PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem and officials from the Canadian Tour held a press conference today to announce a key move in the expansion of the PGA Tour’s global reach. The PGA Tour will assume operational control of what was the Canadian Tour. It will become the PGA Tour Canada in 2013. The conversion will begin Nov. 1 of this year.
The PGA Tour Canada will provide a way for players to qualify for the PGA Tour by granting the top finishers in the Canadian Order of Merit access to the Web.com Tour. The No. 1 finisher receives full exempt status for the Web.com Tour, while the next four finishers receive “conditional” or partial exemption to tour events. The Web.com Tour is now the sole means of qualifying for the PGA Tour. Canadian Tour officials acknowledged that the PGA Tour had been offering both operational and financial support throughout the 2012 season, and that the Canadian Tour had long sought to build a formal collaboration with the PGA Tour.
“Having gained a thorough understanding of the golf landscape in Canada over the course of the 2012 season, we are confident that by fully dedicating our assets and resources, PGA TOUR Canada will be well positioned to play an increasingly important role in professional golf,” Finchem said. “With a solid foundation of existing tournaments along with outstanding opportunities to establish new events, we are confident PGA TOUR Canada will strengthen and grow in the coming years.”
The Canadian Tour is a 10-speed bike compared to the high-powered race car of a tour that is the PGA Tour. Even in the challenging economy of the last five years, the PGA Tour has maintained its sponsorship levels, prize money has held steady and the TV money is still rolling in. The real question is: why was the Tour in acquisition mode for a unique fixer-upper of a property?
One of the answers is players, both professional and amateur. On the amateur side, approximately 21 percent of Canadians play golf, twice the percentage of Americans. This represents a group that is ripe for the marketing machines that the PGA Tour can bring to bear in the country. Not least among the marketing teams that will be anxious to start planting signs will be Royal Bank of Canada. Despite their blue-ribbon sponsorship level they have zero consumer branches in the U.S. An opportunity to appeal to a broader base of customers will be very attractive to RBC and will help to keep them snugly in the PGA Tour portfolio.
On the professional side, there is an arms race between the U.S. and European Tour. The Euros have conceded that the very best of their Tour will come to the U.S. to compete for fortune and glory. But they are determined to keep the best of the rest in Europe. Just last week, the European Tour announced that they wil be adding the Turkish Open to their schedule, and they are aggressively courting the same big-name sponsors that the U.S. tour seeks. In the current business environment, there isn’t enough sponsorship money or playing talent for everyone. There will be winners and losers and both sides are in it to win it.
You have to give credit to Finchem. The acquisition of the Canadian Tour comes almost a year to the day of the creation of the PGA Latino American Tour, another circuit that provides young players a path to the big show. Under this NAFTA-like umbrella, Finchem has created a strong allure to bring the best young players in the world to North America and keep them there into the 50s and beyond. He has also created a marketing area for potential sponsors that covers two continents seamlessly. With a global tour becoming more and more of a certainty than a possibility, Finchem has positioned some strong pieces in the chess game that is to come.
He summarized it perfectly.
“We have great support in Canada. If you just look at when we play tournaments up there, the turnout and the response, and the support of sponsors at all levels and the fans have been extraordinary. It just kind of makes sense that the extension of that to the early period of professional players careers, that is the qualifying part of it be part of that down to the grass roots. We think that all fits very well as well. We’re very optimistic about the opportunities to reach out to the business community in Canada and bring in that kind of support.”
Now, if someone would just do something about the LPGA Tour.