Malaysia and Philippines join the fold
The Asian PGA Tour will include a record 11 national opens next year with the Malaysian and Philippine events joining in the circuit's fifth year.
Tony Morgan, managing director of the Asian PGA, said the addition of the tournaments would enable the tour to offer a comprehensive Asian circuit involving nearly all the region's national opens.
The number might even increase as Taiwan had expressed interest. The Indonesian Open, which was part of the tour last year but cancelled this year because of unrest in the country, could also return.
The Malaysian Open will be the Asian PGA's second jointly-sanctioned event with the European PGA Tour in addition to the annual Johnnie Walker Classic. The Philippine Open is the oldest professional championship in the region and has given a five-year commitment to the tour.
'We are 90 per cent certain Taiwan will be an event on the tour. The Asian golf calendar next year will be structured as one calendar of golf rather than various groups of people doing their own thing without awareness or inclination to accept that there are other events going on,' Mr Morgan said.
'Realistically, we will have a minimum of 20 events. If I was to stick my neck out, maybe we could have 24 or 25. There are a number of events that are dependent on sponsors staying with them and finalising where they are going.
'There is probably a hard-core group of 15 or 16 very strong Asian events which will definitely happen.' This year, the Omega Tour hosted or co-hosted 20 events with about US$5 million in prize money. Last year, there were 23 events with about US$6 million in prize money.
Key events such as the Asian Honda Classic (Thailand), the Vietnam Open, the Satelindo Indonesia Open and the Philip Morris Asia Cup (Korea) fell vic tim to the economic crisis and did not return.
The ABN-AMRO Pakistan Masters was cancelled because of economic sanctions imposed against the country following its nuclear testing programme.
Tournaments in Guam, Thailand, Korea and Malaysia had to be subsidised by the APGA because of lack of sponsors.
Mr Morgan said it was important to ensure the tournaments continued but there was a limit as to how long the events could be subsidised.
He was confident Thailand, a strong golfing market, would return, possibly by 2000, and that new tournaments in India and mainland China would be organised.
The tour also needed to find a title sponsor. Omega, which had sponsored the tournament since its inception in 1995, announced in October it would not be renewing its contract. However, it would continue to sponsor the Omega PGA Championship in Hong Kong.
Mr Morgan called Omega a 'fantastic supporter' but, as the tour had grown, it had taken up larger portions of the company's marketing budget.
'We are 95 per cent [set up] with a new title sponsor, but I don't want to jeopardise that by making the details public. At the moment, Omega has the rights and we will make an announcement at the end of the season,' he said.
Other new Asian PGA events will include a secondary foundation tour in 2000. Tentatively, the circuit will operate in conjunction with PGA tours in Australia and South Africa.