In a pivotal event that went largely unreported in the national media of this country, mandarins at the Asian Tour and The China Golf Association (CGA) met in Shanghai recently and drafted out a strategic partnership, which ‘aims to further grow the game through the creation of new tournaments in China’ that will be co-sanctioned by both organisations. Lofty goals aside, essentially, the partnership signals the imminent return of the China Golf Association to the Asian Tour’s umbrella. For those who may not know, the pro tours in China, Korea and Australasia have not been part of the Asian Tour since 2009 opting instead to ally with the ‘renegade’ OneAsia Tour. The event also presents a climax, even if way past its due date, to the acrimonious struggle for domination of professional golf in Asia between the two tours that began soon after OneAsia was launched in 2009. At the time, the rebel tour had scored one over the Asian Tour by snatching the rights to host the high-profile Volvo China Open as its debut event, followed by the Midea China Classic and the Korea Open. With only three confirmed events in 2017 (all co-sanctioned) and one unconfirmed event in China, the OneAsia Tour now appears to be headed for an imminent collapse.
In retrospect, the Asian Tour has less to rue when it comes to not being a force in China since 2009: although it was unthinkable that year—when the Asian giant’s famed sport machinery was relentlessly developing golf courses, infrastructure and training legions of players—golf was about to fall off China’s radar. Since 2011, the government has ordered the closure of 111 courses—almost a sixth of the golf courses in that country—in a bid to crackdown on a sport that is seen as a pastime for the wealthy elite. In 2015, the government also banned all Communist Party members (numbering roughly 88 million) from playing the game. Suddenly, golf in China, which was seen at the heart of the game’s migration to Asia, became a dirty word, and anathema to the powers-that-be.
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While the ruling Communist Party’s uneasy relationship with the game remains, there are signs that things may be on the mend. Last year, Beijing told cadres they were prohibited from receiving membership to clubs as gifts, but subsequently reiterated that the sport was not illegal—as long as officials paid for it. In August 2016, state media celebrated teen phenom Feng Shanshan’s bronze medal at the sport’s Olympic debut. Xi Xinping even met Feng after the Rio Games. It appears that the Olympic Games might have, in fact, given the sport the much-needed official sanction in China. As far as making a re-entry into the country is concerned, there could have been a better time to do so for the Asian Tour.
Under this new collaboration, the CGA and Asian Tour plan to stage up to four new events in China—with purses ranging between $300,000-$500,000 this year—where earnings will count towards the Asian Tour Order of Merit and the China Tour Order of Merit. More events are planned for 2018.
“Re-starting cooperation is a game-changer for the Asian Tour and CGA as the creation of new tournaments will greatly enhance playing opportunities for our players and for the many talented players coming up from China, “ said Asian Tour CEO Josh Burack. Asian Tour players are likely to be pleased at the increment in playing opportunities, while golfers from the China Tour will benefit by associate memberships with the Asian Tour—with the top-five non-exempt players from the China Tour Order of Merit receiving exemptions into the Final Stage of the Asian Tour Qualifying School in 2018.
Asian Tour players got more to celebrate with news of the addition of the ‘Panasonic Swing’ to the Asian Tour’s schedule that was announced last week. The Swing will feature a series of five tournaments—four tournaments in 2017—culminating with the Panasonic Open Japan 2018 in which players will accrue points. The top three points leaders at the conclusion of the Panasonic Open Japan 2018 will share a bonus pool of $150,000, while the winner of the Swing shall also receive an exemption into a European Tour event in 2018. Panasonic Corporation is already sponsoring two tournaments—the Panasonic Open India and Panasonic Open Japan—on the Asian Tour. Through the Panasonic Swing, the top local player in each of the four legs in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and India will gain exemptions into the finale in Japan. Jeev Milkha Singh, the first Indian to play on the Japan Golf Tour, was effusive on the development: “I think this is a fantastic initiative by Panasonic and a great boost for golf in Asia. Players will not want to miss these events, as they get to make some extra money,” said Singh.
East Asia, comprising of Japan, Hong Kong, Macau, Korea, Taiwan and Japan, is by far the most golf-crazy region in Asia. After getting back into China, the Asian Tour will now be looking to actively woo back South Korea (where it currently hosts just one tournament). That would be great for Asian golf.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also
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