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Golf - 02. March 2008.

HSBC Women's Champions Hailed as an Instant Classic


Tim Maitland in Singapore

Before the winning putt was holed, before the first winner had even been crowned, the inaugural HSBC Women's Champions tournament in Singapore was being praised as one of the best events the LPGA has ever seen. The US$2 million dollar tournament created at the Tanah Merah Country Club as a sister event to the HSBC Champions men's event in Shanghai was described by players and tour officials as world class.

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SINGAPORE - FEBRUARY 29: Christie Kerr of USA prepares to hit his tee-shot on the 11th hole during the second round of the HSBC Women's Champions at Tanah Merah Country Club on February 29, 2008 in Singapore. (Photo by Getty Images for HSBC)



"It's a huge success; a huge success on every level," said Chris Higgs, the LPGA's COO and Senior Vice President.

"It's easily and instantly one of the top five LPGA events worldwide; without question. The HSBC Women's Champions has instantly become a leader and a benchmark for future LPGA tournaments, not only internationally but also in the United States. In many, many areas this event will be promoted to the other tournaments, including some of the Majors, as a best-in-class tournament."

The tournament, which has brought together all the Major winners of the past three years along with all of the 2007 LPGA tournament winners, the Order of Merit winners from the Korean and Japanese LPGA tours and the Ladies Asian Golf Tour, is rated even more highly by many of the golfers themselves.


"I would even rank it above one, if not two, of our Majors," declared the flamboyant Christina Kim.

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SINGAPORE - FEBRUARY 29: Paula Creamer of USA prepares to tee off on the sixth hole during the second round of the HSBC Women's Champions at Tanah Merah Country Club on February 29, 2008 in Singapore. (Photo by Getty Images for HSBC)


"The way HSBC look after us, the fact that we have such an international field, hosted by such an international city with good crowds and volunteers that are top notch – grade A – the feel of the event is star quality," she added

"It's the best tournament I've ever played in Asia. The biggest tournament I've ever seen," said the world number one Lorena Ochoa, who dominated the event on each of the first three days.

"To me, it's done very well. Everything is just the best you can get; the hospitality, the best golf course…"

For Hall of Famer Juli Inkster another key factor is that the organizers are acting on the feedback given to them by the golfers.

"You've got all the top players and they're listening to the players' voices – that's huge!" exclaimed the 47-year-old winner of seven Majors.

"As far as being well run it's definitely in the top five. The transport, the food, the hospitality has been great."

"It's definitely a world-class event," was reigning LPGA Rookie of the Year Angela Park's opinion.

"It is top 10 of all the tournaments we play. It's close to the top five – after the US Open and the Evian Masters it's up there. This tournament has respected us as sportswomen more than the others. We're spoiled enough as it is, but this has been fantastic."

Although LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens was reported to have said that a Major in Asia is not likely to happen anytime soon, time and again the golfers themselves were making favourable comparisons with the sport's blue riband competitions.

"It looks like a Major; that's how all the players feel," said Mhairi McKay, who hails from the home of golf, Scotland.

"You've got the Majors and this is the next best thing. It has a feel to it like the Masters at Augusta; it has the same kind of qualification criteria. The course is well set up. It's in great shape. You see HSBC everywhere and it has the feel of a Major golf tournament. They're excelling themselves and we're being treated exceptionally well."

This gushing praise seemed to be echoed by almost every player in the field and stands out considering the fact that, as Christina Kim was quick to admit, the LPGA players are not shy to voice their opinions when things aren't to their satisfaction.

"We know where we should be and how things should be. We have high expectations that are never, never met. This is the first event that has exceeded our expectations," said the American, whose personal popularity has soared in Singapore because of the marathon autograph sessions she happily succumbs to after every round.

"Without a question, this is what the standard should be set at week in and week out. The HSBC Women's Champions is 10 times better than what we get at a lot of events."

But as well as being acclaimed overnight as one of the elite events in the women's game, the HSBC Women's Champions is also earning immediate recognition as possibly the top golf event ever staged in Asia – regardless of sex!

