By Tim Maitland
They came from all over Asia to watch a parade of golfing superstars assembled from the four corners of the globe. The HSBC Women's Champions at Tanah Merah, which finished with the crowning of Jiyai Shin, a 20-year-old Korean tipped by many to be a future world number one, attracted 11 per cent more spectators than last year's inaugural event.
Some, such as Amy Li from China, were new to the female branch of the sport, but were quickly converted.
"This is the first women's event I've been to. It's fantastic!" she said.
"I've been to some big men's tournaments and this is just as good."
Kenneth Tan a company executive from Singapore was one of those to spot the larger galleries.
"You just have to look at the crowd. The numbers have definitely increased. It's really helped the exposure to the game," he said, while lecturer Alvie Matt was taken by an event that had attracted the highest-class field ever seen for a golf event in Asia.
"For women's golf, this is one of the best tournaments around. The quality of the players here is so good. You have Paula Creamer, Lorena Ochoa. In fact it's a world-class event. The stakes keep getting higher and higher," Matt declared.
The newcomers among the players were also impressed, with China's Shanshan Feng echoing the sentiments of many of the regions stars.
"Everyone's saying this is Asia's Major so I think it's a pretty good tournament. It's very good. I like it very much," she commented, while Thailand's Russy Gulyanamitta, the beneficiary of one of the sponsor's invites reserved for the top-ranked ASEAN player hailed the opportunity the HSBC Women's Champions gives to the LPGA's Asian contingent to display their talents in Asia.
"It's great to have a tournament like this at home. We can call this our home region," she said.
"It's excellent! It's one of the top-class tournaments. The golf course is in great shape and the people and volunteers are all so nice and very helpful. And the (caddie) party's great! But I would really like to thank HSBC for their invitation. It's been great!"
The LPGA officials have once again left the Lion City deeply impressed. Last year the CEO dubbed the tournament instantly one of the LPGA's top five events. This year, Deputy Commissioner Libba Galloway, making her first visit, was amazed to discover that all the praise she had heard was actually understated.
"My impressions of the tournament are like "Oh wow!". I was at the first three HSBC events in the United States and I thought they were good. I didn't come last year, (Commissioner) Carolyn Bivens did, and she came back raving about the event and I thought "well, it couldn't possibly be that good" but it's better! It's a tremendous event," Galloway exclaimed.
"From the fan interactive area, the tournament set-up, the sponsor hospitality, the player amenities, to where we were staying at the Ritz Carlton… I can't say enough about what HSBC and IMG have done to make this a premier event."
For the world's local bank one of the most pleasing aspects was the obvious increase in the number of young children, particularly girls, who were brought by their parents to see the tournament.
"The number of children out on the course has been a real joy to watch. They want to try the game, they want to emulate their heroines and to an extent the role of a tournament like this is to inspire," said Giles Morgan, HSBC Group Head of Sponsorship.
"The great strength of golf in Asia is that this is an emerging sport in an emerging market place and kids are taking part earlier. We've put in a huge interactive village, but that's largely because there's a demand for it. People want to play."
Despite the significant increase in the popularity of the tournament, Morgan remains noncommittal about the future of the HSBC Women's Champions. The initial two-year contract has come to an end, but the Welsh executive says HSBC will not be discussing renewal until they have had time to evaluate all the statistics and benchmarks they use to judge the success of their investment.
"What we do with any sponsorship, particularly when it has come to the end of its contractual term, is sit down and work out, against our own objectives; whether it has been able to do what we wanted it to do. It's too early to say whether it has," he explained.
"We have to go through a lot of numbers and data; we need to look at the figures for the TV coverage, look at the number of people who came and evaluate the media coverage too. What I can say is that in two years for a tournament to have pricked the imagination of the people in Singapore and in Asia generally in the way it has is an enormous success. The product is there. If you're a fan of golf in Asia you should be watching this. This is where the world's greatest are coming in and playing as if it's a Major. To all intents and purposes it is. All of the great players are there, as they are for Majors. It is primetime viewing on a Sunday afternoon and I would expect in Korea and Japan and other countries where the leaders are from there will be some great numbers in terms of media. That's terribly important because this is a global golf tournament and you can't get any better than this in the women's game."
Morgan insists the review process does not necessarily revolve around a need to cut sponsorship spending given HSBC's relatively robust year-end results compared to the rest of the banking sector.
Topics: HSBC Women's Champions