The PGA CEO faces Media on Coolum

BY Bruce Young | Australasian PGA Tour | 2012 Australian PGA Championship | General | 11 Dec 2012

Brian Thorburn – CEO of the PGA of Australia, today faced a lengthy press conference to discuss many of the issues surround the staging of the event at the former Hyatt Regency Coolum (now Palmer Coolum Resort) this week.

The event even being staged at Palmer Coolum Resort was still under a cloud until meetings over the weekend eased the tension somewhat and resolved many of the issues.

The following is a transcript of the Media conference provided in full because of the signficance of the content and the situation.

Q. Where will the Aus PGA be played next year

BT The easiest way to answer that is that it will definitely be played in Qld, it won’t be here, we haven’t been able to reach terms with Palmer Coolum Resort besides the best efforts of both parties. We haven’t been sitting on our hands we have been negotiating for many months and during that period we have had a look at other alternatives, we certainly haven’t reached agreement yet, we haven’t worked too hard because we were very hopeful that we would be able to close agreement here. It will be held in Qld, most likely in South East Qld alot of speculation about the Gold Coast and that is well and truly a serious possibility and Brisbane is there as well. Both are big population bases but we don’t rule anything out and we are very confident we will find an appropriate venue on appropriate terms.

Q- What was the uncommon ground?

BT These arrangements, like any are common to other sports as well when you try and secure a facility to play an event in, commerce is always a big part of it but it also matters around the game itself and in this case dates and scheduling is another factor. There are a number of factors but particularly commerce, the Palmer Coolum Resort has certainly publicly said that they didn’t want to continue with the level of sponsorship that they have previously had, so that was certainly a factor. They are quite entitled and we completely understand the fact that the resort makes its own commercial decisions as we do. So under that heading commerce was certainly a big factor in it.

Q – How much is it to do with Palmer himself?

BT I haven’t been negotiating with Mr Palmer I have been negotiating with the General Manager and others in the company. I look at it as the Palmer Coolum Resort Company and the body of that has the contract with us, I actually say very little. Clearly the company has a board and an owner and his opinion is I’m sure is considerably important to them, but we haven’t been hooked up with Mr Palmer at all.

Q- How rocky did it get?

BT I’m not going to go into a cut and thrust of the negotiations, these things can have ups and downs and peaks and troughs, the depth of that trough isn’t important compared to the fact that we resolved the issues. We came out with a successful outcome and we have a great tournament which is kicking off on Thursday.

Q – Will there be any local rules?

BT There will and let me give you a bit of information. Before I do, this is the Rules of Golf Handbook, many of you have got it and on the very first page there is a quote and it says this “Play the ball as it lies, play the course as you find it and if you cannot do either do what is fair but to do what is fair you need to know the rules of golf.” We have introduced a local rule which I will read to you and we have Andrew Langford-Jones here who is the tournament director that can answer any specific follow on questions. The local rule is “Abnormal Ground Conditions – all grass painted advertising signs located through the green are deemed to be Ground Under Repair, with relief available under Rule 25-1 for lie, stance or area of intended swing. The extremities of the painted advertising sign are deemed to define the margin of the condition. Distance lines painted lateral to the fairways are not advertising signs”. So what that basically means is that if the ball lands within say the rectangular area of a grass advertising sign, the players are entitled to take relief, no closer to the hole but to drop it in the same way as he would for any other Ground Under Repair circumstance.

Q – How many holes will this be an issue for?

BT I went out yesterday on the cart and had a look at each of the holes, it is hard to judge how many are in what you might call a landing zone, but I don’t get the sense that there are more than maybe half a dozen or so, it’s completely hard to say. Many of them I believe are painted on slopes as well if you have a close look so they don’t roll off so there is some consideration there but I don’t know the sites. I believe that there are 61 grass signs painted on the course and I think a relatively small number, I’m not sure if 6 to 10 will be in landing zones and will be likely to have balls.

Q – 11 Years history – how do you feel?

BT I think it is very sad, we have had a great run on the Sunshine Coast, it has been fantastic, but nothing stays forever. We have a tournament with an operating budget of $5 million dollars and we don’t have the facilities to run the thing at a loss. So commerce plays a part in these things you have to make the book balance and that is the same philosophy that I am sure this resort has it has different revenues and different expenses so it’s judged that it can’t make that work. Emotionally it will be sad, the PGA has had a great run here and we are sorry to be leaving.

Q – Did stakeholders discuss their want to have it stay here?

BT We’ve been talking with all of the stakeholders for quite awhile and Sunshine Coast Regional Council has been a very big supporter of this tournament for a long period of time so we have kept them briefed about where we were and this didn’t come as a surprise to those stakeholders.

Q – What will the Sunshine Coast lose financially?

BT Look I don’t have those numbers, I can’t talk with authority to that question. Clearly the community would like it to stay in terms of hotel rooms and taxi activity. What we will be doing we will be talking to the Sunshine Coast about another tournament, perhaps a Tier 2 tournament, which might again grow, so it is not as if we are casting aside. We have been talking to the Coast about the Holden Scramble continuing here and that has been also a big driver of activity, perhaps not as big as the PGA I am sure, but we will do what we can to keep the legacy of golf on the Sunshine Coast.

Q- Did you think there’d ever be a dinosaur on the course?

BT No, but having said that let’s put it into perspective, it has generated some tremendous publicity for this tournament and we don’t have a big marketing budget so in that regard everybody knows that the PGA is on at Coolum at the moment. From a golf perspective the guys who are playing the 9th hole don’t see it as they chip in, it might be in the background when they are putting from the opposite direction. The 10th tee it’s not in their sights when they are teeing it up, so it is not going to interfere in the golf in any way.

