Asian outlook positive again, says tour chief

Asian outlook positive again, says tour chief

Asian Tour CEO Mike Kerr says the outlook for golf in the continent is positive again after a difficult few years which saw tournaments scrapped and sponsors hard to find.

The region received a boost last month when the European Tour announced it had added a new "Asian swing" to its 2015 schedule with events in Malaysia, Thailand and India.

February will see the long-established Maybank Malaysian Open followed by two new co-sanctioned Asian Tour and European Tour events -- the $2 million Thailand Classic and the Hero Indian Open.

"It really highlights that Asia is where the growth is going to be," Kerr told AFP in a telephone interview.

"If you look at the two more established markets, the US and certainly western Europe, they are fairly saturated," he added. 

"You`re going to get organic growth in those markets but you`re not going to get many new tournaments."

The Asian Tour enjoyed a boom period before leaner economic times and greater competition after the arrival of the rival OneAsia tour in 2009 hampered the growth of its schedule.

Two flagship events -- both co-sanctioned with the European Tour -- suffered. The Singapore Open, once touted as "Asia`s major", was sidelined and the Hong Kong Open left without a title sponsor.

Hong Kong still lacks a headline backer but the European Tour has underlined it`s importance with a key slot on next year`s calendar -- just before the season-ending `Final Series`.

"The co-sanctioned programme has been very successful for us," said Kerr. "It allows Asian players to play against some of the best in the world.

"I see us working closer and in more tournaments and more markets around the world in the future," he added.

The European Tour has also added a new China date to its calendar for next year, with the Shenzhen International, which is not sanctioned by the Asian Tour, set to debut in April the week before the Volvo China Open.

And in November, two of the European Tour`s Race to Dubai `Final Series` events will again take place in Shanghai, China -- the WGC-HSBC Champions and the BMW Masters.Kerr said the Asian Tour was also looking to increase the number of its stand-alone events, pointing out that the Vascory Classic in Malaysia had been added to next year`s calendar.

"Am I happy with where the Asian Tour is at the moment? I think I am. Obviously we would love to have more tournaments, more purses, and more opportunities for the players but it takes time," he said.

"What we want to do is develop a sustainable tour. We don`t want a flash-in-the-pan event coming in and off the schedule which has in some ways happened in the past," he added.

"Certainly over the past couple of years we`ve had a fairly rough time and things have been quite tight but I think we can see that we are starting to come out of that situation."

Kerr, who earlier this year said he couldn`t rule out a potential alliance with OneAsia, said market forces were likely to mean golf tours around the world merging in some way in the future.

"Golf as a professional sport is very fragmented globally. I think there will definitely be consolidation," he said. 

"There has to be if the sport is going to continue to grow and be healthy." 

Despite the bright outlook, however, Kerr conceded that it was unlikely that Asia would one day proudly host a fifth major, to add to the game`s historic Masters, US Open, British Open and PGA titles.

"It`s difficult to think that you could create a major," he said. "Just to think you can throw money at an event and therefore call it a major I don`t think is realistic. 

"But I do think you will get more substantial tournaments in this part of the world."

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