▲ Heavy fog on the first day of the Ballantine's Championship at Pinx Golf Club left palyer, staff and spectators waiting while paly was suspended for more than six hours. Photo by Brian Miller
Golf is a fickle sport, with even the best of players capable of having bad days when nothing seems to go right. Jeju’s weather is equally fickle, and will be a major factor in the decision whether the island will host the Ballantine’s Championship in 2011, as it has done for the past three years. After fog delayed play for more than six hours in the first round of the tournament on Thursday, directors took the unusual step of announcing at that early stage that “the completion of 72 holes within the required time is not feasible,” so the championship would be decided over three rounds (54 holes). Coming on the back of two previous years of bad weather, that could mean Jeju may not get another chance to host Korea’s only European Tour event, which has been held at Pinx Golf Club since the inaugural tournament in 2008.
Ken Lindsay, international brand ambassador for Ballantine’s and himself a “happy amateur” golfer, has been with the company for 20 years, but this year was his first involvement with the championship. “The great news is,” he said, “we’ve com-mitted to another three years” of holding the tournament in Korea. “Whether or not it’s going to be Jeju or whether it’s going to be another location, we’re not absolutely certain. We’ve been dogged by really, really bad weather here over the last couple of years and it’s obviously very unpredictable. Last year, it was torrential rain and hurricanes and wind.”
The venue decision will not be made for some months yet.
“We have a central marketing team based in London for Ballantine’s and they’ll be reviewing with the local guys, with the European committee and the team that they work out the contract with, and we hope to have a decision in June.”
Lee Cheol Heon, director of the sports industry promotional department of the Jeju provincial government, said the Ballantine’s Championship is the biggest sports event the island hosts. Sports tourism accounts for approximately 30 percent of Jeju’s total tourism revenue, he said, and golf tourism is a large component of that.
▲ Ken Lindsay, international brand ambassador for Ballantine's. Photo by Tracie Barrett
“This year alone, 31 small to big golf events have taken place or will take place in Jeju,” Lee said. “Approximately 52,000 golfers and visitors are expected to attend and among them, 30,000 might be from the mainland or abroad. The expected tourism revenue arising from this is 150 billion won.”
He added that the international media exposure had an “immeasurable” effect on Jeju’s brand image, something that was obvious to any viewer who saw the island featured on the major television sports channels over the weekend.
Lindsay, from Ballantine’s, agreed, and said the event was “a fantastic showcase for Jeju.” The championship is also the biggest sponsorship for the premium Scotch whisky brand and its parent company Pernod Ricard and has a 2.2 million euro ($2.94 million) prize purse.
“It doesn’t do any harm to have the Ballantine’s Championship [on Jeju]” he said. “We’re covered on Sky Sports 1, Sky Sports 2, CNN - all the major sports channels are here - and I think it gives a chance for people to see Jeju the island and look at it as a possible holiday tourist destination, which it already is of course. I think it’s a very close and a very good working relationship that we’ve managed to develop over the last two or three years.”
There were “a whole range of reasons” for choosing Jeju as the venue, he added. “First of all, great hotel facilities, and they’re right next to Pinx. And a fantastic course and an amazing location _ you have the views, you have the scenery but also the actual quality of the course was a major factor. And the fact that all the facilities and the support system around Pinx is conducive to running a major tournament.”
The golfers he’d spoken to enjoyed playing the course, with the European players, in particular, at home with Jeju’s unpredictable weather conditions. “Those that had been here last year, with the really brutal winterish conditions - blowing gales and torrential rain and storms - said that they hoped for kinder weather this year, but they do love the course and they find it a really good challenge and a fantastically organized tournament,” Lindsay said.
The event drew a gallery of 6,500 spectators in 2008; 7,000 in ’09 and increased again to more than 8,000 on the final day this year.
That number could be even larger on the mainland, however, said Park Hyo Jong (Harrison), a VIP guest at the champion-ship. As the UPS air export department head, Park is an expert on transportation logistics and said getting to Jeju was “difficult.” “The mainland would be more accessible for the gallery,” he said, and suggested that the Sky 72 Golf Course near Incheon International Airport would be easier for both players and spectators to get to.
That may be so, but Ballantine’s brand director Peter Moore said the company is “not chasing numbers for the sake of it.” Atmosphere was also important, he said, and too large a gallery could detract from that. “We’re here because it’s a great place to hold the event,” he said.
Jeju can only hope such sentiments, and two final days of beautiful spring weather at the 2010 championship are enough to sway the vote in the island’s favor when the decision is made come June on where the Ballantine’s Championship 2011 will tee off.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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