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Made in Denmark shows how it should be done...

· Golf,Sports Events

Following the European Tour “Made in Denmark”(“MiD”) event on TV and on social media last weekend was a treat.

With a prize fund of €1,500,000 the event sits among the lower rung of tournaments on the European Tour, alongside events such as the Hero Indian Open and Trophee Hassan II, and also occupies a less than favourable date in the international golfing schedule, coming directly after the USPGA and immediately prior to the FedEx Play-offs. For these reasons, it also gets a modest player field – defending champ Marc Warren was the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings.

All of this leads to comments such as this lament by Alistair Tait in Golf Week. It’s hard to argue with what he says, and there is no question that the majority of European Tour events can now only attract a mediocre field, or “B team” as Alistair calls it. And this isn’t just the case with smaller events like MiD – just consider the consternation around the high-profile no-shows at the PGA Championship at Wentworth every year.  How the European Tour addresses these wider issues is a topic for another blog, but the recent announcement of a planned merger with the Asian Tour is an interesting development

Further, while I can only guess at how the event is funded (probably a combination of government/tourist board, the venue and smaller sponsorships), it certainly doesn't follow the usual model of having a corporate title sponsor which puts up the bulk of cash required.  Finally, MiD isn’t even staged near Copenhagen, which would be an attraction in it itself, and would normally help with crowd numbers. Instead, the venue, Himmerland Golf & Spa Resort, is in the north of the country, about 50km outside of Åalborg, Denmark’s 4th largest city.

So, given all of this, why did I enjoy MiD and all the coverage around it last week, and why was it such a success? I think just because it was so refreshingly different. For starters, just look at #3 in the FAQ’s on the event website, regarding the playing field, where they say:

“Don’t hope for Rory, Tiger, Stenson or others from the world’s best…instead just be happy that we can gather all the Danes together”

(n.b. my Danish is rudimentary so google translate must take the credit/blame for the accuracy of the translation!)

This, in my view, epitomises how they get it absolutely right. Don’t try to compete with the best events, don’t worry that the top stars might not turn up, just go with what you have and put on a great event which is a bit different.  Even the lack of a traditional title-sponsor (which may or may not be a deliberate tactic) helps give the tournament its own brand and a clean identity which people, particularly local fans, can easily relate to - an approach which is gathering in popularity in recent times.

I could write endlessly about how good a concept Himmerland Hill is. The short par 3 16th, surrounded by banking creating a natural amphitheatre which can hold around 3,500 fans, is Europe’s answer to this. Darren Clarke’s video on twitter captures it nicely but it is just so refreshing to see a bit of fun injected into the game. We even had fans singing happy birthday to a tour referee. I also loved the fact that MiD pushed the boundaries even further by moving the tee up so far on the Sunday it became the shortest hole in tour history at 79 yards.

MiD also do a fantastic job of getting the Danish pros to really buy into the event and create an amazing connection with the local fans.  We had Søren Kjeldsen being greeted like this in the 1st round, and, of course, the best of the lot, Andreas Hartø’s proposal.

This all results in enormous crowds. The MiD organisers were kind enough to reply to my tweet and provide the exact figures, which were a total of 86,498 over the four days, with over 24,000 through the gates on the Sunday- a figure equal to the attendance on the final day of the PGA Championship at Wentworth. Indeed, from my research, MiD sits only slightly behind the Irish Open and the PGA as the best attended event on the European Tour. This would be remarkable enough if the event was held near a major city, (like Wentworth and London) but it is frankly astonishing given the location of Himmerland.

Not only are MiD rewarded with these record crowds, but they are generating a real buzz about the tournament, with even Justin Rose tweeting about it. They are certain to be even more in the spotlight next year as it has been announced that MiD will be the final event of the 2016 European Ryder Cup qualification process. While this may be partly a coincidence of the week it occupies in the tour schedule, no doubts the atmosphere at MiD played a part, and it would be fantastic to see a charging Thomas Bjørn or Thorbjørn Olesen needing a 2 at Himmerland Hill to give themselves a chance of making the team.

So, hats off to the promoter and organisers of Made in Denmark – a great example of what can be done with a golf tournament by thinking outside the box and focussing on what you have rather then bemoaning the absence of top-ranked players.  It will be interesting to see how the tournament develops in the future, particularly given the increased exposure it will have next year, but in any event, there are a lot of tournaments promoters who will have watched the coverage from Himmerland Hill last weekend with a great deal of envy.

The fantastic cover photo for this blog is courtesy of tomkristensen_com on instagram.  

Jamie McDonald is a business and legal advisor operating in the sports, media, technology and entertainment industries. He specialises in advising athletes, sports events, media organisations and tech companies on both commercial and legal issues. Prior to founding his consultancy sportsandlegal.com he was in-house counsel for IMG Golf in London for 7.5 years.

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