Golfs Big World Getting More and More Crowded

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World GolfPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Ernie Els, who has been playing golf around the globe since he was 14, is among those who wonder if the World Golf Championships is guilty of false advertising.
 
'It's a bit crazy,' he said. 'Why call them World Championships if they're going to be played in the same place all the time? World Golf Championships are meant to promote the game all over the globe.'
 
The idea behind this series was to bring together the best players in the world. A year before it started, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said he wanted 'to see this World Golf Championship flag raised in all the major golf markets in the world over time, and we think we have enough events now that we can effectively do that.'
 
Starting next year, the flag will be raised over major golf markets of Tucson, Ariz., Miami and Akron, Ohio.
 
But the Big Easy can rest easy.
 
Finchem said in an interview Monday that officials are working on a new World Golf Championship in Asia to be played as early as the fall of 2007. Among the details to be sorted out is whether it counts toward official money, a tricky maneuver since Finchem is still trying to figure out points for the FedEx Cup competition that ends in September.
 
'We're in the planning process,' Finchem said. 'We would like to play a full-fledged World Golf Championship in the fall in Asia. It's premature to say where, but our intent is to do something next year.'
 
This might be the only avenue Finchem has to Asia, a market he covets.
 
The PGA European Tour planted its flag in Asian soil 14 years ago when the Johnnie Walker Classic was staged in Bangkok. For the last five years, the European season has started the previous fall in Asia, and this year there are more tournaments in China than England.
 
The PGA Tour tried to bully its way into Asia two years ago when it held a silly-season event in South Korea during the week of Thanksgiving. It ran opposite an Asian Tour event that week, which didn't sit well with those executives.
 
Global golf is expanding rapidly, and with that comes growing pains. It has not reached a level of 'turf wars,' although cooperation among the six major tours around the world has never been more crucial.
 
'We've been going through a transition phase for a few years,' Finchem said. 'We have Europe trying to find more playing opportunities for its members, sanctioning tournaments here and there, picking up half of their playing opportunities for members. It raises as many questions as there are answers.'
 
Australia has some questions.
 
With the PGA Tour season ending in September next year, there was hope that some American stars -- Tiger Woods, for one -- might go Down Under and help revive the Australian Open. Now there is talk about the PGA Tour staging a WGC event in Asia around the same time.
 
Will it help or hurt?
 
Europe has plenty of questions, too, starting with the Americanized version of the World Golf Championships.
 
'We are obviously not very comfortable with the fact that all of them are played in the United States,' said European tour chief George O'Grady, who will meet with Finchem in the next few months.
 
O'Grady also plans an informal chat with some of his players, and there will be more than 20 of them at La Costa for the Accenture Match Play Championship in two weeks -- yet another sign that golf is no longer ruled by Americans.
 
Then again, O'Grady found himself in the role of a bully a few weeks ago.
 
The European tour, working with promoter Parallel Media Group, scheduled the Indonesian Open and the Singapore Masters in consecutive weeks in March. Those generally are co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour.
 
However, the Asian Tour has a new tournament in India -- the Amby Valley Masters -- the same week as Europe scheduled the Indonesian Open. Asian Tour chief Louis Martin said he was insulted.
 
'Can you imagine the media feast if the Asian Tour went ahead and announced the staging of an Asian Tour event in continental Europe?' he said.
 
They worked out the problem last week, with the Asian Tour agreeing to move the new event in India to May.
 
Next up for O'Grady is how the PGA Tour's tighter, stronger schedule in 2007 is going to affect tournaments in Europe. Els, Retief Goosen, Adam Scott, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Sergio Garcia are among the top players who keep membership on both sides of the Atlantic.
 
If all of them make the FedEx Cup championship series -- four big tournaments after the PGA Championship that concludes with the Tour Championship -- what does that do for European events like the HSBC World Match Play and the BMW International Open in Germany?
 
It's easy to make the Americans look bad for staging all the official World Golf Championships at home, but it's a problem everywhere. And don't be naive about the money. The TV ratings suffer outside the United States, and title sponsors are looking for the biggest return on their investment.
 
'I do think it's a transition phase,' Finchem said. 'In general, we're moving in the right direction. That's one reason we brought Ty Votaw aboard, to allow us to get some top-level energy for these international questions. I think it will sort itself out.'
 
Votaw was hired last month by the PGA Tour as executive vice president of international affairs. The running joke was that he had one of the toughest jobs in sports as LPGA commissioner because he had to keep 150 women happy.
 
His latest gig might be even more challenging -- keeping the world happy.
 
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