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Is Global Turf War Looming in Professional Golf?

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For the past few years, there has been continuing talk and speculation of the formation of a global golf tour, encompassing the major professional tours of the world, namely the behemoth PGA Tour and the lesser European Tour. For all intents and purposes, it has just remained as chatter with no one stepping up to confirm or refute the birth of a super global tour.

In the last few months, however, there seems to have been some stirring, and whether this is related to the start of a global tour cannot be confirmed. This has been brought about primarily due to both tours bulking up their presence, particularly in Asia where there is room for growth insofar as the professional game is concerned.

With the shrewd and wily Tim Finchem no longer at the helm of the PGA Tour, a younger commissioner in the form of Jay Monahan will be a good bet to bring about change. The Americans have beefed up their presence and geographic footprint in Asia. The PGA Tour has an established beach-head in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and a rich tournament in the US$7 million dollar CIMB Classic, which has now been extended till 2020.

The next market is South Korea where the PGA Tour is growing its presence. It has teamed up with the CJ Corporation and has announced the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges, an event with a $9.25 million purse that’s scheduled for October 16-22, 2017 in Korea.

In making this official, Monahan said, “This announcement is a historic landmark for the PGA Tour as we add another tournament in Asia. We had such a phenomenal experience in Korea last year at The Presidents Cup, and we hoped an official, permanent event in this great country would be the result of that success.” He went on to add, “Partnering with a respected business leader like the CJ Corporation means this tournament will be on the Korean sports landscape for years to come.”

“The addition of the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges to our schedule gives us three strong tournaments in consecutive weeks in Asia, and they will play a significant role in shaping the early part of the FedExCup season and the FedExCup chase overall,” Monahan continued. Footnote: The tournaments are the World Golf Championship in Shanghai, CIMB Classic and the Korean tournament.

In 2016, 20 players from Korea had membership on either the PGA Tour or Web.com Tour. On the PGA Tour’s international-player roster, the 12 Korean members for the 2016-17 season is exceeded only by the 15 from Australia.

Completing the “Asian Swing” is the establishment of the PGA Tour’s Champions and the Japan Airlines Championship, the first ever PGA Tour-sanctioned event to be held in Japan to be played at Narita Golf Club in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, Japan the week of September 4-10, 2017.

One of the PGA’s early beach-heads in Asia was in China, but that relationship which was brokered by Finchem back in 2014 seems to have turned sour. The PGA Tour was partnered with the all-powerful China Golf Association, which operates the China PGA Tour. With this partnership in limbo, China is off the table temporarily.

In recent weeks, the PGA Tour flexed its muscles by opening a base in England. This is a strong affront to the European Tour, although the Americans have been quick to point out that its London office’s “prime focus will be on media rights and tournament sponsorship.” If this does not point to the PGA Tour flying solo, what else can it be?

The move toward the globalization of golf does not stop at the thrust toward Asia. In 2016, a strategic alliance was formed between the PGA Tour and the LPGA Tour. This agreement is designed to further promote the growth of golf and the partnership between the leading men’s and women’s professional golf tours and it will include areas such as schedule coordination, joint marketing programs, domestic television representation, digital media, and exploring the potential development of joint events.

Commenting on the strategic alliance, LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said, “We look forward to working with the PGA Tour team to deliver a positive impact for our sport.” This is a dynamite partnership and it will be a tough act to follow and to beat!

What sort of a conclusion can we draw from all this activity in Asia? The answer really is simple – there is absolutely no doubt that the PGA Tour has taken off big time in Asia, and from all indications, it looks like the Americans are going it alone in their initiative to start up a global tour.

Speaking for Asia, we welcome this development because it only means that good things can happen for the game of golf. The PGA Tour has deep pockets, a tremendous depth in its field of players, and it has powerful media in tow. No one can do a better job than the PGA Tour when it comes to growing the game of golf and expanding its influence on a global scale. Remember that slogan that the PGA Tour used to use some years ago to promote its tour: THESE GUYS ARE GOOD! Well, you better believe them; they are darn good!

