Why Brandel Chamblee is wrong: the Australian Open, not The Players, should be golf’s fifth major

Last week, before The Open Championship, Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee made the case for The Players Championship becoming golf’s fifth major.

I am here to tell you that another event should carry this distinction: the Australian Open, not The Players.

Parts of Chamblee’s argument rested on his animus towards LIV Golf, while other solid points he made stemmed from the rich history of The Players.

“LIV has managed to poach some compelling players away from the PGA Tour, and it’s made the majors more compelling,” Chamblee said on Golf Channel’s Live From set.

Golf Channel, Brandel Chamblee, The 147th Open Championship

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — Rich Lerner, Brandel Chamblee, and Frank Nobilo are seen on the Golf Channel set during previews of the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Club on July 17, 2018.
Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images

“There should be more sting in defecting away from the PGA Tour. I can’t think of a better way to do that than make the Players Championship a major. It should have been a major eons ago, and I believe it is. But it should have that designation.”

The Players Championship has long been one of the strongest fields in all of golf and is annually contested at TPC Sawgrass each spring in Ponta Vedra Beach, Florida.

Every year, pundits like Chamblee argue whether or not The Players should be considered a major championship.

But golf is a game played all over the world.

The United States already hosts three major championships, so why not follow tennis and add a major in the land down under?

“Australia is a sports-mad country. Golf is one of those sports we love!” said Luke Elvy, Australian broadcaster and journalist. “Like the rest of the world, participation in golf had been dwindling pre-Covid but has grown significantly since. The pandemic boom has been further boosted by Cameron Smith and Minjee Lee winning major championships in 2022.”

Golf in Australia has a long and rich history, with millions of Aussies playing the sport annually.

The land down under has also produced many world-class players, including a couple who recently won some of the biggest championships in golf.

Cameron Smith, Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia — Cameron Smith plays a shot out of a bunker on his final hole during Day 3 of the 2022 ISPS HANDA Australian Open at Victoria Golf Club on December 3, 2022.
Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Smith, who hails from Brisbane, won the Claret Jug last year at St. Andrew’s. He fended off the likes of Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, and Cameron Young to win his first major championship.

Lee, meanwhile, was born and raised in Perth on Australia’s west coast. She won the 2022 Women’s U.S. Open at Pine Needles and the 2021 Evian Championship, another LPGA major played in France.

Other major winners from Australia include Greg Norman, Adam Scott, Jason Day, and Karrie Webb, all of whom are recognizable to golf fans around the world.

“Australia has contributed to golf’s ecosystem for over a century and will continue to do so,” Elvy added. “To disregard a nation with world-class players and courses is only to the detriment of the game’s leaders.”

Back in the day, the Australian Open was a marquee event on the golf calendar every year, typically played in November or December—the peak of the Aussie summer.

Some of the game’s biggest legends, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, and Norman, have all won the Stonehaven Cup, the trophy given annually to the winner of the Australian Open.

Adam Scott, Greg Norman, Australia

SYDNEY — Adam Scott of Australia receives the Stonehaven Cup from compatriot and golfing legend Greg Norman after winning the Australian Open golf tournament on December 6, 2009.
Greg Wood/Getty Images

“Outside of the four majors, it’s my favorite event of the year as it’s our national championship,” Elvy noted. “The Australian Open has over 100 years of history, and it was considered the ‘fifth major’ during the 1970s and 1980s when legendary businessman Kerry Packer bankrolled the field.”

But since the early 1990s, the Australian Open has lost its luster.

“I honestly don’t know, probably a lack of money,” Elvy said when asked why the PGA Tour has had no permanent presence in Australia. “The PGA Tour has hosted three President’s Cups in Australia—in 1998, 2011, and 2019—and is scheduled again in 2028. All of them have been overwhelming successes because Australians love world-class sports!”

While overlooking Australia, the PGA Tour has staged events in South Korea, Japan, China, Mexico, and Scotland in the 21st century.

South Korea, Japan, and China all rank among the top-12 biggest economies in the world, with the latter two joining the United States as having the three largest outputs of gross domestic product (GDP).

So plenty of commercial opportunity exists in each of those countries.

But those same prospects exist in Australia, the 13th largest economy and a country with one of the highest GDPs per capita.

Yet, the upper echelons of professional golf have let Australia go by the wayside.

Unitil LIV Golf filled that void last April.

The Saudi-backed tour staged a tournament in Adelaide—Australia’s fifth-largest city.

Some have called LIV Golf’s Adelaide event its most successful tournament yet.

