The PGA Tour has pledged to stay in China for the long haul, after taking the bold step of setting up a domestic circuit offering players a new route to golf’s top levels.
In a move which could have a big impact on Chinese golf — and perhaps the sport’s future — the newly established PGA Tour China will roll out 12 events this year, with plans to keep expanding.
Professionals will be able to earn their way onto the US’ Web.com Tour — the “gateway” to the world-leading PGA Tour — through prize money and pick up the world ranking points needed to reach the Olympics when golf returns to the event in 2016.
The initiative could help the sport take off in China, which has already produced youngsters of the caliber of Guan Tianlang, who caused a sensation by making the cut at last year’s Masters aged 14.
As for the benefits for the PGA, it gains a foothold in the world’s most populous nation, which with its vast potential market is considered a key strategic priority for many sports bodies.
PGA Tour vice president Greg Gilligan, the body’s managing director for Greater China, said PGA plans to expand to Taipei, Hong Kong, Macau and perhaps further afield if successful in China.
“We’re making a long-term commitment to this partnership and to the development of golf in China, broadly speaking,” he said from Beijing. “Our money-list players can graduate from this [the Tour China] to the Web.com. It’s a stepping-stone where players can continue to hone their competitive skills and graduate from one tour to the next.”
The Tour China’s second qualifying event is being contested by international and local players this week. Prize money of 12 million yuan (US$200,000) and world ranking points will be on offer at each of the tournaments.
“China loves all things Olympics, particularly all things successful in the Olympics,” Gilligan said. “So yes, I would imagine that that was one element our partners at the China Golf Association ... and the Chinese officialdom considered as part of the attraction.”
Despite growing interest in golf and a mushrooming number of courses in China, plus some world-class international tournaments, previous domestic tours in the Asian country have struggled.
Players have also been slow to emerge and the current golf rankings feature only six Chinese men in the top 1,000 and none among the leading 100. By comparison, Japan has 63 players in the top 1,000, South Korea has 67, Thailand has 25 and India has 12.