So, where does that leave the European Tour insofar as their dream to start a global tour is concerned? Well, Keith Pelley, the tour’s chief executive officer, has not been idling all this time. He has been actively dreaming up plots of his own to expand and take a hold of the global game. In his bid to “conquer” the world, he has sought to be allies with the PGA Tour of Australasia (what a silly term, you are either Australia or Asia but not Australasia!), and the “baby” of the alliance, the Asian Tour, which incidentally has problems of its own.

After some months of relative silence, Pelley seems to have emerged from a deep winter slumber to announce a “game changer.” The head honcho of the European Tour generated some tremors on the golf landscape with the announcement of a new format for the professional game, “GolfSixes”, which made a successful debut at the Centurion Club north of London on May 6-7. This format featured two-man teams from 16 different countries competing for a prize fund of $1.06 million.

What Pelley has done represents a part of the European Tour’s aggressive move to introduce innovative formats to broaden the appeal of the sport. As stated earlier, in trying to bring about change, Pelley has started a romance with new bedfellows: the PGA Tour of Australasia and the Asian Tour. Both these tours have bought into the new format lock, stock, and barrel.

Pelley wants to “emulate the national fervor” of the Ryder Cup in GolfSixes, which will feature amphitheatre-style stands around the tees and greens, music and pyrotechnics on the first tee and at various points around the course, and all players will be miked up. Sounds like a great deal of fun and this is precisely what golf needs to grow spectator support.

In an interview, Pelley said: “It is not about wholesale changes in the game. We need to be more entertaining for the younger generation so they can experience the wonderful game and the great athletes.”

Well, it looks like Pelley has something with which to go after a global golf tournament. Maybe, there’s a special “Sixes” global golf tournament league in the offing and perhaps this is what Pelley hopes to use as his thrust toward occupying the global game space. It’s anybody’s guess right now because amid all of this activity, there seems to be some clear battle lines emerging. The European Tour with its allies is going one way, while the PGA Tour seems to be the quiet 1000-pound gorilla in the arena. There has been no word or reaction from the PGA Tour on Pelley’s new “Sixes” format.

Another measure of the adversarial status between the PGA Tour and the European Tour relates to the relative attraction of the PGA Tour to many of the European Tour’s top stars. Because of the massive purses that are involved, there has been a migration of Europe’s top stars across the Atlantic in search of greener pastures. It goes without saying that star quality is very important in any professional sport, and Pelley has been very concerned about his tour becoming a secondary tour with a whole bunch of journeymen playing for second-rate rewards. He swung into action and cut a deal with Rolex to fatten up the purses for some marquee European Tour events in a bid to keep his top players on home soil. The European Tour’s Rolex Series, will mean enhanced prize funds for certain tournaments, which kicked off with the recent BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

All indications point to both the tours being intent to gain more traction on the global scene, but there seems to be no signs of working together to bring about the realization of a true global tour. Both sides have their own agendas, and the PGA Tour is very active in Asia looking for new sponsors to support new tournaments. The same is true of the Europeans and with this go-it-alone posturing, one can only conclude that each side has resolved to fight for market share and dominance on its own strengths and merits.
It doesn’t take rocket science to figure which side will win in this show-down. The PGA Tour just has too much fire-power in its arsenal in terms of cash, corporate clout, media exposure, and player quality. For the Europeans, it would be like going up against Goliath, ill-armed to do battle.

Whatever the case, let us all hope that the two tours can find some common ground to come together and work together for the greater interest of the game. Pipe dreams? Probably, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed nevertheless.

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Mike is the owner and publisher of ASIAN GOLF, published by the Asia Pacific Golf Group headquartered in Singapore. It is the only English language golf magazine that is pan-Asian in its distribution and readership. He is also the owner and producer of the Asia Pacific Golf Summit, the region’s top conference on the business of golf and the highly prestigious Asian Golf Awards, widely recognised as the “Oscars” for the Asian golf industry. e-Mail: mike@asiapacificgolfgroup.com Web site: http://www.asiapacificgolfgroup.com

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Rano

    Aug 8, 2017 at 8:17 am

    “what a silly term, you are either Australia or Asia but not Australasia!”

