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Membership issues coming to the forefront

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There is a turf tussle brewing and it has nothing to do with the ongoing cross-border skirmishes between Turkey and Syria, although the seeds of discontent seemed to have been sown this week along the Mediterranean Sea at the posh Antalya resort.

In the same news cycle, word emerged from this week’s Turkish Airlines World Golf Finals, a non-sanctioned big-money boondoggle featuring eight of the world’s top players, that the Turkish Open would become the penultimate event on the European Tour schedule in 2013.

Not long before that newsbreak, European Tour players learned via a memo that the circuit would begin counting starts in the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup and Seve Trophy toward their minimum starts total (13), which prompted Tiger Woods, however innocently, to suggest that he would he consider taking up membership on the European circuit.

“I don't know what my numbers are as I know I played 19 in the (United) States this year and whether it crosses over or not but I will again look at it,” Woods told the Associated Press.

Writing teachers would call all this foreshadowing. A prologue to what is shaping up to be a power grab between the PGA Tour and European circuit.

According to multiple sources the Turkish Open, BMW Masters and WGC-HSBC Champions will serve as a run-up to the DP World Tour Championship, the European Tour’s year-long finale.

Replace the phrase “run-up” with “playoff” and “Dubai” for “Atlanta” and one sees where this is going. All that’s missing is a FedEx Cup logo and an endless parade of points projections.

Europe is making it easier for the likes of Woods to join their tour by effectively reducing the minimum number of starts by including participation in a Ryder or Presidents cup. Although the move was intended to help American-based Europeans, like Luke Donald and Justin Rose, it has the added benefit of making the European Tour more attractive to potential American members.

Think of it as a “Buy 12 starts, get the 13th start for free” campaign.

The move could also create some interesting scenarios, particularly in Woods’ case. If, and that’s a huge if, Woods takes up European Tour membership, he could play the four majors, four World Golf Championships and whatever cup for nine of his 13 starts.

The final four would likely be a mix of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship or Dubai Desert Classic, one of which he’s played seven times since 2001; Turkish Open, which would dovetail with a reported endorsement deal with Turkish Airlines, and DP World Tour Championship.

Here’s the rub, because of European Tour regulations Woods’ 13th start would have to be somewhere in Continental Europe – perhaps the BMW PGA Championship, the circuit’s flagship event which is historically played the same week as Colonial and not included Woods in the field since 1997.

Yet according to PGA Tour guidelines Woods would only be allowed three competing-event releases to go play in Europe unless he plays more than 20 events in the United States or is given special dispensation by commissioner Tim Finchem.

Woods hasn’t played more than 20 Tour events in a season since 2005 and he currently has 19 starts with no additional U.S. stops scheduled in 2012, which leaves the ball in Finchem’s court.

And if recent history is any indication Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., may not completely embrace Woods’ newfound globetrotting ways. Just this week, for example, the Tour granted competing-event releases for all eight players at the Turkish Airlines World Golf Finals based on a quid pro quo to play the Frys.com Open, this week’s Tour stop, at least once over the next three years according to multiple sources.

The Tour is rightfully keen to protect a loyal sponsor in John Fry, but it is the players who are caught in the middle of a rapidly shrinking global schedule. Or, to put it in cash context, they can play for a $900,000 winner’s check this week in California or a $1.5 million bonanza in Turkey, or $300,000 for last place.

From the Tour’s point of view these events don’t suggest global golf is heading toward critical mass. In fact, since the advent of the FedEx Cup in 2007 there has been less of a strain on cross-ocean participation according to officials.

“It hasn’t been an issue for several years now,” said Ty Votaw, the Tour’s executive vice president of communications and international affairs. “We have seen the number of conflicting event releases go down over the last seven, eight, nine years. There are a lot of reasons for that. I don’t know that we think it will be much of an issue going forward.”

Perhaps, but it doesn’t take a risk-assessment team to outline the alternative.

The Tour’s move to a split-calendar schedule, combined with the rumored “run-up” events to the Dubai finale, could, in theory, change that dynamic and put the Tour and events like the Frys.com Open, which is slated to kick off the 2013-14 season next fall, in a bind.

What if push suddenly became shove, and the Tour was dealt a pair of globetrotting superstars in Woods and Rory McIlroy, who is already a European Tour member, with divergent agendas?

What if quid pro quos, like this week’s agreement with the “Turkish Eight,” became less accepted and more acrimonious? How far would the Tour go to protect its sponsors and its brand?

As the global golf schedule continues to shrink we may find out.