PGA Tour Champions prepares for 1st Tour-sanctioned event in Japan

GOLF-JPN-PGA-SENIOR TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images

PGA Tour Champions prepares for 1st Tour-sanctioned event in Japan

Professional

PGA Tour Champions prepares for 1st Tour-sanctioned event in Japan

As president of PGA Tour Champions, Greg McLaughlin has attended his share of news conferences to tout new events and other initiatives. But he can’t recall any that matched the scene he witnessed last fall when he joined Tom Watson at the Tokyo American Club to promote the inaugural Japan Airlines Championship, which will be played Sept. 8-10.

 McLaughlin said an unusually large media contingent turned out, closely following the real-time translations of their American guests’ remarks.

“It was as big an event as I’ve been to promoting this tour and promoting a new event,” McLaughlin recalled recently. “It was wild because I hadn’t been there in that sort of a setting.”

It didn’t hurt that McLaughlin had brought along Watson, who has built a following in the country, having visited regularly for more than four decades and won four times on the Japan Tour, including the 1976 and 1997 Dunlop Phoenix. 

Watson talked about the need to develop “the next generation of golfers” around the world, adding, “I know first-hand that the passion and love for the game the Japanese fans inherently enjoy will help to make this a marquee stop on our schedule.”

In retrospect, it’s surprising that golf-mad Japan is only now preparing to host its first-ever PGA Tour-sanctioned event. Japan is the second-largest golf market in the world, trailing only the United States, and it has more than 2,300 golf facilities, according to a 2015 Golf 20/20 report on global golf. To put that in perspective, that accounts for more than half of the golf facilities in Asia. In short, a visit from the U.S. Tour is long overdue.

“We’re very excited about it. I think it’s a very significant accomplishment,” McLaughlin said. “If you look at Japan – the size, scope, uniqueness of the marketplace – it is a little surprising that we hadn’t played there previously under the PGA Tour brand. The amount of golf that’s played there by the JPGA is significant. The golfing community and corporate community are very excited about having us come over there.” 

The Japan Airlines Championship sits on the Champions’ calendar between two western Canada tournaments, the Shaw Charity Classic in Calgary and the Pacific Links Bear Mountain Championship near Vancouver. That might seem like an odd time for players to leave Canada, but not to worry, a JAL charter bearing the PGA Tour Champions logo will transport players, caddies and other officials from Calgary to Tokyo, then return them to Vancouver the following week.

The $2.5 million Japan Airlines Championship will be a 54-hole stroke-play tournament with 60 Champions players and eight more local sponsor exemptions. It will air in the U.S. on Golf Channel. The field is expected to include many of the Champions’ biggest names, including Bernhard Langer, John Daly, Colin Montgomerie, Mark O’Meara and David Toms. 

The tournament will be played at Narita Golf Club in Chiba, adjacent to Narita International Airport and an hour’s drive east of Tokyo.

McLaughlin said the Japan Airlines Championship includes options to continue the event in future years – clearly his preference.

“We’re hoping to play in Tokyo for an extended period of time,” he said.

Japan’s enthusiasm for the game holds obvious appeal for the entire PGA Tour. While McLaughlin was circling the globe to finalize plans for the new event, his Tour colleagues in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., were busy setting up a business office in Japan. 

“I can tell you the region is very important to the PGA Tour as well,” McLaughlin said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we did more there over time. We think it’s great that PGA Tour Champions is the catalyst to begin that process.”

Latest

More Golfweek
Home