Jacksonville: The PGA Tour has been spending a lot of time in South America, and not just because of the Olympics.
For the last 18 months, officials have been meeting with golf federations of several countries with hopes of starting a PGA Tour-branded circuit in South America, Latin America and the Caribbean. It would help develop local talent and provide another avenue for any player to find his way to the big leagues.
Think of it as a tour that would be one step below the Nationwide Tour.
And while there remain significant details to work out — not only finding an umbrella sponsor, but the number of tournaments and eligibility criteria — the plan is for this series to begin as early as 2012.
"If you look at the top 500 in the world ranking, only 14 players are from South America and eight of those come from Argentina," said Ty Votaw, executive vice president of international affairs who is spearheading the Olympic effort for the PGA Tour. "It`s a part of the world where the development of elite players is something that we see as being an opportunity."
With golf returning to the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, a series that would provide access to the Nationwide Tour and might offer even minimal world ranking points could increase the number of players in the world ranking from South America and help give golf some momentum on that continent.
Votaw said the plan is not entirely driven by the Olympics, although it has sped up the process.
The plan would be for open competition not restricted to local players. If the purses could be raised to $175,000, and if the top players on a money list (the number to be determined) were offered a spot on the Nationwide Tour, it could provide an attractive alternative to playing the mini-tours in which players have to put up their own money.
Keegan Bradley played mini-tours out of college, then made it far enough through Q-school to get onto the Nationwide Tour, a path that took him to victory two weeks ago on the PGA Tour. If a tour in South America were available then, Bradley said he would have gone.
"If there was access to the Nationwide? That would be a no-brainer," Bradley said.
South America is seen by some as fertile ground for young players. It has produced two-time major champion Angel Cabrera, and PGA Tour winners from Argentina (Andres Romero), Colombia (Camilo Villegas), Venezuela (Jhonattan Vegas) and Paraguay (Carlos Franco).
Cabrera has started a foundation with hopes of funding some of the young players. He is aware of the tour`s plan and loves it.
"I hope it succeeds," Cabrera said. "We have a lot of strong players on the PGA Tour already, and it would be very good for South America to have this. We could develop some players. It would be good for the young players to give them an opportunity."
This would not replace the Tour de las Americas, but work alongside it. One of the difficulties is working with the various countries, which have their own agendas, and coming up with a right number of tournaments that gets the entire continent involved. Also to be considered is the climate in South America, with countries on both sides of the equator.
Votaw said the idea is for about 12 to 14 tournaments from eight countries.
The tour involvement would be important to give the series an identity, a path to bigger things and consistent standards in how the tournaments are run and promoted.
Votaw said a Nationwide Tour event in Colombia would continue, and serve as somewhat of a carrot.
"With the Nationwide Tour in Colombia, it gives an understanding of what the Nationwide Tour is, and provides an even more tacit example of the brass ring," he said.