Q: The Asian Tour has just celebrated the return of the Macau Open. How important is it to have the event back on the schedule and, in such a dynamic place fuelled by casino wealth, what growth do you see for the tournament?
It was wonderful the Macau Open made a welcome return after a one-year lapse. The event has been one of the most popular tournaments on our schedule since its debut in 1998 and our players enjoy going to Macau because of its rich culture and diversity. With the support of the Macau Sport Development Board (MSDB), Cityneon - who came in as our presenting sponsor - and IMG, a record prize fund of US$750,000 was offered. The event was also beamed live on our global TV platform, which was the first time in the tournament's history. The goal is now to sustain the tournament's growth and to gradually increase the prize money.
Q: Strangely, the tournament had only one representative from the mainland - China's elder statesman Zhang Lianwei. Why was that and where are China's young golfers?
Zhang has a playing category on the Asian Tour through his top-20 ranking of our career earnings list, while Ye Jianfeng holds a lower category through qualifying school. The Asian Tour provides five country exemptions to every national organisation in Asia for them to nominate their players to play on the Asian Tour, not only the Macau Open, for the whole year. It is entirely up to the players to decide where they want to play. We are disappointed the Chinese are not taking up these playing opportunities as we want to enhance their playing careers.
Q: You once had close ties with China and its golf development. Is there a wave of players being nurtured or produced and will they be competitive by the time golf returns to the Olympics in 2016?
The Official World Golf Rankings will be used to select the players for the Olympics in Rio in 2016. The Asian Tour events have the highest world ranking points in Asia as we are a full member of the International Federation of PGA Tours. For Asian players, the Asian Tour is by far the best route to get into the Olympics, hence players will need to compete on our tour to boost their world rankings.
Q: Speaking of China, the first LPGA Tour event scheduled for the mainland has been cancelled because the Imperial Springs Golf Club in Guangzhou had 'permit issues' as the government cracks down on environmental and land-use regulations. What does this say about golf development in China and what message does it send to the world?
I am sure the cancellation was a disappointment to the players and the tour. It is up to the organisers to ensure each golf course has the proper permits to stage international events.
Q: Your tour has been in a 'turf war' with OneAsia for more than two years now, to the detriment of the game and its growth in Asia. What is the situation now and what are the market forces telling you?
We continue to focus on our own growth. Sponsors are looking for value from their investments and the Asian Tour has a great product that has benefited them immensely. The tour offers a truly global reach through our television platform of over 200 countries and 850 million homes, making it a globally appealing product to broadcasters, golf fans and viewers. Sponsors see our value as a brand and in 2011 we have introduced four new tournaments and brought two other tournaments back into the fold. Three other sponsors- Rolex, Starwood Hotels and Resorts and Cityneon - joined us as tour partners, adding to our existing partners such as BlackBerry and J. Lindeberg which shows our attraction to leading international brands. We will continue to enhance our brand and TV exposure so multinationals will want to associate with us. Our stable of sponsors and events show that market forces are on our side.
Q: Why is the European Tour still co-sanctioning the Volvo China Open with OneAsia when it had supposedly given its full backing to your tour?
I respect the decision because the European Tour has a strong relationship with Volvo. Volvo is synonymous with the China Open as it started the Open with the Asian Tour back in 1995. As a past champion of the Volvo China Open (1999) when it was an Asian Tour event, which was the year I won the Order of Merit, the Open holds a special place in my heart. I certainly hope it will come back onto the Asian Tour schedule as a co-sanctioned event with the European Tour.
Q: You suspended a few of your players - including two of the tour's most successful, Simon Yates and Terry Pilkadaris- for playing in OneAsia events. What is their status and have other players crossed the line?
I wish to clarify they are not suspended. They have declined to pay the fines for playing in OneAsia events which breached our tour's membership rules and regulations which all members abide by. Once they pay the fines, they will be reinstated as members. For example, Guido Van Der Valk of the Netherlands paid up his fine recently and he was reinstated as a member.
Q: How many events do you have on your schedule and how does this to compare to last year?
