The Fortinet Australian PGA is securing quite a niche along the riverside fairways of Brisbane and there’s a whisper that we should expect a two-year extension of hosting rights for 2024 and 2025.
Royal Queensland is the locked-in venue for golf at the 2032 Olympics. There will be time post-2025 to change the grasses, introduce a few shrewd, new tee boxes and even remodel several green complexes.
For now, it is the fascinating theatre for the return of Australia’s top golfers to home shores plus a sprinkling of overseas visitors like Scotland’s Ryder Cup leftie Bob MacIntyre and Poland’s Australian Open champion Adrian Meronk.
Getting to the course in time for the first tee shot of opening round at 6am on Thursday is becoming a must-do gathering point for golf’s most devoted.
That’s when you are guaranteed the best vantage point in the mildest summer sun to watch 2022 Open champion Smith start his week. Or Scott (66) glide across the fairways he first called home as a junior RQ member as an 11-year-old.
Or to see the continued emergence of a young gun like Lee (64), who disdains the traditional polo shirt for the collarless golf shirts that Tiger Woods turned into a style. He was resting up after his fine round before heading off to a Post Malone concert.
All eyes were on the trio for different reasons on Thursday. Defending champion Smith just couldn’t find his groove. He sprayed his approach irons time and again and his only birdie was made from out of position because of his peerless short game.
His opening two-over-par 73 might already have put him out of contention to win a fourth PGA title because he made far better starts in his three previous victories in 2017 (68), 2018 (70) and 2022 (68).
If he was calling the round “just crappy” to the media, he was saying something even stronger to himself.
It didn’t stop a large group of mates from his Wantima Country Club roots coming out to support the former world No.2. They just couldn’t care if he is aligned to LIV Golf or the PGA Tour.
“We are just crying out for top golf in this country. There’s room for both and I like LIV because it’s broken the hold of the PGA Tour just staging events in the US,” Wantima member Mark Reynolds said.
Added fellow member Lionel Fryar: “Cam is just so down to earth. He’s great for Australian golf.
“He brought the British Open trophy and Kirkwood Cup (for the Australian PGA champion) to Wantima. You never imagine seeing such iconic trophies up close but we were drinking XXXX Gold out of them at the club thanks to Cam.”
Scott has been in the prime of his career for longer than many golfers have careers. It’s a sustained run of excellence over 23 years as a pro that few men or women can match in their sporting speciality.
At 43, the balance of life is different with a wife, two kids and a green Masters jacket forever in his keeping. Different but the same when it comes to zeroing in on the big trophies that have fuelled his desire on course.
On Thursday, he was going about his business in that immaculate way of his…sharp wardrobe, sharp golf and sharp assessments.
He had seven birdies in his excellent 66. He’s five-under and already doing his calculations.
“Hopefully, it sets the tone but if you’re not five-under it’s going to be a long week to get to 20-under. You’ve got to chip away at it day by day and I’m on par for that target because it’s going to get close to that score this week (for the winner),” Scott said.
Ask different people what they like about golf and you’ll get myriad answers. Some will say watching Smith wield his wedge like a wand when putting the ball close from tough spots around the greens.
Some will say, bunkering down at the Party Hole on the Par Three 17th, listening to the music and watching one in every four tee shots.
Others will say the freedom of wandering the fairways which you never get when forced to stay in one seat at a footy game in a major stadium.
Many will say watching Scott hitting it pure with one of the game’s great golf swings. Take his 16th hole on Thursday, the par five seventh. After a drive down the middle, Scott pulled out a driver to hit it off the deck.
The pin was 276m away. Scott nailed it, the ball ran up 25m of green and nestled inside 4m from the pin. It was a superb shot that deserved an eagle.
It’s like throwing a dart into a bullseye. Actually, no it’s not. You don’t set a dartboard nearly 300m away, throw in a little breeze and the uncertain bumps of the turf.
It’s 10 years since Scott’s Masters victory for the ages at Augusta National. Everyone has a memory of what that breakthrough green jacket meant to Australian golf.
I remember Scott returning to Royal Pines on the Gold Coast seven months later for the Australian PGA. He was welcomed as a conquering hero and wore the famed jacket at the tournament’s official dinner.
He still had to eat and stand in the queue for the buffet. Peter O’Malley, a quality pro in his own right, happened to be standing behind Scott in the queue and subtly reached out.
Even as a fellow pro, he wanted to touch the green jacket and feel the magic of what had been unattainable fabric for Aussies until that year.
Scott is not done yet. It’s three years since he last won a tournament anywhere in the world but there have been a bunch of top 10s in there and his world ranking is still inside the Top 50.
He’s tinkering with equipment at the moment, trying new irons, trying to stay up in the arms race with the game’s young guns. He reckons he’s hitting his wedges better than ever. He’s still making gains.
He knows what winning the Australian PGA for a third time could mean or winning a second ISPS HANDA Australian Open in Sydney next week.
“What winning does for the confidence can’t be replaced by anything else,” Scott said.
“It’s hard to fake that confidence of what a win does, of closing out a tournament, of beating the entire field.”
Like Scott, players everywhere in the Australian PGA field are chasing a springboard whether it’s winning vibes, a rankings jump, an entry into next week’s tournament, a cheque to pay bills or whatever.
Come Sunday, we’ll find out who gets the biggest lift.
JIM TUCKER has specialised in sport, the wider impacts and features for most of his 40 years writing in the media.