Australian Open 2022 Review with David Wright
Neangar Park Golf Club
The Australian Pitch and Putt and Par 3 Golf Association Inc. (APPA+3) would like to acknowledge the hospitality of Neangar Park Golf Club, Bendigo, our hosts for the 15th Australian Open Pitch and Putt Championships.
We would also like to extend our appreciation to the sponsors for the event Taylor Made for their donation of the major prizes, the City of Greater Bendigo Council, and local Federal Parliamentarian, Ms. Lisa Chesters, MP, for their financial support without which the event could not have been staged.
Finally, the Association would like to acknowledge the outstanding contribution of Phil DeAurago to the sport of Pitch and Putt in Australia in his all too short Presidency, for his seminal role in the development of the Neangar Park Pitch and Putt course and, in particular, for his performance as Tournament Director for this year’s Australian Open Championships.
REVIEW OF 2022 AUSTRALIAN OPEN CHAMPIONSHIPS
The Australian Open Championship is APPA+3’s Blue Riband Event. It is the highlight and culmination of the calendar year and, potentially, represents a primary source of income.
The 2022 Australian Open Championship event was unique in a number of respects. It was the first since the outbreak of Covid 19. It was the first held at a golf club, it was the first conducted on a 9 hole course, it was the first deliberately targeting the involvement of ‘regulation’ golfers and it was the first conducted at the newly opened course at the Neangar Park Golf Club in Bendigo Victoria.
While each of these factors represented a risk they were also the very reason that Neangar Park was the most appropriate choice of venues at this stage in the development of the sport in Australia. The biggest risk as the tournament approached was the threat the weather was having on the establishment and preparation of the course.
One way of minimising those risks was to establish a single authority in the form of a Tournament Director. In this regard we were very fortunate in having Phil Dearaugo as Tournament Director. Phil had been President of the Neangar Park Golf Club and had led the development of the Pitch and Putt Course and Driving Range project. He was also the APPA+3 President although he had accepted that position very reluctantly and, sadly, announced he would no longer be standing as President at the conclusion of the National Championships.
The event was promoted through social media (Facebook) and by the posting of a coloured flyer on the FIPPA and Golf Australia websites. A Media release was also provided to FIPPA and thanks tot the efforts of Phil DAraugo and FIPPA webmaster, John Manning, featured the venue as its Course of the Month for October 2022 immediately prior to the event.
A Media Strategy needs to be developed which targets radio, television, social media and print media before, during and after the event. An individual Media Officer needs to be appointed to ensure we secure the maximum benefit from our flagship event.
A Contingency Plan was drawn up should the event be interrupted or need to be cancelled for reasons which could not have been foreseen such as rain, flooding, a fire or other damage at the venue etc. The Plan constructed was event-specific but needs to be revisited and included as a key element of the General Guidelines for the Conduct of Major Events.
Neangar Park was selected to host the 2022 Australian Open Championships following a call for Expressions of Interest which failed to generate any nominations. This was, perhaps, because it was called late in the year rather than at the beginning. EoI’s for the National Championships should be called at least 12 months ahead in order to be included in FIPPA’s Calendar posted for the following Calendar Year. Sufficient time should be allowed to obtain the necessary permission from FIPPA to conduct the event on a particular weekend in November as that month can be a particularly congested involving World Championship and other international events.
Neangar Park Golf Club is located is in Bendigo suburb of Eaglehawk. Bendigo has a population of approximately 100000. It has a long history and a range of tourist attractions and is easily accessed by major highways from Canberra, Wagga Wagga and Melbourne and Geelong - the main centres of Pitch and Putt Golf in SE Australia.
Neangar Park Golf Club is the first Golf Club to embrace Pitch and Putt, offering it for casual play to the general public. The course is located near the entrance to the club and while located at some distance from the main licensed club house, it is well serviced from the Pro Shop and is served by newly constructed toilet block which it shares with users of the driving range which runs parallel to the first hole on the P&P course
The event was conducted on the weekend of 26 and 27 November 2022. We were extremely fortunate that after weeks of rain which caused major flooding in the region, the weather was more than kind to us with cloudless skies and warm temperatures without being too hot.
