|(Golf) PGA Tour to stay the course in China
America's PGA Tour has pledged to stay in China for the long haul after taking the bold step of setting up a domestic circuit offering players a new route to golf's top level, including the Olympic Games.
In a move which could have a big impact on Chinese golf, and even the sport's future, the newly established PGA Tour China will roll out 12 events this year.
Professionals will be able to earn their way onto America's Web.com Tour, the “gateway'' to the world-leading PGA Tour, through their prize money, and pick up world ranking points which are needed to reach the Olympics.
The initiative could help China make good on its promise after already producing youngsters of the caliber of Guan Tianlang, who caused a sensation by making the cut at last year's Masters aged just 14.
PGA Tour vice president Greg Gilligan, the body's managing director for Greater China, said the tour had plans to expand to Hong Kong, Taipei and Macau.
“We're making a long-term commitment to this partnership and to the development of golf in China, broadly speaking,'' he told AFP by phone from Beijing.
“Our money-list players can graduate from this to the Web.com,'' he added. ''It's a stepping-stone where players can continue to hone their competitive skills and graduate from one tour to the next.''
The tour, similar to PGA development circuits in Canada and Latin America, is already underway with its second qualifying event being held this week.
Prize money of 12 million yuan will be on offer at each tournament, as well as world ranking points. Only the top-ranked players from each country will qualify when golf returns to the Olympics in 2016.
Despite growing interest in golf and a mushrooming number of courses, plus some world-class international tournaments, previous domestic tours in China have struggled.
Players have also been slow to emerge and the current golf rankings feature only six Chinese men in the top 1,000, and none among the leading 100.
By comparison, Japan has 63 players in the top 1,000, South Korea has 67, Thailand has 25 and India has 12.
The PGA Tour had been considered late to make a move in Asia, and it wasn't until last year that it held its first fully sanctioned event in the region, the CIMB Classic in Malaysia.
But it has now stolen a march by offering China's players a route to the PGA Tour while gaining valuable exposure for its brand in the country.
Asia's regional golf tours are supportive. Asian Tour CEO Mike Kerr told AFP: “We believe the Chinese players can benefit immensely from this and simultaneously prepare them with the experience to compete well on other recognized Tours such as the Asian Tour.''
And a spokesman for OneAsia said: “A thriving tour in China will be good for the game there and Asia in general... we hope the PGA China Tour will, in a way, complement OneAsia in the same manner that the domestic tours in Australia and Korea already do.''