Manila | October 9, 2015
“Our mission is to keep on holding world-class events in the Philippines,” says Jeff Evora, the VP of gaming marketing in Resorts World Manila.
His company hasn't disappointed with the Resorts World Masters. In the inaugural running of the Asian Tour event in 2013, Liang Wen-Chong of China won in a playoff against Prom Meesawat to win. He then promptly donated half of his US $135,000 first-prize check to the Typhoon Yolanda relief efforts.
Last year there was another compelling story as Singaporean Mardan Mamat romped to a 6-stroke victory. An emotional Mamat confessed afterwards that at times his form was so poor he considered quitting the game.
This year the tournament will once again have a US$1 million pot, making it by far the most lucrative tournament in the Philippines. The winner will bank US $180,000 (8,235,990 PHP) at the competition, which takes place November 19-22.
According to Resorts World, the event is not only intended to promote RW all over Asia, but it will also help develop the local golf scene and perhaps even help send Filipino golfers to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
There will be sixty golfers in both the men's and women's events in Brazil for the return of the sport to the five-ringed circus. The top 15 players in the world rankings will go, with the rest of the slots given to those following them in the rankings. However, a maximum of 4 slots can be given to one country. Right now the highest-ranked Pinoy male player is Angelo Que, who is number 241 in the world list. But Filipino golf fans will be delighted to learn that PGA champion Jason Day of Australia, has a Filipina mom. Day is currently second in the world rankings behind American Jordan Spieth.
The tournament comes at an interesting time for the game in the Philippines. The 16-stop Philippine Golf Tour has just finished another season. The local tour, bankrolled by ICTSI, was ruled by Miguel Tabuena, who won the Order of Merit ahead of veteran Tony Lascuna. The game is struggling all over the world but is at least treading water in the Philippines. Club share prices, usually a good barometer of the game's health, are generally flat with a few exceptions, Southwoods being one of them.
The Philippines has a handful of good golfers but is overpowered by other nations in Asia like Korea, Thailand, and India. Indians SSP Chowrasia and Anirban Lahiri hold two of the top 3 slots in the Order of Merit as of the moment. Que is the highest Filipino in the Asian Tour order of Merit at 41.
There are other changes. Jun Arceo, the former National Golf Association of the Philippines Secretary-General, says that the supply of young talent from the ranks of the caddies, especially from the provinces, is drying up. This phenomenon is no doubt encouraged by the common practice of clubs of hiring women to be caddies instead of boys.
A quick look at the history of Filipino golfers will reveal that the country's greatest players, from Celestino Tugot to Ben Arda to Frankie Miñoza to Juvic Pagunsan, came from the humble ranks of the bag-toters. Arceo says most of the Pinoy golfers now come from more privileged backgrounds.
Arceo says the NGAP is now steered by president Caloy Coscolluela, and that the NSA is looking to strengthen relations with ICTSI, the professional games' biggest patron.
Arceo says the Philippine Open, once one of Asia's premier golf events, is slated for December in Luisita in Tarlac. However neither the Asian Tour nor the rival One Asia Tour lists it on its schedule.
No doubt the RW Manila Masters then becomes the focal point of the golfing calendar. For the third time in a row the event will take place in Manila Southwoods' Masters course. (Southwoods has a second course, the Legends, that is perceived to be slightly easier.)
The Jack Nicklaus “signature” track, (meaning he personally oversaw its design and execution), is one of the country's most beloved courses, and it has hosted the Philippine Open in the past. John Cope, the course superintendent, knows it as well as anybody.
The Colorado native was working for Nicklaus when they first laid the course out in the late eighties. He eventually returned to run the show, and speaks about the course's adherence to the Golden Bear's philosophies.
“Nicklaus is a second-shot strategist,” says Cope. “ He wants you to find a position off the tee where you are flirting with a bunker or a water hazard to give you a better shot at the green.”
Since the course came into being there have been numerous advancements in both equipment plus the fitness and power of pro players that have effectively made courses shorter. But Cope believes the Masters is still relevant.
“As the players have gotten longer, other hazards come into play. Hole number 2 is an example. The bunker that used to be near the landing area for the drives is now a “carry” bunker (a bunker that players must now hit over.)”
The course does not have the wiry US open rough but they will make it a bit fluffier for the pros.
“We can get the rough gnarly now but we will be beating up the members,” says Cope with a smile. The American is hoping for drier weather in the next few weeks leading up to the event to help him set the course up more easily.
There is no real signature hole in the Masters course but the eighteenth is a glorious finisher. It's a 556-yard par four that is reachable in two for the pros, but water on the right side of the fairway and plenty of sand can throw a spanner in the works for a player gunning for a closing eagle or birdie.
Both Cope and veteran golf scribe Mike Besa both agree that the winner is the player who can putt well. Many of the course's dancefloors are on the small side.
The Masters has TifDwarf Bermuda grass that played about 9.25 on the stimpmeter on Tuesday but could go as low as eleven during the tournament.
“My main goal is to get a true roll, and not to have the ball go like this,” says Cope, waving his arm from side to side.
Cope says the plan is to convert the greens on the Masters to the newer, lower-maintenance TifEagle variety that can be found in the Legends. It will be done over a two-year period, with one nine getting the new greens next year and the other nine having them laid in a year later.
Hopes for a Filipino champ
But the question remaining on everyone's lips: can we have a Filipino champ? Que and Lascuna, one of the top Pinoys in the 2014 Philippine Open, have the game to threaten. Tabuena will be looking to make a splash. Another dark horse is the young Rupert Zaragosa, who Arceo says is “the best young player we have by far.” Zaragosa recently finished fourth in the IMG World Junior 15-17 year old category in San Diego and was a member of the Philippine team in the South East Asian Amateur Golf Team Championship.
Zaragosa was in contention for the first three rounds of the Open last year in Wack-Wack before finally faltering on the final day. Hopefully he gets a sponsor's exemption for this tournament. The Lyceum Philippines University player has a very sound swing as you can see on this link.
But whether or not a Filipino lifts the trophy in the end, no doubt we will have a thrilling golf spectacle next month.