PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem’s Asian adventure is under way, further confirming the region’s growing importance in the golf hierarchy. Finchem is spending 18 days in Asia, visiting five cities to meet current and potential sponsors. He reportedly will stay the weekend at the World Golf Championship event in Shanghai. Finchem said he could not remember a longer trip since he became commissioner 15 years ago.
“I haven’t been to Japan in three years, and we have a lot of existing customers,” Finchem told the Associated Press in October. “We have a WGC in China. There are other things I need to do in China and Korea. I would say 80 percent of the trip is seeing existing customers and potential customers, partners, possible sponsors, possible official marketing partners.”
The ramifications of the trip could be significant. As one industry observer put it, once Finchem sees the potential of the Asian market for himself he is going to want the Tour to have a larger stake there.
It’s a testament of the growing stature of the game in the region. The golf craze in Korea is well documented. China and India, where golf is becoming popular and a golf infrastructure is being built, have 3.5 billion people in those countries alone. Cambodia and Vietnam, where golf hardly existed 10 years ago, already host Asian Tour events. Many believe golf’s return to the Olympics in 2016 could jumpstart interest throughout the region.
It doesn’t hurt that during a global economic downturn and a stagnant period for U.S. golf, Asian economies still are expected to grow at higher rates than elsewhere. Aware of Asia’s growing pension for consumerism, the European Tour has increased its presence in the region during the past decade. The PGA Tour has been inching its way into the market. First, the Omega World Cup moved to Mission Hills in China. Then the HSBC Champions event in Shanghai was upgraded to World Golf Championship status. Next year, the Champions Tour will expand its reach with its first tournament in South Korea. It seems just a matter of time until regular PGA Tour events are held on Asian soil. Fall Series anyone?