The US PGA Tour are here and they mean business as presence in Asia grows
October 2017 will see three events played in Malaysia, South Korea and China with a total prize fund of US$26 million, while the China Series is seeking further growth following this week’s Clearwater Bay Open
There are only 52 weeks in a year. That is a fact. A fact that the US PGA Tour might like to change, but for now it is still a fact. There are also now 26 million reasons for golf’s top players to use three of those weeks in 2017 to take in Malaysia, South Korea and China after the PGA Tour recently used one of those seven day stretches to add an event to their already bulging calendar on picturesque Jeju island next year.
Golf tour’s adding events is not an unusual thing, take this week’s PGA Tour China Series Clearwater Bay Open as an example, but for the PGA Tour it is a rarity with a schedule that simply can’t accommodate any more events.
It is unusual that it is one of only three, with the others in Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia that make up the ‘Asian Swing’, that the PGA Tour operates in Asia.
The World Golf Championship-backed US$9.5m HSBC Champions in Shanghai was only fully recognised by the PGA Tour in 2013, the same year the US$7m CIMB Classic in Malaysia was added to the schedule.
They had visited the region in the past with the World Cup event from 1995 up until 2011, but the European Tour has been in the region since either the 1989 Dubai Desert Classic or the 1992 Johnnie Walker Classic in Bangkok depending on your definition of Asia.
Those moves were driven initially as Europeans sought warmer pastures during the colder months, but for the PGA Tour the recent expansion is a simple matter of business, and hopefully a more sustainable one.
“This is a logical evolution of our international business, so it is already a significant business,” said PGA Tour executive vice president of international business Paul Johnson, who was in Hong Kong this week for the Clearwater Bay Open.
“We have television distribution in a billion homes around the world so it’s already a big business, but as we continue to look at our strategy and continue to look at our strengths around the world, the fact that almost 80% of the worlds GDP is outside of the US, 95% of the world’s population and a significant amount of growth, it is a point in time when we can put more into our international strategy and invest more in the people.
“It has always been important and not connected with the European Tour strategy, it was what was the right thing to do for our business. The European Tour have been doing it longer and they certainly moved earlier in terms of when they had some events.”
They don’t really need to chase the money offered across the globe as the European Tour have with the smallest prize pool on offer for an event in the States US3 million.
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The European Tour on the other hand chose to locate their end of season finale in Dubai with all its riches, which again, is in Asia depending on your perspective. Can you really see the PGA Tour staging the FedEX up anywhere other than in the US?
The four event play-off series offers prize pools totalling US35m, with this year’s overall winner Rory McIlroy walking away with a US10m bonus for winning the series.
This newly added CJ Cup in South Korea is another big-money event with the US$9.25m in prize money on offer which is only bettered by the four majors, The Players Championship and the World Golf Championships.
And the PGA Tour’s emergence in Asia comes at a time when the European Tour’s influence is diminishing following an aborted merger with the Asian Tour and the loss of the US$7m BMW Masters its schedule.
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Japan is the next market the PGA Tour will look to explore and highlighted that fact by opening an office in Tokyo recently while Hideki Matsuyama’s win last week at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai came as a timely boost, with the stated goal at the moment to bring potentially the World Cup team event.
The country will host the Olympic Games and its newly introduced golf event in 2020, while the Presidents Cup is also a possibility although that next has an open date on the calendar in 2023.
“We think Asia is a very important market, certainly for golf and the PGA Tour, but also for our sponsors and for our media partners who are an important part of our eco-system,” added Johnson, with the PGA Tour taking a seniors tour event to Japan in 2017.
“It is a very important market as we look to develop our international strategy outside of the US. We have a very good international business partners, but by putting some PGA Tour people in the market who can actually start to implement them in the market that you just can’t do from the US market.”
The PGA Tour don’t do things by halves, and this week’s Clearwater Bay Open on the China Series is testament to that with a high level of success achieved in only three years of the circuit, and talk of further growth to eventually a tour containing 20-25 events across greater China with the trip to Clearwater Bay Golf & Country Club the first time they have ventured away from the mainland.
The China Series offers player the carrot of competing for a place on the main PGA Tour should they progress from the second-tier Web.com circuit, with the China Series order of merit list winner guaranteed a full card for the following season, while it also sees the PGA Tour with a full-time presence in China.
“We are fortunate to be the number one tour in the world, we are fortunate to have the best players and the best brand, and because of that we know that we can deliver a fantastic golf product to Korea with some of the best players in the world that will come and play,” said Johnson.
“I am less certain of what happened before, but with our position in golf we can deliver the best players in the world to come and play. We are fortunate that the best golfers play with us, so when we go and play somewhere else, we have the best players that we can bring.”
Now they are here, you can imagine the PGA Tour are here to stay. Now only if they can solve that pesky issue of having only 52 weeks in a year.
“We are fortunate in some of our opportunities to being PGA Tour tournaments to Asia. We are fortunately that we have a very full schedule in the US and we are fully sponsored,” added Johnson.
“We are full, we play events every week, so it is an unusual opportunity where we can look to add an event.
“We had an open week and so we decided to take that open week and have an event in Korea. There is plenty of demand for PGA Tour events, but there just isn’t the supply.”