Match Play organizers look to future after Volvo exit

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 18, 2014 10:40 AM

By Tony Jimenez

ASH England (Reuters) - Organizers are confident there will be a 50th edition of the World Match Play Championship next year despite the withdrawal of tournament sponsors Volvo, they said on Saturday.

The Swedish carmaker, which has backed a variety of European Tour events for the last 26 years, recently announced it was drastically reducing its golfing commitments in the future.

Volvo will no longer support the World Match Play, or the Golf Champions event in South Africa at the start of the year, and will purely focus on the China Open.

Guy Kinnings, global head of golf with long-time tournament organizers IMG, said he was nonetheless hopeful the World Match Play would keep its place on the calendar in 2015 with new sponsors.

"For the 50 years of its existence the championship has only had seven sponsors so we've got a pretty good strike rate," Kinnings told Reuters in an interview at the London Club.

"There aren't many golf events that have been around for half a century...after all the World Match Play was around before even the European Tour was in existence.

"We're proud of the fact this event was created by our founder Mark McCormack. He brought in Arnold Palmer to win the first one in 1964," added Kinnings.

"We've moved on and adapted to the changing world of golf, the new schedules and such like, and we are pretty confident it will still have an appeal to sponsors."

The 2014 Match Play failed to attract the 'A-list' golfers, with world number one Rory McIlroy, third-ranked Sergio Garcia and number six Justin Rose among those missing this week.

The greatest names in the game, players like Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros, feature on the roll of honor, but the 16-man event has lost some of its identity in recent times.


The iconic West Course at Wentworth staged the championship from 1964-2007. Since then it has been to Spain and Bulgaria, it even disappeared from the calendar in 2008 and 2010.

Last year's champion Graeme McDowell welcomed the move back to the south of England this week and said the players were keen to return the World Match Play to its former glories.

"I believe this is a step in the right direction, coming back to London," said the world number 18.

"When you look at the trophy and the names on it, this tournament deserves a great spot in the calendar. It deserves a quality venue like this one this week."

Kinnings said IMG would like to keep the tournament at the London Club but added the company were keeping all options open.

"We're not wedded to the idea of it being based in one place, or moved around, or rotated between venues -- we are pretty flexible," he explained.

"We'd love to keep it in London, it's where we wanted to be for our 50th year. The London Club has been great, the crowds have been great and they love their match play golf so we'd dearly love to find a way to make that happen.

"Equally though we've got to make sure we look at all the alternatives and ensure the event is secure for future years as we look towards the next half century."

Kinnings used McIlroy as an example when he pointed to the fact that the best golfers are usually willing to travel to the leading tournaments.

"The players broadly are pretty responsible," he said. "A lot of the Europeans for example are based in Florida these days but they still travel.

"Look at Rory, he takes the game around the world, so we are pretty confident that if we can fill the two most important criteria of getting the right sponsor and the right dates on the calendar that we'll attract the sort of players who will excite the crowds and the media and everyone will come and watch."

(Editing by Toby Davis)