OGPA insists he wants to work with the PGA of Australia, a sentiment shared by Australian professional veteran Steven Jeffress, who says he will severely limit his playing schedule as he turns to life. as an NDIS support worker for dementia patients.

“The reason I went on [the OGPA] was for young players, ”said Jeffress, the 2014 Fiji International winner.“ I just want them to have a voice. I definitely moved in a different direction [with my own life].

“I could give up golf and earn more money each week working than playing golf. At some point it becomes a bit of a business decision and you’re like, “What the hell am I doing? “

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