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Golf | Asia

Kyi Hla Han © Gallo Images

Birthday bash as Asian Tour takes swipe at rival



Golf's Asian Tour outlined a glittering vision for the future and took a swipe at rival OneAsia as it held celebrations to mark the start of its 10th season on Friday.

CEO Mike Kerr said by 2023, the Asian Tour aimed to offer more than US$100 million in prize money and up to 39 events a year. He hoped Asia would have three players in the top 10, three more major-winners and at least one Olympic medal.

But both Kerr and executive chairman Kyi Hla Han said Asian golf's development in the last decade had been badly affected by the dispute with OneAsia, the region's alternative circuit which emerged in 2009.

And any rapprochement in the lunar year of the snake, marked by a lion dance during a gala lunch at Singapore's swanky Laguna National Golf and Country Club, looked unlikely as Kerr said no formal contacts had been made between the two bodies.

"Absolutely," Kerr told AFP, when asked if Asian golf would be in a stronger position without the arrival of OneAsia.

"Like any competitive threat, like any business that has a competitor, it's taken market share. But ultimately it's a relatively small market share," he said.

"Certainly in the last few years, there's been no growth (for OneAsia). The damage that was done in 2009 still to this day hasn't been replaced, in terms of prize fund.

"The events themselves that are on OneAsia have not increased in terms of global profile, whether it's in prize purse or whether it's in world ranking points.

"So I see them as competition, I respect them as competition but I don't necessarily believe that they are a growing competitive threat."

Asia is the big growth area for world golf but despite years of development, players often lag the standards of their non-Asian rivals and the region's biggest tournaments are co-sanctioned by the European or US PGA Tour.

After Y.E. Yang's surprise major victory at the 2009 PGA Championship, big wins have been rare, with some experts blaming Asia's inter-tour dispute for spooking sponsors and putting off players.

"It could have been better," said Kerr. "You can see in 2009 there was a real impact on golf in Asia-Pacific and really to some extent the Asian Tour has recovered, we're back up to where we were in 2009.

"But golf as a whole has been affected and it's difficult to get over that. It's because there was an organisation who felt they could do something different or better caused a serious impact that we've yet to recover fully from."

Kyi Hla agreed the stand-off had "definitely" affected Asian golf and said the Asian Tour was still considering appealing November's ruling, when a Singapore court judged that it had illegally restrained trade by barring players from OneAsia events.

"Competition's always there so we're not going to get too worried about it," Kyi Hla told AFP, when asked about the chances of the two tours working more closely together. "We'll see if we can cooperate, we'll see if we have to compete."

And Kerr, a week before the Asian Tour's 10th season starts with the Zaykabar Myanmar Open in Yangon, made it clear that joining hands with OneAsia was not high on his agenda.

"To think that somebody has come into the market, set something different up to compete against the establishment and then feel that the establishment should somehow accept them into the fold because they're a competitive threat, that's not necessarily the way it works," he said.

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