Alfred Dunhill Links Championship – the Benefit of Innovation

Lucas Bjerregaard – defending champion courtesy of Getty

When the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship was introduced to the European Tour in 2001, few would have imagined the great success the event would have experienced over the next eighteen years.

The concept of Europe’s leading professionals playing with celebrities from the sporting and entertainment world and those with business success stories provided plenty of early story-lines for the event but would the initial intrigue last, especially given its relatively late season date?

The then US$5 million purse was a factor in gaining some early momentum for the event, as was the opportunity to play three outstanding links layouts near the home of golf, two of them layouts on the rota of the Open Championship, but the subsequent longevity of the event has told the importance of a point of difference in tournament golf.

Certainly the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am in the US, the Bing Crosby Pro Am and a similar event in Las Vegas had set the tone for events of this format but that the Alfred Dunhill Links has lasted longer than many perhaps felt would be the case back in 2001 is a reflection on an event which provides both professionals and amateurs a unique opportunity.

Playing together in high end tournament conditions for the amateurs and the chance for many of the professionals to introduce friends and family to the inner cauldron of tournament golf has seen the event regularly attract some of Europe’s best.

Other events around the world have introduced a similar format, notably the New Zealand Open which was on a downward spiral and struggling for survival as a bona fide event on a world circuit before tournament organisers took the model they had created for the New Zealand PGA Championship two years earlier and introduced it, in 2014, to one of the world’s longest running events.

Again, the ingredients were the same. Sporting and business celebrities playing with professionals throughout the tournament week on two outstanding golfing facilities in an iconic location (Queenstown) proved an immediate success.

There were doubters early, too, in New Zealand. The purists felt that a national open championship might struggle in what appeared at the time to be a gimmicky format.

That the event has developed from its previous shaky existence into one of the most popular on the combined tours of Asia and Australasia tells the story of the importance of a point of difference in the week to week staging of regular 72-hole stroke-play events.

Millbrook Resort – host venue for the 2020 NZ Open – Photosport

The AT&T, Alfred Dunhill Championship and the New Zealand Open are exactly that, 72 hole stroke-play events, but that they offer a dimension which has assisted them to sustain their popularity and longevity is testament to their innovative format.

This week’s event being played over the Old Course at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns has attracted many of Europe’s best. Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry, to name a few, highlight an event that continues to attract the game’s best.

It is not the prize-money now that is the attraction. After all and very surprisingly, the purse in 2019 is essentially the same it was in 2001, but that many of the game’s best want to be part of this event is a reflection on the enjoyment they get out of playing with friends and family and the very inclusive nature of the event in one of the game’s very special locations.

Plenty of Australasians get their chance this week as not only those who have the right to play European Tour events at this level through their European Tour status will tee it up but so too will a number of players who get their opportunity through invitation or via their efforts on money lists elsewhere.

Lucas Herbert, Jason Scrivener, Wade Ormsby and Jake McLeod are European Tour regulars but they will be joined by fellow Australians, Min Woo Lee, Dimi Papadatos, Marcus Fraser, Harrison Endycott, Jarryd Felton, Daniel Nisbet, Terry Pilkadaris, Callan O’Reilly and Simon Hawkes who will be joined by New Zealanders, Ryan Fox, Michael Campbell and Daniel Hillier.

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