    What a silly and ignorant comment to make. New Zealand (among others) isn’t in either Asia or Australia. It’s in Australasia.

  2. CB

    Aug 7, 2017 at 9:27 am

    @ John: Thumbs up.
    @ Mike Sebastian: D- for Geography.

    “Australasia, a region of Oceania, comprises Australia, New Zealand, the island of New Guinea, and neighbouring islands in the Pacific Ocean. Charles de Brosses coined the term (as French Australasie) in Histoire des navigations aux terres australes[1] (1756). He derived it from the Latin for “south of Asia” and differentiated the area from Polynesia (to the east) and the southeast Pacific (Magellanica).[2] The bulk of Australasia sits on the Indo-Australian Plate, together with India.” Wikipedia.

  3. CB

    Aug 7, 2017 at 9:22 am

    The PGA Tour is American – which americans benefit from a global tour?
    The European Tour is European – which europeans benefit from a global tour?

    The fans not – bad viewing times on TV and can’t watch the tournaments live
    The players not – agonising travel and jet lag

    I smell greed in the boardrooms of the tours…

  4. John

    Aug 7, 2017 at 4:47 am

    Australasia refers to “Oceania” or, nations like Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and other surrounding countries. Calling it the Australian tour could be insulting to the other countries’ tournaments. A PGA TOUR event at Royal Melbourne annually would (with the right purse) be a massive boost to the region as the hilariously tiny purses on the Australasian Tour aren’t attracting any players.

  5. Joe

    Aug 7, 2017 at 12:11 am

    I wonder if Mr. Sebastian actually read the “Goliath” account. Goliath lost.

    So now I’m left scratching my head. Either he didn’t understand his own metaphor, or meant it to mean that he is pulling for the European Tour (and not the PGA Tour) to be the ones to be successful.

  6. Bert

    Aug 6, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    +1 Tom1

  7. xzx

    Aug 6, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    Terrible idea for us who watch PGA every weekend in the evening UK hours 🙂

  8. H

    Aug 6, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    This articles says so much without saying anything at all.

  9. Chris B

    Aug 6, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    The European Tour has basically been a global tour for years. The problem for it now is that the PGA Tour is trying to tap in to other markets.

    You can see the attraction of playing the PGA Tour because the ease of getting from one tournament to another. It also has a massive advantage of hosing 3 of the majors.

    Years ago Greg Norman tried to get a world tour going, it never happened. The players will have to be happy to travel. Money talks so it’s possible.

  10. Tom1

    Aug 6, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    connect the dots and complete the picture. Golf is a global sport with competitors from all over the globe. It’s a good thing.

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Opinion & Analysis

Bag Chatter: An Interview with Uther Supply

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Bag Chatter is a series of interviews that spotlights brands around the golf industry and the people behind them. We’re looking to make this a regular thing, so please comment and share through your medium of choice. If you have a brand and are interested in participating in these interviews, you can email mailbag@golfwrx.com for consideration. This interview is with Daniel Erdman of Uther Supply.

Tell us about Uther. How do you pronounce that? What are you all about? How did you start?

It’s actually pronounced “other.” We’ve gotten that question a lot and, to be honest, we’re kind of OK with it. We wanted to brand ourselves as unique, so we think it fits well. We want to create products that no one else creates. That could be towels in unique prints or some other golf goods outside of that. We’re targeting the customer that wants to be different as well…people who want to demonstrate their unique personalities.

Forgive me for being a little direct, but golf towels may not strike a lot of people as being something a lot of people would start a business with. Were you seeing a lack of something in the marketplace somehow? What prompted you to start this company selling golf towels?

