The Asian Tour and upstart OneAsia Tour are going head-to-head for the first time this week. You might look at OneAsia’s Korea Open field – Rory McIlroy, Danny Lee, Ryo Ishikawa – and assume that it is on its way to unseating the Asian Tour as the most prominent pan-Asian professional golf circuit in Asia.
As ESPN’s Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friends.”
This rivalry is past civil discourse. The Asian Tour recently served notice that it isn’t going to sit back and let the upstart tour kick sand in its face. Even if OneAsia is off to a seemingly bold start.
OneAsia’s founding members – the PGA of Australia, China Golf Association, Korea Golf Tour and the Korea Golf Association – kicked off its inaugural season this year with a five-tournament schedule. It hopes to have as many as 20 events within two years.
In a recent interview with Reuters, PGA Tour of Australia commissioner Ben Sellenger said: “We may only have a few events now, but three of the events are the national opens (China, Korea and Australia) of three of the biggest economies in the region.”
He added: “It doesn’t change the financial crisis at the moment, but it positions us well in terms of what we are going out with and speaking to sponsors about. . . trying to broaden their reach and offer more than they would get from other investments.”
Countering that effort is Kyi Hla Han, a former player who has been the Asian Tour’s executive chairman since 2006. He is considered unpolished by some who question whether he has enough business savvy for the job.
But let’s give credit where credit is due. Han has signed three significant deals in the past two months that suggest the Asian Tour won’t crumple and fold anytime soon.
In July, the European Tour and Asian Tour formed a joint venture company – EurAsia Golf Ltd. – with representatives from both serving on the board of directors to be the point of contact for tournament promoters for all existing and new co-sanctioned tournaments, including Senior Tour events.
The Asian Tour’s importance in the golf hierarchy was confirmed when 25 of its players competed in the 2009 European Masters, the first golf tournament on European soil to be co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour. (However, the Asian Tour’s “major,” the Barclays Singapore Open, will be co-sanctioned with the European Tour later this year, resulting in an overall loss of spots for Asian Tour members.)
In August, Han reached a three-year agreement with IMG to be the Asian Tour’s exclusive media agent through 2012. The deal already is paying dividends. IMG negotiated a deal for SkySports to air tournaments, highlights and its magazine shows in the United Kingdom and Ireland beginning this week with the Macau Open until the end of 2012.
“We are going about our business of trying to enhance our TV platform to give better value to our sponsors,” Han wrote in an e-mail. “[The Asian Tour] wants to make sure the structure and foundation of our Tour is solid and the players are kept informed of our developments.”
I still contend that market forces will ultimately decide which tour rules the region or whether the tours merge. Time will tell, but it’s clear that Han has improved the Asian Tour’s hand.