Golf-COVID snags could see Australian Open join summer sports scrapheap


FILE PHOTO: Golf - Australian Open Golf Tournament - Sydney, Australia - 20-11-2016 Jordan Spieth of the United States tees off in Sydney. REUTERS/Jason Reed

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia's hopes of rebooting its golf tour remain thwarted by COVID-19 and its premier event may be a casualty of the pandemic for a second year running, Golf Australia boss James Sutherland told Reuters.

The country's biggest tournaments were cancelled last year and this year's have been pushed back to early-2022 but organisers remain hamstrung by strict travel curbs and quarantine rules.

Australia's borders are effectively shut and unlikely to open to non-residents until 2022, while the mandatory 14-day isolation in quarantine hotels is putting off the nation's top players from returning home to support the domestic tour.

That adds up to a nightmare for tournament organisers whose supply of talent required to sign sponsors and sell tickets has been all but choked off.

"The uncertainty sort of puts us in a difficult situation," Sutherland said in an interview on Monday.

"From our perspective, we are just trying to get a little bit of certainty as to what things look like and may look like.

"There’s usually a bit of crystal balling there but unfortunately these players tend to make arrangements a long way in advance."

The flagship Australian Open, which boasts former world number ones Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy among its recent winners, was pencilled in for late-January or early February last month after its November scheduling proved untenable.

Both the Australian Open and the 2022 women's event in Adelaide in February, which is also a stop on the elite LPGA Tour, are now in doubt.

"We’ve just got to now weigh up what do the events look like and is it possible to play at some lesser scale?" said Sutherland.

"They’re the sorts of things we’re trying to work through at the moment."

The loss of the tournaments would be another hammer blow for the local tour, while adding to a growing list of cancelled sport events in Australia.

Melbourne's Formula One Australian Grand Prix was postponed from its traditional March window to a November slot before being scrapped for a second year, along with motorcycling's MotoGP event at nearby Phillip Island.

Road cycling's Tour Down Under, a race on the top UCI World Tour, was cancelled last month, and there are doubts over whether the team-based ATP Cup tennis tournament can go ahead before the Australian Open Grand Slam at Melbourne Park in January.

Even organising small golf events for home-based players desperate for competition is proving a huge challenge for administrators, with Australia's southeastern states effectively isolated from the rest of the country while battling COVID-19 outbreaks.

"(That's) another layer of complexity with state borders and how players can move themselves around," said Sutherland.

"For players, time is money and they can’t afford two weeks in quarantine."

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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