Asian Tour tees off amid challenges


BANGKOK, Thailand – The 2010 Asian Tour golf season tees off Thursday, with organizers still piecing together the season calendar in the face of continuing world financial turmoil and the challenge of a rival tour.

As the global economy plateaus rather than improves, Asian Tour organizers have had both good and bad news as they put together the season schedule.

Having lost two of its richest events – the Indian Masters and season-ending Volvo Masters – ahead of the 2009 season as the economic crisis took hold, there has been some recompense in 2010.

A new event, the Avantha Masters, will be held in New Delhi from Feb.11 with $2.1 million in prizemoney. The tour calendar also has a slot for The Tour Championship in December, though a venue is yet to be set.

However, the virtual replacements of those lost events has been offset by doubt over the future of the Indonesian Open, another of the major tournaments boasting more than $1 million in prizemoney.

Tour organizers have been in touch with the promoter Global One – which had talked of a switch from its February dates – but there were no firm plans in place for a 2010 tournament, and a question remained over if and when it would proceed.

In all, there were seven slots on the calendar carrying the letters TBA: four in the period from late March to late May, and another three at the tail-end of the season.

One event that is back on the schedule is the Myanmar Open, with the Asian Tour returning to the military-ruled state after a four-year lapse. It will be held on April 8-11 – the same dates as The Masters.

The Asian Tour is also facing competition from the rival OneAsia golf series, which has expanded in 2010. OneAsia was formed with the idea of drawing together the four major stand-alone golf tours in the Asia-Pacific: Australasia, Japan, South Korea and China.

While there is still no Japan involvement on its calendar or board, OneAsia is pushing ahead with tournaments in the three other countries for 2010, with ten scheduled tournaments this year each boasting a purse of at least $1 million.

Faced with economic and sporting challenges, the Asian Tour has put together an in-house television production team and struck TV deals in Britain, Scandanavia and Australia in an effort to boost the profile of its events and players, plus providing value for sponsors.

The visibility of Asian players received a shot in the arm in 2009 when South Korea’s Yang Yong-eun won the U.S. PGA Championship.

“Many of our players are world-class and Yang Yong-eun’s breakthrough last year when he became Asia’s first Major champion will only open the floodgates for more Asian players to triumph in major championships,” executive chairman Kyi Hla Han said.

The first tournament of the new season, the Asian Tour International at Thailand’s Suwan Golf and Country Club, begins Thursday.

Defending champion James Kamte of South Africa has arrived for the event, but his clubs have not.

“I’ve been trying to chase the airport and I phone the Asian Tour office and asked for some clubs,” Kamte said. “If I have to use them the whole week, I’ll use them. If my clubs arrive, it’ll be a bonus.”

Local Thai favorite Thaworn Wiratchant will be among the contenders at Suwan, along with Japan’s Daisuke Maryama and Azuma Yano, India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar, Singapore’s Lam Chih Bing and Australia’s Marcus Both.