It may not be conventional and I definitely recognize that. Some of my friends have laughed at me for starting a golf towel business. I guess it hit me when I was working at private clubs (I have worked at The Thornhill Club and Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto). When you work in the back shop and storage facility, you handle a lot of golf bags. I just noticed rows and rows of bags that all look the same and I thought it made a lot of sense to inject some personality into it. You know, people go crazy for how all the pros personalize their wedges and their bags. They buy towels and bag tags from courses like TPC Sawgrass and Pebble Beach to personalize their stuff, but in the end it all kind of blends together. Billy Horschel’s octopus-print pants at the 2013 US Open was something that always stuck out in my mind and in that moment when I was staring at all those bags, it all kind of came together in a way. I thought we could really add something to the marketplace.

What do you think differentiates your products from others in the marketplace? Why do you think people would buy your products?

We’ve already addressed the fact that we offer different and bold prints, but that’s obviously the first thing that most customers will notice. Beyond that, though, we put a lot of attention to detail into our products. We went through 40 different suppliers to get things right. My grandparents had a really successful flooring mat company when I was growing up. Watching them run the family business gave me the bug at a very young age to start my own business. It also taught me how much quality matters and getting the right suppliers and materials. It was so much more difficult back then without the internet, but now, a quick google search just does so much of the legwork for you.

Uther Supply’s golf towel lineup

Something that I think is very interesting here is you’re very young at only 22 years old. A lot of the people I’ve talked to recently have been in their twenties as well. Tell me a little bit about what it took to start this company. Did you have to secure an investment? A lot of people shy away from starting a company for fear of the hill being too steep to climb, if you will. Since you’re in the process of climbing it, what’s that actually like?

It definitely was difficult. The only outside funding I got were some grants and loans from business accelerator programs. Those helped tremendously. I remember having to place a very large order at my supplier at the same time my one of my funding opportunities was being processed. That particular one only had like a 20 percent acceptance rate, and if I didn’t get it, I honestly wasn’t sure how I was going to fund the order. The way everything happened to be timed, I had to I place my order before I heard back from my funding application to meet a deadline. It turned out I was accepted, so that was a relief, but it was definitely pretty stressful. You know, in the beginning, you’re working for months before you generate any income. You’re doing everything for the first time like sending stuff through customs, dealing with suppliers, collecting transactions, you name it. You’re bound to make mistakes along the way and when you have zero money coming in, the mistakes you make hurt so much more. You have no processes or systems in place. It’s something you need to accept for what it is and grind through it. Social media helped accelerate things quite a bit (including meeting my sales partner Luke through Instagram). Selling on Amazon and going to the PGA show last year gave us a boost as well. It’s hard to say what the hardest part is specifically. It’s just the grind in the beginning trying to get momentum behind it. Once you get over the hump, it’s really exciting and fun, but getting up to that point is definitely not easy.

It should also be mentioned that you’re based out of Canada. A lot of people would assume being in the Great White North would make the game of golf a challenging proposition. How long/short is your golf season in Ontario? How do you stay sharp over the Canadian winters? And what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to play golf when it’s far too cold for most of us? To what lengths will you go?

It can get interesting for sure. I first started golfing because of my hockey friends. Yes, a lot of us do play hockey up here. It was a natural transition for a lot of us to play hockey in the winter and golf in the summer. However, if you do happen to get a golf itch in the winter, you will have to get creative. It’s pretty easy to go to just an indoor simulator to practice. Sometimes I would go to Golf Town (our version of Golf Galaxy) to pretend to demo clubs in order to practice my swing. That can get you by for a while, but it’s not the same as hitting an actual golf ball and watching it fly through the air, you know? So when you get to that point, there’s a nice indoor/outdoor range near me with covered, heated hitting bays. Our golf season is from like April through October, so that leaves a lot of time in between. Golf vacations become necessary sometimes.

Before starting Uther, you alluded to your experience working at golf courses. First off, you must have some good stories. No need to mention any names, but what’s your favorite story from that stage of life? Also, what was it like to go from working at a club to having to court those golf clubs to become your customer, stock your products, etc? Was that really easy or really difficult?

