Singapore Open’s resurgence causes strife in Asia

In short order, this week’s Barclays Singapore Open has garnered a reputation for showcasing a star-studded field. But its transformation hasn’t come without turmoil.

Indeed, in 2007, participants in the field earned more World Ranking points than those who competed in the PGA Tour’s Children’s Miracle Network Classic held in the same week.

That same year, the Singapore tournament’s date conflicted with the European Tour’s season-ending event. Ernie Els infuriated European Tour officials when he skipped the Volvo Masters to honor his contractual commitment to play in Singapore. To some, it was the equivalent of Tiger Woods passing on the FedEx Cup finale to play an event abroad.

Such conflicts, however, have been resolved. For the first time, “Asia’s major” is co-sanctioned with the European Tour and is part of The Race to Dubai. As you might expect, some welcome this development while others view it with open skepticism.

Absent from the golf calendar for three years, the Singapore Open was reborn in 2005 as Asia’s richest full-field event. In its effort to raise its profile and sell real estate, Sentosa Island, a former fishing village transformed into Singapore’s premier island resort, inked a deal to host the tournament.

The tournament quickly became the benchmark event of the Asian Tour, the one other events aspire to be like someday. This year’s field includes major winners Els, Padraig Harrington, Phil Mickelson and Geoff Ogilvy; Ryder Cuppers Ian Poulter and Justin Rose and Presidents Cupper Adam Scott; and even young gun Danny Lee, all of whom were enticed by its $5 million purse.

It’s safe to assume that most of the superstars also have received appearance money, a long-standing practice outside of the United States to lure elite players. But the tournament now offers a new incentive: European Ryder Cup points and earnings toward the Race to Dubai standings.

Speaking of the new date and partnership with the European Tour, Barclays PLC president Bob Diamond Jr. said: “It’s been a home run. . . If it counts for Ryder Cup points for the Europeans and counts for Race to Dubai, it’s a completely different experience than if it was just an Asian Tour event.”

But it’s not a change that everyone is thrilled about. Asian Tour members lost some 30 spots into the field of its most-lucrative event. Sure, the biggest catalyst for the rising standard of play in Asia has been its relationship with the European Tour. But another school of thought argues that the co-sanctioned events contradict the Asian Tour’s original purpose of creating opportunities for Asian players because much of the field now is filled by European Tour members. Therein lies the great dilemma: The Asian Tour is as dependent on co-sanctioned events as America is on foreign oil.

The European Tour already has colonized the region by cherry-picking the best Asian events through co-sanctioning. Singapore marks the 58th co-sanctioned event between the two tours. Some players complain that the Asian Tour has become a tour that panders to its top 60 players.

“We’ve put our hands up to the European Tour,” Amandeep Johl, a veteran of the Asian Tour and former president of the tournament player committee, said last year. “They can come and go as they please. They’ve taken our biggest events that were supposed to be Asian-only.”

Johl’s words proved prescient. This year he was among the Asian Tour players ineligible for the Barclays Singapore Open.

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