A classic of a tournament returns

Malaysian golf fans will soon have the opportunity to once again get up close with many of the world’s best golfers when they tee up for what can be described as a ‘Major’ in this part of the world

Some things keep going. The CIMB Classic, for instance, the biggest and richest golf tournament in South-East Asia, is set to be played at TPC Kuala Lumpur (TPCKL) in Mont Kiara on Oct 11-14, 2018, for the ninth time.

Thanks largely to the constants — the bank, for one, and prize money which remains at US$7 million (RM28 million), to be played for by a limited field of some of the best players in the world, with slots for two of Malaysia’s finest — 78 in all.

Last year’s winner, Pat Perez, is returning to defend his title. When entries close on Sept 19, one can bet there will be other exciting players, who have been here before, together with newcomers to the rarefied air of top level golf around the globe. The first drum roll came from CIMB Group Holdings Bhd group CEO Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz, at the tournament launch by Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Steven Sim Chee Keong on Aug 28, on the lofty 31st floor of Menara CIMB in KL.

Tengku Zafrul had every reason to be upbeat.

“Since the launch of the CIMB Classic eight years ago, we are proud and feel privileged that our flagship sporting spectacle has helped profile Malaysia to a truly global audience across over a million homes in 226 countries via live broadcast annually.”

The tournament had also helped grow the game in Malaysia by inspiring and providing opportunities for two Malaysian pros to be part of the action.

The duo will get to tee up alongside the others on the strength of one winning the CIMB National Championship (Sept 25-28) and the other by being the highest ranked player on the Official World Golf Ranking at this point in time.

Co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and Professional Golf Association of Malaysia (PGAM), the players will be made up of 60 available players from the 2017-18 FedExCup points list, the Top-10 available from the Asian Tour Habitat for Humanity standings and eight sponsor exemptions, which include the two Malaysians.

Some redoubtable international stars, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Ernie Els, have played in the tournament in the years gone by.

They have been followed by the likes of Justin Thomas, who won back-to-back in 2015 and 2016 on his way to winning nine other tournaments, plus a Major, to rank No 1 in the world in May.

The tournament launch provided a platform for Sim to address and interact with sponsor invitees, who included Tourism Malaysia chairman Datuk Ahmad Shah Hussein

Tambakau, PGAM president Valrick Harris Zainal Abidin and the media.

The tournament, showcasing the country to the world and generating a lot of goodwill, is seen as helping homegrown athletes gain exposure to competition at the international level.

“Hopefully, we will see our own golfing versions of Datuk Lee Chong Wei (once a world No 1 in badminton) and Datuk Nicol David (once a world No 1 in squash) coming into the big picture,” said Sim.

CIMB had shown the way for corporations to bring world-class tournaments to the country and assist in grassroots sports development. He hopes for more of the same from other corporate entities.

One way would be to provide “dual-track” career opportunities by giving employment, as well as seeing to sporting development in deserving cases.

“Sports is a universal expression of competition towards excellence, fair play, justice, integrity and community, as well as vision — and whatever we do in that context will reverberate in the nation as a whole.”

For the launch gimmick, there was a “contest” on stage between Tengku Zafrul and Sim on a putting mat. If anything, it revealed that Sim was no golfer.

A highlight was a short video presentation of the golfing greats who had graced the tournament before, and who extolled the virtues of playing in the tournament and being in KL. “Awesome,” was how Justin Thomas described it.

A question-and-answer session that came next, moderated by CIMB group asset management and investments CEO Effendy Shahul Hamid, saw an explanation as to why the field was limited to 78.

PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association) Tour VP and ED Todd Rhinehart said it was mainly because of weather constraints (rain, usually in the afternoons).

A shorter playing time was seen as ideal and which had also been adopted at The CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges tournament in South Korea, to which the players would head for after KL.

In the CIMB Classic’s very first event in 2010 at the Mines Resort & Golf Club, the field was just 40, subsequently raised to 48, and now it’s been capped at 78.

For the tournament this time, the golf course at TPCKL had been closed for refurbishment and re-turfing of the greens with TifEagle, making them much faster.

“You won’t be seeing winning scores like Peres’ 24-under and Thomas’ 26-under any longer,” said Rhinehart, with a dire warning in his voice softened by a smile.

The deputy minister was also asked about the sorry state of national sports associations, to which he said he expects them to get their act together, a message he would be at pains to impart in his dealings with them.

Persuasion, not the big stick, was what he had in mind.