Well, I have a bunch of stories involving golf carts. Just in case the old golf directors read this, I won’t give too many details. Working at a course is great. You can’t get a better “office” than going to the course every day. There’s nothing like watching the sunrise on a dew-covered golf course, especially when you’re being paid. Some of my best memories were after tournaments where three of us guys would clean like 80 golf carts. We would all have fun and get to know each other. It didn’t really feel like work.

In both instances (working for a course and now selling to them), it doesn’t really feel so much like work. It does take a lot of work, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t feel like drudgery, that’s for sure. The difference is that there’s a lot more behind the scenes work that I’m doing now. We recently did a towel for the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance in collaboration with State Apparel. It took us a lot of back and forth to get that product right, but once we did, we came up with a custom, one-off product that our customers really loved. And watching them react to it was incredible. Stuff like that really keeps you going.

Bo Links, Co-Founder of the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance, holding custom towel developed with Uther Supply

This question is unabashedly inspired by (ahem…lifted from) one of Rick Shiels’ recent posts. (Giving credit where it’s due here). If you had to “Tin Cup” it (i.e. play a round of golf with only one club), what club would it be and how many extra strokes do you think it would take? So, if you were to play your home course, your normal score is what? And what would your “Tin Cup” score be, you think?

If I had to choose one club for a Tin Cup round, I think it would be a five iron. My home course (and the public golf course I worked for) is Richmond Hill Golf Club. It’s only like 6,000 yards, so I feel like I could totally get by with a five iron and get on any green in 3. I typically shoot like an 80-85. I don’t think I would be that far off the number honestly. I trust the five iron, but also, I know my course pretty well and I think that club would suit it nicely. Now that you ask, though, I feel like I’m dying to try it!

What tour pro would you most like to have a beer with? Not necessarily the guy you’d want to play golf with or pick his brain about the game. Who do you think is the most likeable guy on tour? Who would you most like to befriend, if you will?

I would definitely have to go with Rickie Fowler. He’s got a bold style for sure, but he owns it and I really dig that. I love that he congratulates the other guys on tour and is supportive of them when they win tournaments. He seems so humble. He’s also really adventurous. He’s into motocross. I’m not into motocross, but I love the adventurous spirit. He just seems like a really cool guy from what I can tell.

It’s almost hard to believe, but the PGA Merchandise Show is fast approaching (January 23-26, 2018 in Orlando, FL for those who don’t know). Will you be exhibiting? What are you most looking forward to? That question is, of course, about what steps you think Uther will take, but also, are you looking forward to anything specific from other manufacturers? What companies’ booths are you planning on going to?

We will definitely be at the show and we’re really looking forward to it. Come see us at booth 3988! I walked the show last year but wasn’t exhibiting, so I would go up to potential customers and pitch my products to them. That was a lot of work and it was quite stressful being out on a limb like that. We’ve been working on this year’s show since August and I think it’s going to be a ton of fun. We’ve got some really cool stuff planned. You also get to meet so many people there, which is just a blast. As far as other stuff I’m looking forward to, Greyson Clothiers is definitely at the top of the list. Charlie’s story is so interesting and I just love their products.

Uther Supply plaid towel on the course

Lastly, what do you guys have in the works? Are there any product releases forthcoming? Tell people how to find you on website, social media, etc.

So, the big news is that we will be expanding beyond golf towels. We will be launching some gloves and hats that I’m really excited about. We have six different golf gloves as well as bucket and baseball hats we’ll be rolling out in some very fun prints and colors (because that’s what we do). Definitely a good idea to check out our website, which is www.uthersupply.com. The website has a link to sign up for our email list which will send out some discount codes from time to time. There will also be some exclusive and limited-edition products on the website at times too. @Uthersupply is our handle on all social media platforms. Business customers can reach us at contact@uthersupply.com to collaborate with us on custom products. We’d love to have people come see what we’re about!

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Opinion & Analysis

Tara Iti: A Golfer’s Paradise

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This trip couldn’t have started better. Tara Iti Golf Club is magic! No disrespect to the home of golf, but this course might be as special as it gets when it comes to playing links golf.

