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.