LIV Golf, Australia

ADELAIDE, Australia — Talor Gooch hits onto the 18th green during day three of LIV Golf Adelaide at The Grange Golf Course on April 23, 2023.
Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images

The Grange Club played host, as the likes of Smith, Phil Mickelson, and Brooks Koepka, among other LIV Golf stars, teed it up in front of massive crowds.

Tens of thousands of Australians showed up to watch, as the tournament quickly turned into one big party, with American Talor Gooch winning in the end.

“Australians are starved of seeing world-class players regularly,” Elvy added.

“[LIV Golf CEO] Greg Norman knew an event would be a huge success because he knows our passion for the game. Golf in Australia has been carried by the likes of Adam Scott, Cam Smith, and March Leishman over the last decade—and to a lesser extent Jason Day because he rarely returns.”

Tiger Woods, Australian Open

SYDNEY — Tiger Woods plays the 11th hole during the 2011 Emirates Australian Open at The Lakes Golf Club on November 13, 2011.
Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

“Yes, we have had glimpses of greatness like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Jordan Spieth, but we want to see the best of the best compete regularly. LIV brought the best field to Australia outside of those three Presidents Cups since the halcyon days of the 1970s and 1980s.”

In 2011, some of the best players in the world competed in the Australian Open, held the week before Royal Melbourne hosted the President’s Cup.

“When I was hosting Australian Open TV coverage, we had a star-studded field at the 2011 Australian Open,” Elvy reminisced. “I asked Tiger about the great list of champions on the Stonehaven Cup, and he said, ‘I want to get my name on that trophy.’ He finished third behind [Australian] Greg Chalmers that year, but the crowds were enormous!”

Woods never did win the Australian Open, but when McIlroy returned to the land down under in 2013, he emerged victorious.

Spieth then won in record fashion the following year.

“What an incredible honor to put my name on this trophy,” Spieth said after his Australian Open victory in 2014. “With these conditions, the golf course is very difficult. It’s definitely the best round I have ever played and the best win I have ever had.”

Spieth went on to win The Masters and the U.S. Open in 2015 and The Open in 2017.

Jordan Spieth, Australia

SYDNEY — Jordan Spieth poses with the Stonehaven Cup after winning the 2016 Australian Open at Royal Sydney Golf Club on November 20, 2016.
Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

He then won the Australian Open again in 2016.

The best players in the world should continue to play at the Australian Open each year, just as Nicklaus, Palmer, and Watson used to.

Should they travel to Australia annually, players will find some of the most passionate sports fans on the planet and discover some of the world’s best courses too.

The famed sand-belt region around Melbourne has five courses ranked among Golf Digest’s Top 100 in the world.

Royal Melbourne is perhaps the most famous of Australia’s courses, as it boasts the same architect who designed Augusta National: Alister MacKenzie.

Jason Day, Australia, Presidents Cup

MELBOURNE, Australia — Jason Day plays his tee shot on the 5th hole during the Day Two Four-Ball Matches of the 2011 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne Golf Course on November 18, 2011.
Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

Kingston Heath—host of the 2028 President’s Cup, Metropolitan Golf Club, Victoria Golf Club, and Peninsula Kingswood Country Club also have the pedigree to host the world’s best golfers in the future.

Each of these courses sits within metropolitan Melbourne, one of Australia’s largest cities and one of the great cities in the entire world.

From a monetary standpoint, Melbourne has no shortage of corporate opportunities.

The same can be said for Sydney, perhaps the most famous city in Australia.

Greater Sydney also has an impressive repertoire of golf courses, which include The Australian Golf Club, not far from world famous Bondi Beach.

Sydney, Australia, Bondi Beach

SYDNEY — Surfers walk along Bondi Beach on July 15, 2023.
Getty Images

The Lakes Golf Club and New South Wales Golf Club, located around Greater Sydney, have also hosted Australian Opens.

Plenty of courses can host this prestigious championship, similar to how the R&A has a designated ‘rota’ of clubs that host The Open each year.

But now that The Open has come and gone, the golfing world has to wait 258 days until The Masters begins next April.

The Australian Open would help fill that void in November, December, or early February—at whatever time best suits golf’s new professional world order.

Since the PGA Tour agreed to do business with the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF), this new governing body should work to grow the game of golf globally.

One way to do so is by making the Australian Open a major championship.

Get the best players in the world to compete for the Stonehaven Cup.

Heck, even Nicklaus referred to the Australian Open as a “fifth major” in a 2016 interview with Australian Golf Digest.

So to the powers that be, look at what LIV Golf accomplished in Adelaide. The Australian Open could be much bigger, much grander than that event.

Aussies have been starved for decades; it is time to feed them with something they deserve: a major championship.

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko for more golf coverage. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough too.

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