On Tuesday, 66 players will begin their quest to join the PGA Tour of Australasia; Nick Dastey and Kim Felton have been tasked with making sure that opportunity awaits once they get there.
The Final Stage of Qualifying School begins on the Open Course at Moonah Links on the Mornington Peninsula on Tuesday with familiar names mixed in amongst those out to make an impression in the early stages of their professional careers.
Adam Blyth, Scott Arnold, James Nitties, Rick Kulacz, Max McCardle and Lincoln Tighe are all seeking to improve their status while the likes of Charlie Dann, Blake Collyer and two-time Trainee of the Year Cooper Eccleston are chasing guaranteed starts in some of the Australasian Tour’s major events.
Next month sees a run of four straight tournaments starting with the ISPS HANDA Vic Open at Thirteenth Beach and concerted efforts have begun to expand those playing opportunities into the future.
Former Tour players themselves, Dastey and Felton have recently been promoted to Tournaments Director for the PGA Tour of Australasia and Tournament Development Manager respectively, the pair eyeing off an expanded schedule sitting just below the Vic Open, Australian Open and Australian PGA Championship.
While additional events at that top tier are always desirable and will continue to be a focus, Felton says Australasian-based players will be better served by a greater number of four-round tournaments worth around $150,000.
“Having players front of mind is a position that we can work from and our focus will be creating more opportunities rather than chasing that one extra big one,” says Felton, a winner on the Nationwide Tour and a three-time winner of both the WA Open and WA PGA.
“We always want the big events such as we saw over the summer – they’re key and we love them and we want more of them – but as a player I believed more opportunities at a more consistent level all year round was more beneficial. Having 10 events for $150,000 or $200,000 each over one more $2 million event to keep our players developing and having somewhere to play.
“Our main focus is creating more opportunities at that development level and creating new home-grown heroes that the Australian public will get to know.
“They can then follow their long professional careers hopefully on a big stage like the Adam Scotts, Jason Days and others have done.”
Previously the PGA’s Victorian State Manager, Dastey played extensively throughout Australia in the early to mid-2000s and also recognises the important grounding the Australasian Tour and Ladbrokes Pro-Am Series offers players with aspirations to play overseas.
“It does happen. If you can win out here there’s every chance you can transfer that into winning wherever you go,” says Dastey, citing Marc Leishman, Marcus Fraser and Ryan Fox as players who used the Australasian Tour as a springboard to international success.
“That development-tour level is no doubt an area where we feel that we could do a lot of work in the next couple of years and grow and build and provide those pathways.
“That’s clearly aimed at the guys who don’t have overseas playing status. We need to find more opportunities for them to develop, to get their game in shape to be able to go overseas, to be able to get a card overseas and ply their trade there.”
As was the case with the Australian PGA Championship and the Australasian Order of Merit, the Vic Open’s co-sanctioning with the European Tour provides a direct pathway to one of the world’s richest tours, an alliance Dastey believes is important to maintain.
“We’ve got a strategic partnership with the European Tour as we sit here now,” Dastey explains.
“I’m sure Jake McLeod feels that our strategic partnership was of great benefit to him last year. Jason Norris prior to that. Players that have won those co-sanctioned events or won our Order of Merit.
“Zach Murray became exempt into Europe this year due to finishing second behind Ryan Fox (with Ryan already having European Tour Status) on the Order of Merit.
“That strategic alliance is important in providing opportunities that players have taken advantage of.”