Peter Thomson Discusses Decline Of Australian Golf

Five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson marveled at the burgeoning world-wide popularity of golf on the second day of the inaugural GolfEx Dubai, but also lamented the decline of the Australian tour. The 75-year-old is considered the greatest Australian golfer of all time thanks to the championships he won in the 1950s and '60s, but fears for the future of major tournaments in his homeland.

As he told the innovative conference, "Golf is sparking up in new places such as China, which is a boom town, and the (Arabian) Gulf is also in a mushrooming pattern. They want world-class tournaments, and the money being offered cannot be matched by Australia and New Zealand. We are facing the loss of the Australian circuit as we are being overwhelmed by the money being offered by tournaments in new places. We have to face up to that."

Thomson, once known as the Melbourne Tiger and elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1988, said the future may have to be very different for golf in Australia. "We have to be satisfied with a role as a nursery for our own players. We will struggle to survive. To find sponsors for tournaments, we have to ensure that they are televised. That's where we are running into serious problems."

Another issue, Thomson added, is to inspire golf to compete with sports such as cricket for television audiences, although he added: "I don't know how to make golf more exciting . . . it's not a pretty picture for professional golf in Australia."

He also believes it is important for the various professional tours to link forces and maximize what they have to offer players and sponsors. "It is vital that tours cooperate and that they respect each other's territories and times," said Thomson, reacting to a question about the European Tour's decision to stage two events in Asia without consulting the host circuit.

"This way they will not leave a free-for-all for who can dominate. That could do a lot of damage - I hope the problems can be resolved."

South African PGA Tour commissioner Johan Immelman, meanwhile, said the future was bright for golf in the Southern Hemisphere. "We will always be one of the graduation tours, where players serve their apprenticeship," said the father of pro golfer, Trevor Immelman. "It is vital for Australia and the Sunshine Tour to grow. We do produce world beaters."

Immelman also believes that GolfEx Dubai, which brought together the business of the world of golf at one venue as well as providing a platform for industry heavyweights to network, share knowledge and broker deals, will go from strength to strength after making an auspicious start. "This is an idea whose time has come," he said. "I believe that this could become the place where people come together at the start of the year to chart the course of golf business for the next 12 months."