INTERVIEW-Golf-Asian Tour cautiously considering super circuit

BANGKOK Sat Dec 8, 2007 10:30am GMT

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BANGKOK Dec 8 (Reuters) - The Asian Tour is giving serious consideration to joining a regional "super tour" to compete with the PGA and European circuits, although concerns remain over how it will affect players.

The tour's executive chairman, Kyi Hla Han, welcomed the proposed creation of the OneAsia Tour in 2009, but said a lot was at stake for the Asian Tour and a decision on joining the circuit with Japan, Australia and New Zealand had to be taken carefully.

"The concept and vision of this tour is very positive and we're looking at it very seriously," Han told Reuters in an interview on Saturday.

"But it's not just about only these tours now, we've got to bring in the big countries in Asia like China, Korea and India. It's got to be a positive step for all golfers in the region. It has to be a win-win situation."

Han said there was more at stake for his tour because there were more players, more countries and more issues involved.

"We're being a little bit more careful, taking a little bit more time to make a decision because Japan is one country and one tour, as is Australia," he said.

"If we split the field into three tours, there will be a lot of reservations from the players. I've got 17 different countries and 24 different nationalities as our members, so there are a lot more complications for us.

"However, if it's something that the corporate marketplace supports, it will be good," he added.

Han, a former professional player from Myanmar who topped the Asian Tour's money list in 1999, said serious discussions with the other circuits, which have already signed a Memorandum of Understanding, will begin in the next few weeks.

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He expects a decision to be taken within three-to-six months on whether to sign-up to the mooted circuit.

"We're going to have a talk with Australian and Japanese Tours and if we agree to start, we start together," he said.

"Scheduling will be a huge factor, it will be tough and we need to develop a system where players competing in this elite tour get on through performance, it has to be performance-driven.

"All three tours are player-led. We have to make sure each can sustain itself at a local level, but on a global scale, this tour would be pretty powerful."

Han said his loyalties rested with the members of his own tour -- the only recognised pan-Asian circuit -- which he said would have to have the biggest say if it joined the pact.

"The Asian Tour should be in full control of this. To make it work and we become in control of both tours, the OneAsia and the Asian Tour.

"I've got to make sure the Asian Tour sustains itself in the marketplace. It's crucial that I protect it and its members," he said of the tour, which will feature 25 events in 16 countries next year., with a prize pot of over $27 million.

His main fear, he said, would be that the proposed super tour would try to focus on a select number of big-money events, which would overshadow the other tournaments.

However, Han believes a OneAsia tour would boost the competitiveness of the Asian game and keep the continent's best players at home.

"This will enhance development and keep our players from going to Europe or the United States," he said. "The sponsors would pay good money and would the best players to play." (Editing by John O'Brien)

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