Q – As long as it’s turned off

BT We were concerned if it made a noise or if it moved that that might have been, particularly the noise, would affect the golf and we sought assurances about that and they were given very quickly without debate. So we have got an agreement from the resort that it will be turned off during tournament days, I haven’t personally seen it working and how loud it is. It might be on during the Pro-Am but we have been assured that it will not be on from Thursday through to Sunday.

Q – Are you bracing yourself for any surprises, Clive has a history of occasionally pulling something out of the hat?

BT I don’t believe so, we can’t rule it out. We reached an agreement on Sunday that the tournament would proceed, we have an agreement about access to the course and the way the tournament operates. We have a long legacy of history in terms of how it is run, so I am not expecting any surprises, I certainly hope there aren’t any.

Q – Was Clive upset his son couldn’t play?

BT Never heard a word about that and we never asked. Earlier this year I can tell you that, and this is public again, we were asked to approve a sponsors invitation to the winner of a play-off of the club pro’s at the three golf courses owned by Clive at that stage and one of those club pro’s from Gold Coast Colonnial (formerly known as Robina) and Palmer Coolum Resort did receive an invitation and as recently as ten days ago we were asked by the resort for another sponsor invitation for a particular PGA member and we agreed to that. We have never been asked about anybody else and in my book he is not a Pro so he is ineligible to play because he is an amateur. He is fine to play in the Pro-Am obviously but I don’t know whether he is but we have never been asked if he could play in the tournament itself.

Q – Expectations of impact of different venue.

BT We’ve plans to upgrade the PGA, we think it can be bigger and better than it is. We’ve got plans to grow the PGA we’ve got some very big plans for the way in which we can do that, I am not at libity to go into that at the moment but of course, this is the PGA’s premier event. The PGA tour is obviously a sanction by professional golf across Australia so we have got involvement in all the tournaments but this one we aren’t so it is important to us and we have got plans to make it bigger and better.

Q – Is there a relationship with Clive carry forward?

BT There could be we are not ruling out dealing with Clive in the future or Clive’s resorts at all, it’s just that we haven’t been able to reach agreement for a renewal of the arrangements here. Our business model currently relies on securing a diverse range of revenues from broadcasting, corporate sponsors, hospitality, ticketing, merchandising and catering and so on. There are very few cases and I am not aware of any in Australia where a wealthy person just comes in and writes a cheque and puts on a big tournament. That is fraught with danger in our view and whilst we welcome investment from anybody we wouldn’t want to be reliant upon a tournament in a single persons hand.

Q – Have you ever had to change rules before to the extent it has been here?

BT There have been tournaments in Australia in the past where the odd grass sign has been in place, there are grass signs in tournaments overseas and in those cases a similar rule is applied, GUR by the body in control of those events. What has been applied here in terms of the local rule is no different to what happens internationally.

Q – At some point it wasn’t going ahead?

BT I said we resolved our differences, there is no doubt that we expressed concern but the signs caught us by surprise we didn’t agree to them.

Q – How close was it to not going ahead?

BT I also said I wasn’t going to go to the cut and thrust of the peaks and troughs, I always had confidence that we would resolve our differences and we did.

Q – Reaction from players – moving and signs

BT I haven’t spoken to a lot of players I have had a few other things to be doing but those that I have have said that it is not as bad as they expected. When you go out and drive the course many of them are in an area where a ball is never going to go, they are on downslopes. The concern of the players are if it is going to effect the game so it only the ones in the landing zones that would be a concern to players from a playing the game perspective and we have addressed them through the local rule and the GUR. Our concerns were also about the effect on some of the sponsors but we have been in regular dialogue with them, they understand the circumstances that it wasn’t the PGA’s making and life goes on. The strength in our relationship with the sponsors will carry us through any of those concerns.

Q – Reaction to moving course?

BT We are in dialogue with our stakeholders on the issue regularly, this is not something that has come up in the last 7 days we have been working on this since much earlier in the year and we have had a fair idea for awhile that it looked unlikely that we will be able to reach agreement so as we go through that process we consult with our partners so it is not a surprise. When we look at any venue and I mentioned commerce and scheduling and so forth the needs of our sponsors and other partners are paramount as well, you have to have a broadcast compound, capable of getting a satellite signal out and marquee facilities and areas a sponsor can activate for the fans, you have to have security – so there are a whole range of different issues that come to bear when selecting and negotiating a course to play a big event like this. Our sponsors and our partners are fully aware and I believe supporting of us.

Q -Volunteers working under Palmer – will they be well looked after?

BT Yes absolutely, the volunteers that support us through the tournament we will look after them in the sense of catering, drinks, facilities and uniforms and so on throughout the tournament. Again this was publicly reported that there were some changes to the arrangements where they can play golf on the course after the event and those arrangements were determined by the resort. In the great scheme of things volunteers as I interpret it come along more for the experience and the giving back to the tournament, we look after them during the tournament so the golf was just a slight benefit not a massive issue.

Q – Tier 2 tournament how far down the line?

BT It is a bit early to say, we have only just initiated those discussions but I would like to think that we would be able to resolve that in the next three months or so. I don’t rule it out being here but equally the logistics associated with that next layer of tournament aren’t as intense so there are other golf courses in the region that could quite readily host the Tier 2 event.

Q – Any Sunshine Coast courses still in contention for PGA?

BT We exhausted all other opportunity on the Sunshine Coast as we were simultaneously discussing with Palmer Coolum Resort.

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    About the Author: Bruce Young

    A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of the game comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.


    Read all of Bruce's articles »

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