Asian Tour proves to be a survivor

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 December, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 December, 2003, 12:00am

While other golf circuits may offer more money and glamour, there may not be another Tour in the world that is more adventurous and exotic than and, in many cases, as turbulent as the Asian PGA Tour.

The fact that the circuit has survived for nine years is testament to the perseverance of the Tour's organisers, the Asian PGA and the World Sport Group.

Considering the Tour's 'footprint' over the years has covered such places as the Middle East, Guam, South Korea and nearly everywhere in between, this circuit has faced its share of hardships.

During the years, the Tour has lost or cancelled events due to civil unrest, threats of nuclear conflict, war, inclement weather, financially troubled sponsors, the Asian financial crisis and, this year, Sars.

But from its humble beginnings in 1995 as a US$5million event aimed at developing professional golf in Asia, it has proved to be a survivor, reaching new heights and achievements with each passing year.

Valen Tan, the deputy executive director of the Asian PGA, says the Tour still managed to stage 20 events this year, despite the Sars outbreak, with record prize money of more than US$12 million.

'Somehow we persevered and came out of this stronger. We came out of this thing fighting, and now the Tour is as strong as ever,' he says.

'We would definitely like to increase the numbers and hopefully have 30 events next year. A number of events should have come on board but didn't because of Sars.'

This season was also the first year the circuit was without a title sponsor. Omega was the title sponsor during its first five years, followed by Davidoff Coffee for three years.

'There have always been companies showing an interest, but it is also a matter of all of us agreeing on the figures. It is not something we can just pick up and say, 'Let's do it'. It is a long-term thing and sponsors are obviously looking at their own angle,' Mr Tan says.

Despite the drawbacks, the Tour reached new heights this year, with more of its alumni competing on overseas tours; the inaugural Dynasty Cup, where Team Asia defeated Team Japan in the Ryder Cup-style event; and its first Major winner.

In August, Shaun Micheel, a journeyman golfer who had never won on the PGA Tour, captured the year's final Major, the PGA Championship. While the world press described the Memphis native as an unknown, it wasn't the case in Asia.

The American had played on the Asian PGA Tour in 1998, winning the Singapore Open and finishing third in the Order of Merit. He made further news in Hong Kong when he fired a 12-under 58 during a practice round for the Omega PGA Championship at Clear Water Bay.

Mr Tan could only describe Micheel's Major feat as 'big', maybe the biggest for the circuit yet.

'It has always been our dream for one of our players to win one of the Majors. Obviously, we are hoping an Asian will do it. But then again, you really can't divide it up these days, as the Tour itself represents players from about 32 countries. How do you draw a line?

'The fact that Shaun Micheel played here says a lot for what our Tour did for his game. He went through a slow period, got it together and we are happy for him.'

Mr Tan says he is looking forward to the Omega Hong Kong Open, describing it as one of the best events around.

He is particularly pleased that so many players have come to Tour stops such as Hong Kong over the years, played well and then excelled elsewhere.

'That is one of the incredible things about the Asian PGA Tour. Suddenly when [players] go back, they start winning,' he says.

'When you play in Asia it toughens you mentally. You play in such diverse cultures in every country and if you are not strong enough mentally, you just crack.'