SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Despite law suits from members, an unrelenting turf war with OneAsia and the apparent loss of their marquee event, Asian Tour CEO Mike Kerr remains optimistic about the circuit’s future.
Attempting to draw a line under a turbulent 2012, the Northern Irishman and executive chairman Kyi Hla Han kicked off celebrations for the Asian Tour’s 10th season in Singapore last week by outlining their visi
on for the decade ahead with some lofty ambitions.
Kerr, who took up the role in March, said that by 2023, Asian Tour members would compete “for well over $100 million a year through a full season of 38 or 39 events”.
Quite a leap from the eight tournaments with a total prize fund of just over $10 million scheduled so far for 2013, which begins with the modest $300,000 Myanmar Open on Thursday.
“People certainly shouldn’t be criticised for having goals or a vision,” Kerr told Reuters after announcing the plans at Singapore’s Laguna National Golf Course.
”If you look at the Asian Tour today, lets say $50 million, and you grow that by 10 percent a year over the next 10 years we easily meet $100 million.
“Then you look at the growth rates we have had over the past 10 years and we have far exceeded the 10 percent each year.”
Kerr, who worked previously in Asia for sports channel ESPN-Star Sports, targeted Vietnam, Cambodia and Brunei as major markets to fuel the growth of the Tour which last year hosted 26 events, not including world golf championship tournaments and majors.
Kerr is expecting 28 tournaments on the Asian Tour for 2013 with co-sanctioned U.S. PGA and European Tour events taking the prize money up to over $50 million when the calendar is completed.
However, the likelihood of one of those featuring the $6 million Singapore Open - proclaimed as ‘Asia’s Major’ by the circuit in recent years - is bleak.
“The SGA (Singapore Golf Association) signed an agreement with World Sports Group (WSG) and they control the rights for the next five years and the way that golf works is they should be approaching whatever international federation or body of players that they want to play in their event,” Kerr said.
“They haven’t made any approach to the Asian Tour and we don’t believe they have made an approach to the European Tour so the two partners and two playing bodies that were involved last year don’t seem... we haven’t been approached, that’s all we can say.”
WSG are the global media and marketing partner for OneAsia, the Asian Tour’s bitter rivals, with the discord arguably slowing the growth of both circuits in recent seasons.
“I think having the confusion in the market certainly from the inception of OneAsia in 2009 has been detrimental to Asian golf - no question about that,” Kerr said.
“OneAsia for me is competition and all businesses have competition and it is not really my place to say what will and will not happen to OneAsia,” he continued.
“The only thing I can do is ensure the Asian Tour is as strong as it possibly can be and continues to go from strength to strength.”
Kerr’s colleague Han has long lambasted OneAsia, accusing them of stealing events and being underwritten by WSG, allegations long denied by the fledgling circuit, who claim their $1 million full-field tournaments offer an alternative.
The rivalry hit the Asian Tour in the pocket in November when a Singapore judge ordered them to repay fines to four members who successfully won a restraint of trade case after being forced to pay release fees to play in OneAsia events.
Kerr was unrepentant.
”Obviously the judgement went against us and we are considering that judgement and seeing what our plans are therefore. But fundamentally it hasn’t changed anything.
“It was the players who instigated this, it wasn’t the management, it wasn’t an individual, the players themselves understood that their careers were better served if they had a unified body and to be able to do that they felt that a release policy was the best way to do that.”
Editing by John O'Brien