Australian Open seeks PGA Tour co-sanction

Australian Open officials are working to have the tournament co-sanctioned, possibly by the PGA Tour, in order to provide a bigger prize-purse that will draw a deeper field in future years.

Australia's premier golf tournament in terms of history and prestige features Jordan Spieth and Jason Day in the field at The Australian Golf Club this week, but officials know it is in danger of becoming a relic if they are unable to secure a significant global partnership. Apart from the increased prize-fund, such a partnership would likely allow tournament organisers comfort to boost their budget for appearance money to further draw headline attractions such as Adam Scott.

The absence of such a partnership this year means Scott, Australia's only Masters Champion and the nation's most recognisable player, is not in Sydney despite featuring heavily since winning in 2009; nor is Australia's best player on form this year, Marc Leishman. Both men will play the Australian PGA Championship on the Gold Coast next week, a tournament co-sanctioned by the European PGA Tour that also features Sergio Garcia as the headline act.

Tournament director Trevor Herden is aware of the issues, noting "there were some communications and discussions had, and unfortunately we couldn't reach an agreement with Adam [Scott] so he's not playing".

"It's not like we're sitting idle," Herden said when asked on Tuesday about the future of the Australian Open.

"We're trying to find a way to make it stronger. We do suffer because we play this time of the year amongst four or five other tournaments. Maybe we've got to join somebody else [another tour], but at the moment the discussions are just early days. We might join another tour, we might just find another way to make it a little bit stronger."

The PGA Tour has already ventured into Asia, and further expansion appears on the horizon.

But the possibility of Australia's great golf courses -- such as The Australian and Royal Melbourne, which will host the Presidents Cup for the third time in 2019 -- and the nation's greatest tournament fitting into that equation remains a pipe dream for now.

"The US PGA Tour is moving into Asia, pushing its brand right around the world," Herden said. "They'll keep doing that slowly, but I think we've just got to be patient, and see where they fit. I think they're still in that 'putting their arms out' phase and then when they consolidate they'll probably consider other options, which might include us, who knows."

The list of Australian Open champions reads as impressively as that of any tournament globally, with Gary Player (seven victories), Jack Nicklaus (six) and Greg Norman (five) featuring heavily on the Stonehaven Cup. Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy have won three of the past four between them, but the tournament now is a long way from being regarded as the world's 'fifth major' -- as Player considered it during his playing days.

Geoff Ogilvy, 2006 US Open champion and 2010 Australian Open champion, was pragmatic when asked on Tuesday about the tournament's overall place in the global pecking order.

"Money talks," Ogilvy said. "Unfortunately it's the reality of the modern world."

The winner at The Australian Golf Club this weekend will pick up $AUD225,000, the equivalent of what Zach Johnson pocketed for his Tied 8 finish at the RSM Classic last week. The tournament does offer Open Championship qualification, as it is the first of the R&A's Open qualifying series for Carnoustie in 2018, but that's of little value to the world's best who are already automatic starters.

"We play for so much money [on the PGA Tour] ... a million dollars just doesn't move the needle for somebody over there anymore, because they win that every week. We have a big tax obligation for a foreigner when they come here; that's tough, but that's always going to be there and that's always been there.

"It's really difficult. It's a really long way to come from the east coast of the US, which is really where the majority of these guys live ... it's just not do-able; it's so far.

Ogilvy said that many American golfers might also prefer to stay home to celebrate Thanksgiving, while noting also that "Europe's got big stuff every week now that is very important".

"It's just a tough date and it's a tough economic climate to be able to do it, but I think we do all right.

"We could do better, but we do pretty well."

Ogilvy said he was disappointed not to see Scott and Leishman in the field.

"Two of the world's favourite golfers, not only Australia's, but the world's favourite golfers, it's a shame," Ogilvy said.

"It is what it is, but we've got a pretty good field. We've got Jordan and Jason. Most golf tournaments would fall over themselves to get Jordan and Jason in their field, so that's pretty good."

Spieth will begin his title defence playing alongside 2015 champion Matt Jones and last year's runner-up, Cameron Smith, at 12.10pm (AEDT) on Thursday. Day has been paired with Ogilvy and Rod Pampling to start at 7.05am (AEDT) Thursday.