The event was billed as the Australian Open Pitch and Putt Championships and was advertised on social media and by the circulation of a poster and handbill at various Pitch and Putt clubs and to golf clubs, especially in the Bendigo region and in the ACT. The event was promoted via a Media Release on the FIPPA website.
The event was conducted over 54 holes with prizes totalling more than $3000 offered as incentives to participation. Awards were given to the Best Gross and therefore Australian Open Champion by either a Man or a Lady. No separate awards were made for Men’s or Ladies’ Gross competitions. Nett awards were made for both Men and Women, Seniors and Juniors. In the event the one junior entry did not complete the event and therefore no award was made in this category.
With only 9 holes it was necessary to place a limit of 72 entries on the event which would allow two fields of 36 playing in groups of 4. A morning or afternoon tee time was offered.
The course was presented in magnificent condition. Two of the nine holes involved negotiating a major water hazard. However, each also offered a shorter tee which served as a drop zone for those unfortunate enough to find a watery grave from their original tee shot.
The greens were large, certainly when compared to other Pitch and Putt courses found elsewhere in Australia and overseas. In general, pitch and putt greens are 70-120 square metres whereas the greens at Neangar tended to be in the 250-400 square metre range. While this suggests Neangar would play more easily than most this was not the case, especially for P&P players who do not have to make putts of 40-50 feet on their home courses. In this sense, the course favoured the ‘regulation’ golfer.
The entry cost at $60 which included a $10 APPA+3 Annual Registration Fee is considered very low especially given the fact that three rounds at Neangar would normally cost $45 and the entry fee also included all the prizes and a BBQ at the conclusion of the event.
It should be noted that the Winner of the Open Championship and the Winner of the Ladies Best Gross have their entry fee covered by APPA+3 as one way of encouraging those players to defend their titles. For this year’s event, $60 was waived for James Rogerson as the current Men’s Open Champion. June Drury, holder of the current Ladies Championship, did not take up this offer because she was unable to attend due to family reasons – her father, Tom, himself an accomplished pitch and putt player, was still celebrating his 100th birthday with a houseful of visitors from the UK.
The field, it has to be said, was small, particularly given the concerted effort to reach out to the ‘regulation’ golf community. A number of reasons can be advanced for this with the benefit of hindsight:
The course had barely been open a month prior to the event so even Members of the Neangar Park Golf Club would have had limited opportunity to play experience the sport or play the particular course. If held twelve months from now one could reasonably expect a much heavier turnout from members at Neangar and even other golf clubs in the region.
The main reason for the low turnout was the fact that the three of the four main clubs Canberra, Waverley and Balyang were no longer affiliated with APPA+3.
Other explanations offered were:
- The Nationals were not held in 2021 because of travel restrictions due to Covid
- People had got out of the habit of travelling
- Covid is still a worry particularly among the P&P demographic.
- Bendigo and Neangar are new to the P&P scene
- An away trip to Wagga was organised among some Canberra International players the weekend before the Nationals. A number of these players would, I’m sure be participating if it was ‘at home’ in Canberra.
- People may just be doing it tough financially. The cost of participating for an interstate competitor could be as much as $700-800 which, given the rate of inflation, recent petrol and energy cost rises and the general price hikes being experienced at the supermarket, may make people uneasy about how much they can justify on such a discretionary expenditure item.
- The recent weather and the floods have all made people hesitant to commit.
- It had forced the deferral of many events leading to a congestion of events in the immediate lead up.
- This was particularly true of junior events
- It also limited the opportunity for the Neangar Club to develop its own pitch and putt club within the Golf Club and to organize formal competitions.
- Finally, the linking of the APPA AGM to the event limited the choice of dates to November whereas the Club would prefer to host events on the March-May months primarily due to the type of grass used at Neangar.
