Asian major within five years - new tour CEO
28 Aug 2012 - 20:17:03
The Asian Tour is in talks to set up an "iconic" golf event to rival the majors as early as 2015, its new chief executive has revealed.
Mike Kerr, who took up his post in March, made the statement as he laid out an ambitious vision which sees the circuit expanding to match the current size of the European Tour in the next 10 years.
"Yes, I think we can have an iconic event in Asia. There are some plans that we have that we're already in the market talking about," he told AFP at the Asian Tour offices in Singapore.
"We're working on it... let's say definitely within the next three to five (years)."
The so-called "fifth major" is considered the next frontier of Asian golf after years of rapid growth brought new, world-class tournaments and pumped up prize money and standards.
Both the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, with a purse of US$7 million, and the US$6 million Singapore Open, have been informally touted as "Asia's major".
Golf's majors -- the US Masters, US Open, British Open and the PGA Championship -- have slightly larger purses, but also prestige and tradition built up over generations.
"The majors are not going to move. I think I can say that for certain," said Kerr, in his first interview with an international press agency since joining the tour.
"I'm not sure whether it would ever be confirmed as a major or supported in that way but I think there certainly is room for an iconic event in Asia that would be at a similar level to a major event, which the players can support and which we can build up over time.
"Golf is still in its infancy in this part of the world. The majors have hundreds of years of tradition, which is what sets them apart from every other event."
The former ESPN Star Sports TV executive said Asia was not "burdened" by the "old boys network" in Europe and America, enabling it to do things differently -- including for example a tournament where all players wear shorts.
He predicted the Asian Tour would be offering similar total prize money to the European Tour in a decade, rising from 26 to about 40 tournaments a year with potential new partnerships in the Middle East and the former Soviet bloc.
But he did not expect friction with the European and PGA tours, despite their increasing focus on Asia.
"I think there's plenty of opportunity and I don't foresee that there's going to be a major crisis or conflict between us and the two major tours in the world," Kerr said.
And he dismissed the challenge of rival circuit OneAsia, which sprang up in 2009 bringing together the Chinese, South Korean and Australasian tours, and lists 15 events on its schedule for this year.
"I don't think that their fundamentals are sound, I don't think that they have the right foundation and I don't think they're a long-term, ongoing proposition. The Asian Tour is," said Kerr.
"OneAsia itself... is a commercial venture, nothing more than that," he added.
Kerr said the Asian Tour also stands to benefit from golf's reintroduction to the Olympics in 2016, when players will gain entry through their world rankings.
He said not only does the Asian Tour have more events than OneAsia, but they also carry more rankings points.
"The only way to get into the Olympics is to gain world-ranking points. And the only realistic way to gain enough world-ranking points in the Asia-Pacific market is to be involved with the Asian Tour," he said.
"There is simply no other way to do it... It just seems practically impossible to get to the Olympics without playing on the Asian Tour."
This could smooth the Tour's attempts to renew ties with Asia's biggest market, China, which is under OneAsia's remit.
"The CGA (China Golf Association) have basically refused to cooperate with the Asian Tour over the past couple of years," said Kerr.
"However, we will continue to talk with the CGA and I'm certainly very confident that we will be back in China."
He was unimpressed by the latest headline-grabbing golf show in China, where Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy will face off in a one-day matchplay event in October.
"I think it helps to profile golf, but does it help Asia? Does it help China? No," he said.
But he said the region's sheer weight of numbers meant that the next Woods or McIlroy was likely to come from Asia.
"I think you'll probably find that we will get that Asian McIlroy. I think the next Rory McIlroy probably will come from this part of the world," said Kerr.