Spencer Robinson, the publisher of Asian Golf Monthly magazine and a gnarled and grizzled veteran of the sport's rapid rise in the East, had few doubts.

"It's one of the best in Asia, no question. There's never been, in 25 years of golf events in Asia, one that has had the world's top 15. In terms of strength and depth of field this is the best there's ever been in Asia," Robinson declared.

"The Singapore Open, the HSBC Champions and the Hong Kong Open all do a pretty damn good job. This is certainly right up there as good as anything I've ever seen. It's amazing what they are doing."

Giles Morgan, HSBC's Head of Sponsorship, agreed that his new tournament has few peers in Asia.

"I'm biased, but I regarded the HSBC Champions in Shanghai as the number one event. No other tournament has had players like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and the overall depth of field. Even our harshest critics would concede that our men's event is one of the top two or three," Morgan explained.

"It's probably too early to make a calm and considered judgment and comparison, but my gut reaction at the moment is that the HSBC Women's Champions has in some ways exceeded anything we've done at Sheshan and we will be borrowing elements from this event and taking them to China."

The significance of the possibility that women's golf suddenly has a leading, if not the leading, tournament in a continent that is rapidly becoming one of the key driving forces in the global economy is enormous.

"It's huge. It's huge. I'm so thankful and I hope other people follow them. Companies like HSBC should get a medal for supporting women the way they do," said Hall of Fame member and 70-time LPGA winner Annika Sorenstam.

"Obviously that's a huge achievement and I want to congratulate HSBC for achieving that. I hope other sponsors and tournament organizers follow this event. This is what we need. For the women to get this recognition is what they deserve. Hopefully HSBC will carry everybody with them and take it to a different level," added the Swede, who can barely conceal her frustration at the way the LPGA has to play second fiddle to the men's tours in the United States.

"Just look at the purses. In Hawaii I win US$165,000 and (the same week) Phil Mickelson wins US$1,116,000. That's almost 10 times. It's more than second fiddle."

The HSBC Women's Champions winner will pocket US$300,000 – one of the bigger paydays on the LPGA calendar – and Morgan reckons the earning power is destined to grow and grow.

"Intellectually, we would love to offer equal prize money. We believe in equality of the sexes. At the same time as a bank we can't ignore the market forces and market rates. But the fact is that these women golfers have been tremendous ambassadors, tremendous professionals and in every sense; their interaction with the fans and our guests, the quality of their play and their competitiveness. They've done their tours and their industry proud and they will benefit from that in time" he said.

"One of the key factors in our decision to create the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore was that we saw an opportunity to grow and develop the popularity of women's golf in the area. We knew we had a successful format and we knew that the ladies could provide tremendous entertainment, but we could never have dreamed that all the ingredients of the recipe would blend to produce such a delicious final product. Imagine where the women's game will be in Asia if we are able to build on the success of this event in years to come! The growth will be fantastic."

The probability of the 2009 event matching this year's in terms of the quality of the field are high, given that every player spoken to has already made it one of their priorities.

"As long as I'm eligible I'll be coming back year after year," said Kim.

"This has made quite an impression on me, as well as everyone else on the tour. This is the premier event you want to come to."

"I want to say congratulations to HSBC and thank you for having us," added Ochoa. "It's such a great event that we'll be back again for many, many years. No question. No question."


INTERVIEWS/RAW QUOTES

Chris Higgs, COO and Vice President LPGA

Q: The HSBC Women's Champions… a success?

It's a huge success; a huge success on every level. I'm very pleasantly surprised only in that HSBC and IMG exceeded expectations; expectations that were already really high. I knew they were going to do impressive things, but they've done even more than that.

The HSBC Women's Champions has instantly become a leader and a benchmark for future LPGA tournaments, not only internationally but also in the United States. In many, many areas this event will be promoted to the other tournaments, including some of the Majors, as a best-in-class tournament.

Q: So where does it rank on the LPGA?

It's easily and instantly one of the top five LPGA events worldwide; without question.