The 2022 field had the following characteristics:
Total Players 24 comprising 18 men and 6 women
The players were drawn from the following Clubs or Areas:
Neangar Park (Home Club) 9 37.5%
Bendigo Region Golf Clubs 5 20.9%
Wiradjuri (Wagga P&P) 5 20.9%
Canberra International 2 8.2%
Waverley P&P 3 12.5%
Totals 24 100.0
Interstate representation was approximately 30% with three quarters of those the regular contingent from Wagga.
On a slightly more positive note, it was encouraging to see that three players from Waverley, including past Champion, Marc Fischer, participated. The two players from Canberra also included four-time winner and defending Open Champion, James Rogerson. One notable top-flight Pitch and Putt player missing from the field was Wiradjuri’s Jack Kalis who had to withdraw at the last minute due to family circumstances.
The split between Pitch and Putt Players and Regulation Golfers was almost 50/50. The former were able to participate in both the Gross and Nett events while the regulation golfers were limited to participation the Open itself unless they also had a recognized P&P handicap. What is interesting to note is the proportion of the regulation golfers who boasted very low handicaps. In that sense, while small, the field was of an exceptionally high quality.
The Open Championship
The Open Championship was played over 54 holes – 36 on the Saturday and an 18 hole round on the Sunday. Written Information provided to players including the draw and information about pin placements on each was excellent ad should serve as a model for future major events.
The Championship was dominated by the regulation golfers who took out the top 6 finishes. The Championship itself required a Play-off which was won by a first hole birdie by Simon Sheedy.
The Ladies Best Gross was won by Jenny Whittaker (Wiradjuri) from Anne Weekley (Neangar) and Marion Kalis (Wiradjuri).
The nett (handicap) events were played under the same 54 hole format. For the record, the Men’s Best Nett was won by Brendan Hammond (Waverley) from Bob Reynolds and Garry Scadden both from the Wiradjuri club.
The Ladies Nett was won by Sue Sutton (Neangar) from Anne Weekley (Neangar) and Jenny Whittaker (Wiradjuri).
The Seniors (Nett) was won by Sue Sutton (Neangar) from Anne Weekley (Neangar) and Bob Reynolds (Wiradjuri)
Contact was made with the winners in each category and the runner-up in the Open event who lost in a playoff at the 55th hole. They were unanimous in their praise for the organisation and conduct of the vent. Curiously, none considered the prize money important and certainly were not influenced by the availability of prize money which suggests that that could be a major saving in the future.
More generally, the feedback was positive at the time and participants were complimentary about the standard of the course notwithstanding it presented a quite different challenge to that faced by most P&P players in their normal club competitions.
Many of the ‘regulation golfers’ were relatively new to the game but have stated that they intend to continue playing and participating in future Championship events. Most appear willing to travel within reason to future State and National Championships.
Post Tournament Tasks
At the conclusion of the tournament. It is important to recognise there are still important tasks to be undertaken such as:
- Letters of Appreciation to the host venue and to sponsors of the event.
- Distribute results with covering report(s) to all relevant media contacts.
- Seek Plater Feedback by way of a formal survey preferably taken at the conclusion of the event.
- Prepare and distribute Tournament Review Report to all relevant parties but in particular FIPPA, Golf Australia, the Australian Sports Commission, relevant State Sport and Recreation Departments, the host local council and sponsors of the event.
- Review Guidelines for the Conduct of Major Championships.
There is little doubt that, notwithstanding the size of the field, the event was an outstanding success. However, there are important lessons to be learnt as set out above. These need to be addressed in the coming months, preferably, in time to be adopted and applied at next year’s event.
One thing is certain – Neangar Park Pitch and Putt Course is already a major feature of the Australian Pitch and Putt landscape.
The Neangar Park Golf Club were excellent hosts and the tournament was superbly managed by Phil DeAraugo supported by the staff of the Club.