An eventful season gone by

  • Golf
  • Sunday, 29 Dec 2019

The opening of the Classic course at Forest City was a welcome development this season.

THE confirmation last week that the Malaysian Open will return as an Asian Tour event next March, after an absence of five years, was a nice way to help bring the curtain down on the 2019 golf season.

Of course, there were several other events and developments that made this season an eventful one, and perhaps none more so than Tiger Woods winning his 15th Major championship title at the US Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in April.

A month or so prior to that the highlight of the Malaysian calendar – the Maybank Championship – was held at Saujana Golf & Country Club in Subang, and again clearly illustrated just why it is among the best and most popular on the European Tour.

The Malaysian Open, given the position it finds itself in at the moment, has a long way to go to get anywhere near in stature compared to the Maybank Championship. But the fact that something has now been done to get back on the road is a positive move to say the least.

Indeed, the announcement was a long time in coming but it was heartening to note that the Malaysian Golf Association (MGA) said they found enough sponsorship to host an event that will carry US$1mil in prize money and fit in as a co-sanctioned competition with the Japan

Golf Tour.

What took quite a few folks by surprise was MGA president Admiral (R) Tan Sri Datuk Mohd Anwar Mohd Nor’s declaration that there was no title sponsor, but rather a collaboration with several partners who would come up with the funding. On this, he added that a further announcement would be made in the New Year on whom these sponsors might be.

It was also interesting to hear Asian Tour chief executive officer and commissioner Cho Minn Thant confirm that there would be 20 players drawn from the Japan circuit.

Also, there will no fewer than 40 slots made available to local players, some of them “amateurs and veterans”.

But if there was one lot that really captured the imagination of the world of golf this year, then it was Woods’ triumph at the Masters. It was the crowning of a comeback from serious injury and personal issues that thwarted him for more than a decade.

And as if to prove a point to his detractors, and all those naysayers, Woods won the inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan in October. At the event that took the place of the now defunct CIMB Classic, the Zozo win marked a 82nd PGA title for Woods, which brought him

level with Sam Snead’s all-time Tour record.

But even then, Woods was far from done for the campaign. Last week he captained the United States to a thrilling success over Team International in the President Cup at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Victoria, Australia, where he featured as a player too. The US trailed on each day before claiming victory in the singles in the last round.

With this, Woods again left the sport in awe of his powers that many say are the greatest yet in the game.

The Maybank Championship, the biggest and best golf tournament in South-East Asia, lived up to its hype as it delivered on all fronts.

Australian Scott Hend emerged the champion after a gripping playoff triumph over Spaniard Nacho Elvira. This followed some quality golf as both players finished regulation on 15-under 273.

The Maybank Championship though is more than just a golf event. It is a source of good entertainment and is family-orientated, something that other tournaments crucially lack.

Besides this, the US$3mil Maybank Championship, co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour, is also about spreading goodwill within the Asean region. And to this end it is the only tournament that features an Asean category – guaranteeing at least five places for players from this region.

Before even this, the start of the year was characterised by the introduction of a long string of new rules.

A raft of new laws were adopted in the Rules of Golf by the R&A, custodians of the global game except the US and Mexico, who fall under the jurisdiction of the United States Golf Association (USGA), who signed off on it as well.

There were initial concern raised in some quarters, including on the Tours, but after that things settled down somewhat.

The opening of a new golf course is always a welcome event and Forest City’s unveiling of the Classic course in August was one that drew international attention to the complex.

This was the opening of a second tract at the Johor location and a third is in the planning stages.

A top-class venue that also has accommodation on site, Forest City is certainly a player of note in Malaysian golf industry.

The Classic was crafted by golf course architect Liang Guo Kun, who has experience with designs in China and is an executive director and vice-president of Country Garden, the proprietors.

The new layout is widely considered tougher to play than the Jack Nicklaus-designed, the Legacy – the first course on the property.

Last month Kelly Tan regained her LPGA Tour card at Qualifying School in the US and is set to return to the main circuit after a two-year absence. That piece of good news brought good cheer too for the local fans. She won the first two events on the Professional Golf of Malaysia (PGM) Tour at the start of season, which features women’s events in some of the Closed Series and Asian Development Tour (ADT) events on its schedule.

The PGM Tour itself provided loads of action, more so with a hat full of ADT events that form a huge part of the domestic schedule.

And now, in the holiday season, planning and preparations will have started for some, who will be looking forward to 2020, and with good reason. This year was eventful and next season might prove to be even better – who knows?

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