Protests end 60-year run for Hong Kong Open golf

Talek HARRIS
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy is a former winner of the Hong Kong Open

Next week's Hong Kong Open, one of the biggest and oldest golf tournaments in Asia, was postponed on Wednesday following months of anti-government protests in the city.

It ends a 60-year run for the venerable event, won by luminaries from Peter Thomson to Rory McIlroy, which has been an annual fixture at the colonial-era Fanling course since 1959.

"Regretfully the European Tour, in conjunction with our tournament co-sanctioning partner at the Asian Tour, has taken the decision to postpone next week's Hong Kong Open," a European Tour statement said.

The $1.5 million tournament is the most high-profile sports event to be affected by the disruptive and increasingly violent protests, which also forced the postponement of the WTA Hong Kong Open tennis in September.

The Hong Kong Open had stood alone with the Masters at Augusta as the only professional tournaments to be held continuously at the same venue for more than half-a-century, according to the Hong Kong Golf Club website.

European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley called the postponement "correct, but unfortunate" and said he hoped the event could be rescheduled for early next year.

"The decision has been taken due to the ongoing level of social unrest in Hong Kong," Pelley said.

"As the safety of our players, staff, stakeholders and everyone involved in each and every one of our tournaments around the world is our top priority, we feel this is the correct, but unfortunate, course of action."

Asian Tour commissioner and CEO Cho Minn Thant said: "It is regrettable that the Hong Kong Open has to be postponed due to the ongoing unrest in the city.

"The unpredictability of the current situation in Hong Kong makes it very challenging to sanction the tournament especially with the safety of everyone of utmost importance.

"However, we are optimistic that once the situation in Hong Kong stabilises, we will be in a better position to sanction the 61st edition of the Hong Kong Open in the very near future."

Parts of Hong Kong have been brought to a standstill by protests demanding greater democracy and an end to the erosion of freedoms since the territory returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The chaos has affected several other sports events including Formula E's Hong Kong ePrix, horse racing and the annual cross-harbour swim.

The Hong Kong Open, Asia's second oldest national golf open after the Philippine Open, is a known favourite of top players and consistently attracts a strong field.

Former British Open champion Francesco Molinari, Henrik Stenson and Patrick Reed were among the big names who were scheduled to play next week.

Other players on the role of honour include Justin Rose, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Colin Montgomerie, Ian Poulter and Jose Maria Olazabal.