Annika Sorenstam

Q: People are talking about this being the best event, women's or men's, ever held in Asia. How significant is that for women's golf?

Obviously that's a huge achievement and I want to congratulate HSBC for achieving that. I hope other sponsors and tournament organizers follow this event. This is what we need. For the women to get this recognition is what they deserve. Hopefully HSBC will carry everybody with them and take it to a different level.

Q: To even talk about a women's tournament being one of the best is a huge thing considering in the States you're always playing second fiddle to the men's tours.

A: I agree 100 per cent with that. Just look at the purses. In Hawaii I win US$165,000 and Phil Mickelson wins US$1,116,000. That's almost 10 times. It's more than second fiddle.

Q: It's going to be a huge continent for every economy and every business…

It's huge. It's huge. I'm so thankful and I hope other people follow them. Companies like HSBC should get a medal for supporting women the way they do.

Lorena Ochoa

Q: People are talking about this being the best event, women's or men's, ever held in Asia. What does that mean for women's golf?

It's the best tournament I've ever played in Asia. This is the biggest tournament I've ever seen. To me it's done very well. Everything is just the best you can get; the hospitality, the best golf course.

Q: It's a new position for women's golf isn't it?

That's why I'm so happy to be part of the tournament. I want to say congratulations to HSBC and thank you for having us. It's such a great event that we'll be back again for many, many years. No question.

Christina Kim

Q: Chris Higgs has said this tournament has gone automatically up into the top five events on the LPGA. How would you rank it?

I would even rank it above one if not two of our Majors. The way HSBC look after us, the fact that we have such an international field, hosted by such an international city with good crowds and volunteers that are top notch – grade A – the feel of the event is star quality.

Q: The players are all being so positive, yet when they're not happy they don't mind speaking out, do they?

A: We know where we should be and how things should be. We have high expectations that are never, never met. This is the first event that has exceeded out expectations.

Without a question this is what the standard should set at week in and week out. The HSBC Women's Champions is ten times better than what we get at a lot of events.

Q: Does this mean the HSBC Women's Champions becomes one of your priority tournaments?

As long as I'm eligible I'll be coming back year after year. This has made quite an impression on me, as well as everyone else on the tour. This is the premier event you want to come to.

Angela Park

Q: What's your take on the quality of this event?

A: The sponsors have been great; so committed to the tournament. There's HSBC branding everywhere. The course is fantastic. It couldn't be in better condition. It's playing tough though, and personally I'm not loving it.

It's definitely a world-class event. It's top 10 of all the tournaments we play. It's close to the top five – After the US Open and the Evian Masters it's up there.

Q: How do you feel you've been treated?

A: This tournament has respected us as sportswomen more than the others. We're spoiled enough as it is, but this has been fantastic.

Mhairi McKay

Q: Your thoughts on the tournament?

A: It looks like a Major; that's how all the players feel. The course is well set up. It's in great shape. You see HSBC everywhere and it has the feel of a Major golf tournament. They're excelling themselves and we're being treated exceptionally well.

You've got the Majors and this is the next best thing. It has a feel to it like the Masters at Augusta; it has the same kind of qualification criteria.

Julie Inkster

Q: What are you thoughts on the tournament and would you agree that it ranks as being among the top five on the LPGA calendar?

A: They're going about it the right way. It's a good golf course. You've got all the top players and they're listening to the players' voices – that's huge! As far as being well run it's definitely in the top five. The transport, the food, the hospitality has been great.

Spencer Robinson, Publisher, Asian Golf Monthly

Q: Is this the best event, regardless of sex, ever held in Asia?

A: It's one of the best in Asia, no question. There's never been, in 25 years of golf events in Asia, one that has had the world's top 15. In terms of strength and depth of field this is the best there's ever been in Asia.

The quality of the course is great and in terms of hospitality, marquees, scoreboards – the whole set-up – it's tremendous. The Singapore Open, the HSBC Champions and the Hong Kong Open all do a pretty damn good job. This is certainly right up there as good as anything I've ever seen. It's amazing what they are doing.

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