Even as the PGA Tour in the United States gets ready to re-boot with the Charles Schwab Challenge at the Colonial in around a month’s time, the next two biggest Tours, the European and Asian Tours, are yet to announce their probable calendars, and Japan has been totally silent.
“Patience is certainly a valuable virtue in times like these,” says Cho Minn Thant, the Asian Tour Chief Executive and Commissioner. Asian wisdom teaches him that in ample measure.
Meanwhile, the Asian Tour seems to have a plan of sorts in place, though still not announced, while the European Tour is still working strategies and schedules.
The Asian Tour is one of the most eclectic Tours in the world. It has events co-sanctioned with European, Japan, Korean and Australasian Tours. It has also been a cradle for the bigger Tours, with numerous American and European stars having cut their teeth on Asian Tour.
Cho said the plan was to have a clutch of two or three events in each country in succession to avoid travel. “We plan to start something like three in a row in Korea, then a couple each in Taiwan and Japan, then maybe China and then three in India.”
In a message to the Asian Tour members, he said, “As some countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and India extend their lockdowns, there is some positive news in the region where Vietnam has taken the first steps to re-open. Countries such as Korea, Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong have also done remarkable jobs in protecting their countries from widespread infections."
While admitting there were challenges that confront the Tour, he added, “We are still in the process of rescheduling the events that were due to take place in the March to June period. But at this stage, we are preparing for a restart in late August or early September, which is likely to be with some consecutive events in Korea.
From that point onwards, we are looking at making stops in Chinese Taipei, Japan and then back to South East Asia and the Indian subcontinent. If this plan becomes a reality, it will see us ending the current season in May of 2021 and holding Q-school 2021 shortly after. A very quick turnaround into the new season mid-way through 2021 will follow. I stress that all this is very much dependent on various factors.”
It is certain that as and when the Asian and European Tour calendars are ‘decided’, ‘planned’ and announced they will be in consultation with each other. For some years now, the relationship between the two Tours, has grown, and both gain by this relationship.
The reason for a co-operation between European and Asian Tour is not difficult to understand. For the Asian Tour, it means stronger competition, bigger purses and a chance for its players to gain exemption to Europe. And, for the European Tour it is a chance to create opportunities for their players at that time of the year when events are not possible in the colder months. The bulk of European Tour events in Europe are between May and October.
Of course the European Tour has also set up a base in the Middle East with a slew of events in the first half of the year and then some at the end.
For the European Tour, the Asian Tour is an important segment of their international calendar with a few events at the first few months of the calendar year like Australia’s ISPS Handa World Super 6, Maybank Championship, Hero Indian Open, Volvo China Open and then towards the latter half of calendar year there are events like the Hong Kong Open (2019 edition was postponed to early 2020), Fiji International (not held in 2019), the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open or the South African Open (which had two stagings in calendar year 2018 and none in 2019). Still, in short, these events, give or take one or two in any year, ensure a strong relationship and dependency of the Tours on each other.
Yet, at least in the second half of 2020, a few events that are normally co-sanctioned by Europe and Asia, could take a hit. But we will need to wait and see.
The European Tour has had a chunk of its schedule in Asia and Europe torn to bits. It is not expected to start before the Betfred British Masters in the latter half of July and needs to wrap up with the Race to Dubai Final Series. To ensure its top stars turn up for its big events, the European Tour needs to manage a ‘revised’ schedule keeping in view the ‘re-scheduled’ Majors and PGA Tour events, as many of European superstars are also members of the PGA Tour.
Unlike the US PGA Tour, the Asian and European Tours are also unique in that they visit different countries for a major portion of their schedule. Typically countries may host a maximum of three – though there was a time when China had the same or greater number of European Tour events than Scotland, but that was long ago.
While Europe had it easier because travelling through various European countries with a single Schengen Visa, the requirements for various countries in Asia have always been an issue for players. In the Post Covid-19 scene, that might change for Europe, too. Many European countries have differed in the way they have tackled the Covid-19 pandemic. That will be another hurdle for the European Tour.
The US does have events in Asia – the Asian swing in Korea, Japan, and China and till a year ago in Malaysia – but its main and big events have always been in the US, barring an odd WGC in Mexico or the Bermuda or Dominican Republic Championships.
Coming to revenues, gate money, merchandise sales, and hospitality play a big role in professional golf events in the US and Europe, too. But the same cannot be said for some Asian countries including India. However, fans do turn up in big numbers in Japan and Korea and in decent numbers in Thailand and Malaysia.
Yet government Tourism Boards and local sponsors play a big role and the financial health of the latter could be a big factor when the game returns after the hiatus forced upon it by COVID-19.
As Cho put it perfectly, patience will be the key and golf, as always, relies a lot on hope and the faithfulness of its fans.
Updated Date: May 21, 2020 19:32:50 IST