We will sanction 25 tournaments in Asia with over US$50 million in total prize money this season, which is one event and some US$12 million more compared to last year. We are confident of increasing the numbers as we continue to receive positive feedback and inquiries from new sponsors and event promoters.
Q: Critics will say a number of your events are at the lower end of the spectrum- i.e. US$300,000 events - and unattractive to the elite players in Asia. How do you respond to this?
We will flow with the market forces and will continue to work hard to enhance our brand and TV platform. Our events will grow with sponsors increasing their level of investment. Our members have given me the mandate that they want quantity-wise, which is a priority as it creates playing opportunities as opposed to limited events with higher prize money. We will keep working hard to achieve this goal. Quantity of events is crucial for the players' career development. Bangladeshi Siddikur (Rahman) won the Brunei Open last year and, with his full playing rights, he has grown from strength to strength and is currently third on our Order of Merit. Noh Seung-yul of Korea played in the smaller events on our tour in 2008 and 2009 before going on to win our Order of Merit last season. It shows the importance of all events which are aimed at enhancing our players' careers and development.
Q: Your tour is a player organisation and they have shown solidarity in tough times. Are the players happy with the tour's growth and what direction do they want the tour to take?
The players are all my bosses. We have players nominated on our board of directors and there is also the tournament players committee, which sets out the parameters for the rules and regulations for the membership. The direction of our tour is set out by the board; the players have a main say and our management team executes them. The mandate is to create quantity.
Q: You have joined forces with a number of partners this year, among them IMG and more recently event services provider Cityneon. What do these partners bring to the tour?
Organisations like IMG, Cityneon, BlackBerry, Rolex, J. Lindeberg, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, for example, are all global brands and for them to be associated with the Asian Tour speaks greatly of the strength and appeal of our brand as well. We are an international organisation consisting of international players with a global vision and it is critical for us to have global partners who share our vision to develop golf at the highest level in Asia. When we go to events and people see great sponsors and leading TV broadcasters backing us, they will know that we are the real deal.
Q: Where are the most exciting growth opportunities in Asia?
It is great to see Asia growing immensely across the region and we are extremely keen to help develop golf in the smaller markets. We are working with various golf associations with regards to junior golf development as they will be the future stars of Asia. With golf getting back into the Olympics, it is our responsibility to get Asian players into the Olympics in five years' time, hence the need to keep working with all countries and organisations.
Q: The Asian Tour is gearing up for the business end of its schedule, with the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, the Omega Mission Hills World Cup in Hainan Island and the UBS Hong Kong Open among the most popular events. UBS will be ending its sponsorship of Hong Kong's oldest professional sporting event in December. Is that a surprise and what is its future given it is sandwiched between so many high-profile tournaments?
We've enjoyed a great run with UBS. Through its involvement, the Hong Kong Open has grown immensely with regards to the tournament prize fund which is now at record levels (HK$2.75 million). We fully appreciate UBS' support through the years and understand its needs to shift its sponsorship platform. As one of Asia's most prestigious Open championships with a wonderful tradition, the Hong Kong Open has a unique appeal and a great following and we are confident of securing a new title sponsor moving forward.
Q: What do you make of these 'celebrity' tournaments now appearing in China such as the Shui On Land China Golf Challenge, a made-for-television romp around China featuring four of the world's best golfers; the Lake Malaren Shanghai Masters, which boasts 30 of the world's top Chinese and international golfers and offers a staggering US$2 million prize to the winner; and Powerplay Golf, a new concept played over nine holes with two flags on each green, which will be showcased in Shanghai next month?
At the recent Official World Golf Ranking meeting at the British Open where I sit on the committee, it was not in favour of small-field or special events as they do not help with professional playing careers. It is only creating playing opportunities for the world's elite which does not help in the development of professional golf. The job of each international tour is to look at the broader aspect of playing opportunities for the development of players' careers. The OWGR committee is scrutinising such events. Personally, I do not support such events. I feel these events have only short-term goals. The Star Trophy, which was held without any tour sanction last year, lasted only one year. The sustainability of these events is in question without the tour's sanction.