Catch Up: The Start of My Golf Adventure

Tara Iti is a masterpiece that opened late in 2015. It’s designed by the famous golf architect Tom Doak, and it’s located on a large piece of land on the North Island of New Zealand around 1.5 hours from Auckland. It’s well hidden from houses and traffic, so you can just focus on your game and the stunning property.

The course brings swift fairways and plenty of risk-reward opportunities, offering a bevy of challenging shots that you need to plan carefully in order to get close to the flag. I loved especially the shapes presented by the fairways and waste areas, which make it feel as though the entire course is seamlessly woven together. I also like the idea they’ve got here of playing the ball as it lies. No bunkers, just waste areas.

On a personal note, my match against Johan was halved. He played very well on the first nine while I did well on the back nine.

What’s key to success to Tara Iti is a polished short game in combination with the ability to hit the fairways. I found my favorite hole at No. 17, a strikingly beautiful short par-3 that pops up between the wild sand dunes. There are three iconic trees to the left with the sea and a beautiful island as a backdrop.

Up Next: Kauri Cliffs on the northern peak of New Zealand. It is said to be one of the most scenic courses in the world.

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Opinion & Analysis

Life as a left-handed golfer

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“My bad, forgot you were a lefty,” my cart partner says, driving to the wrong side of the ball for the third straight hole.

“All good. Let me just grab my wedge and putter and you can head over to your ball,” I say, realizing I left that wedge on No. 2.

“Too bad you can’t use one of mine!” my hilarious buddy jokes. And just like that, we’re off. The life as a lefty.

Saturday morning rounds usually start casually enough. Tees are thrown and partners drawn. As I approach the ball, my laser-like focus after a terrible range session is typically interrupted by everyone’s favorite knee-slapper.

“Did anyone ever tell you you stand on the wrong side of the ball?” ZING!

“Actually, I’m standing to the right of the ball if you really look at it,” a younger me once quipped, a joke that would confuse and embarrass all involved. And then, with the confidence of an awkward night at the improv, I dead block one that nestles next to a tree.

As we cruise down the rough, my chauffeur politely asks, “You pulled your drive, correct?”

“Yeah, missed left side,” I mumble, preferring not to get into that brain teaser.

Now, this ball may be perched to the right of the tree, giving me a lucky angle in. “Man, what a time to be left-handed, eh?” Or, to my chagrin, settled just to the left of it forcing me to play it sideways. “Ugh, what a tough break being left-handed, huh?”

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Now, I don’t fault anyone for making these observations; even I think left-handed players look outrageous on the golf course. The most experienced golfer will still see a fellow lefty in the middle of their ensuing fairway and wonder, “Why is this guy hitting it toward us?”

We’ve been conditioned to think this way. I like to call it The Ugly Duckling Syndrome. Maybe someday, we too will turn into swans and have the beautiful swings that all right-handed golfers like to say we have (we don’t). The compliment usually comes in around No. 6 as he’s starting to get the hang of this cart thing and your wedge is still holes behind.

“You have a good swing there. You remind me of Phil Mickelson. I bet you are a big fan of his?”

Sure, why not. I also have a Mark Brunell jersey, Mike Vick fathead, and I exclusively watch James Harden play basketball.

Sarcasm aside, us lefties are a proud bunch and really do love playing with or seeing another lefty on the course. For many of us, it’s the only chance we have to try different equipment. We take full advantage.

Seeing another lefty at the club is like seeing a long-lost friend on Thanksgiving Eve. We might wave, give a head nod or take an air swing, but I promise you we are acknowledging each other. Have you ever been out on the lake and pulled off the friendly wave to a fellow boater? That’s being a lefty on the golf course.

Now, we like you righties; we know your charm. You provide us an endless supply of dad jokes and sometimes you have an original one. And when we finally have a second to go grab that wedge left on No. 2, we know you’ll return it with a smile. “Well, at least you knew I wasn’t going to keep this one, Mickelson!”

Lather, rinse, repeat.

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