WORLD SNOOKER confirmed on Saturday that the Australian Goldfields Open ranking tournament will return to Bendigo in the summer on a new two-year deal with an increased prize fund.
Doubt had been cast over the viability and future of the event last year, at which Marco Fu beat home favourite Neil Robertson 9-6 in the final.
Despite the impeccable credentials of the eventual finalists and a high-quality showpiece many leading players opted not to travel to Victoria.
They included world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump, John Higgins, Stephen Maguire, Graeme Dott, Ali Carter and Mark Williams, while Ding Junhui failed to show up following a visa issue.
The total prize money on offer has gone up by around £30,000 to almost £300,000, with the winner set to take home around £50,000. That may help persuade the odd waverer.
There have been suggestions that Bendigo might have given way to one of the bigger cities to host the event. Players had complained about the relatively remote location and the standard of accommodation offered.
But the Victorian government have come up with the new deal in a bid once again to promote the destination for tourism as well as stage a major sporting event.
World No1 Robertson was certainly delighted by the news, having been disappointed at the turnout last year but stopping short of openly criticising the absentees given the difficulties of an increasingly packed schedule.
The 31-year-old, born and raised in Melbourne, could have done little more to try and promote his sport on home soil, but often meets with a wall of indifference from the sporting media Down Under despite his many titles.
He said: “I have loved playing in front of a home crowd and I am stoked to have the opportunity again for the next two years.
“I had a good run to the final this year, and although I was disappointed to lose to Marco Fu, it left me even more determined to win the title in the future.
“It's fantastic to have a major ranking event in my home country as it gives players from around the world the chance to experience the Goldfields region.
“And it also gives the chance for talented local players to compete for wild-card places. Hopefully this tournament will help snooker to grow in Australia.”
World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn said: “We are thrilled to keep this tournament in Bendigo until 2015. Snooker is one of the world's fastest growing sports and this world ranking tournament in Australia is an important part of our global expansion.
“The high standard and professionalism of the Victorian Government and IMG has been exceptional over the past three years. The players, officials and fans have enjoyed visiting the Goldfields region and look forward to returning in 2014.”
Photographs by Monique Limbos