The Asian Tour is getting upgraded – and Greg Norman apparently likes pie.
Norman, now the CEO of LIV Golf Investments, the Saudi-backed group with plans for a new golf league, was on hand Tuesday at the Saudi International to help announce the creation of the International Series, a 10-event slate that will be incorporated into the current Asian Tour schedule for the next decade with tournaments in not only eastern Asia but also the Middle East and England.
The new series will also feature increased purses, ranging from $1.5 million to $2 million, thanks to a $100 million increased investment from LIV Golf, which will now pledge $300 million to the Asian Tour, which has partnered with the fund after taking what Asian Tour commissioner Cho Minn Thant called a "disastrous" financial hit because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are setting the Asian Tour up as a powerful new force on the world golf stage,” Norman said. “In my 40 years as a professional golfer, I’ve seen many parts of the world that have benefitted tremendously from golf and its growth and development. We now have the opportunity to do that in the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East with this incredible investment platform. Everyone benefits – professional players, amateurs, grassroots golf, fans, economies, communities, stakeholders.
“I’ve never been so optimistic about the future of the sport.”
While only the first two tournaments were announced – a March 3-6 stop at Black Mountain Golf Club in Thailand followed by the Asian Tour’s debut in England, at Centurion Golf Club in London on June 9-12 – the plan is for the other events to be staged in South Korea, Vietnam, China, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Middle East, each one with what Thant calls an “enhanced experience,” from live international broadcasts to heightened hospitality.
“It comes as a surprise to many of us in this room, but it's basically part of our strategy to make the Asian Tour more of a global tour,” Thant said. “We have members from all over the world, 25 different nationalities playing on the Asian Tour. It's not just for Asians. It's not just in Asia, and we will be playing in other destinations … but dates and locations to be confirmed because we are still in the midst of a COVID pandemic, where travel is difficult in Asia.”
No other details were revealed, but Norman did hint at a potential future event in the U.S. as he stated that the International Series was “just the beginning … of an exciting new journey.”
“It'll be so encouraging when we go to the United States,” Norman said. “It'll be so encouraging. Remember what I said, this is just the beginning. … We see so many great opportunities ahead. We identify virgin space for lost opportunities or people overlooked for decades and decades and decades, so we also recognize that being respectful and healthy competitors gives that ability to go forward.”
As for talk of the proposed rival league to the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, the latter of which no longer sanctions the Saudi International in part because of Saudi Arabia’s poor human-rights record, Norman fielded several questions. He did not, however, divulge any revelations only to say that more announcements were on the horizon.
“Will there be things announced in the future? Absolutely there are going to be things announced in the future, but right now our focus is on this,” Norman said. “Our mission is to make sure this platform is firmly cemented in the world of golf and where we see it sitting, and we'll focus on that, and then there will be another announcement, and then there will be another announcement.
“This journey, this is not a one-off journey. You want to sit back and see the evolution and how this is all building out, it's going to be an incredible one.”
So far, it's been a journey shrouded in controversy.
This week, almost half of the top 50 players in the world rankings (21) are playing in Saudi Arabia, including top-10 players Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau. The PGA Tour granted its members a release to compete, though it came with the stipulation that those players add the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which is being contested opposite the Saudi event, to their schedules at least once – and, in many cases, twice – over the next three years.
The Open Championship recently stripped the Asian Tour of its annual exemption given to the tour's Order of Merit winner.
And DP World Tour CEO Keith Pelley went on record last November to say that the Asian Tour has gone from being partners to being competitors. "And we are fierce competitors," Pelley added. "Let’s leave it at that.”
Norman contended that “nobody owns the golf space” and that LIV Golf is “not in this for a fight” with golf’s already well-established tours.
“We're in this for the good of the game,” Norman said. “That's where we're at. It's disappointing, to be honest, personally disappointing to see some of the attacks that have been taking place unwarrantedly. Any time you go into – if you pre-judge anybody without knowing the facts, then shame on you, to be honest with you. Are you scared of something? What is LIV Golf Investments doing that you are scared of? Why do you have to have these attacks to the level they do? Understand the fact that we have always and continued to be very collaborative and cooperative with any of the institutions right across the board. We want to work together side by side.”
Norman then attempted to provide a dessert analogy for the current situation.
“There's a piece of pie, right?” Norman began. “So, if these institutions you're talking about, if a piece of that pie has disappeared, does the pie get smaller or does the pie get bigger? We see the piece of pie that we're taking, the opportunity to see through the lost opportunity, makes the pie bigger. When you look at Facebook, share price was $3 at one time. Now what is it?
“You've got to be able to give the ability to sit back and listen and understand the opportunities to sit side by side for the sport of golf. Simple as that. It's all about the game.”
So, is the pie bigger or smaller? That's for others to decide.
But as for the Asian Tour, it certainly grew on Tuesday.