SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The Asian Tour has been happy to accommodate an increase in co-sanctioned events to improve prize funds and opportunities for its players, but two discerning voices have spoken out against the circuit giving too much power to outside influences.
Asian Tour executive chairman Kyi Hla Han has long argued that co-sanctioning events offers a route for the players onto the more lucrative tours, but that often comes at the cost of fewer positions in the field for the region’s members.
Malaysia’s Danny Chia and Dutchman Guido van der Valk, who finished 53rd and 59th on last year’s order of merit, bemoaned their lack of playing opportunities on the Asian Tour this year with a third of the 27 events being co-sanctioned.
“I don’t really see how co-sanctioning benefits Asian players,” Chia told Reuters on the sidelines of last week’s Singapore Open, co-sanctioned by the European and Asian Tours.
”Maybe the top 20 top 30 Asian players (but not the others).
“Kyi Hla has been telling all the players that it is going to be good for Asian Tour players, open the pathway to the European Tour, blah, blah, blah... yeah but how many of us get to play?”
Co-sanctioning events in the region has led to a surge in prize money for certain Asian Tour events, like last week’s $6 million tournament, with the circuit promoting themselves as a member-led organisation.
The Asian Tour, who have seen their policy rewarded by Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee and Jeev Milkha Singh of India winning on the European Tour this year, had 62 places in the 156 man field in Singapore last week.
Van der Valk, awaiting the verdict from a Singapore judge on his attempt to force a rule change regarding the Asian Tour’s policy of fining members who play on the rival OneAsia circuit, questioned the benefits of giving places to lower-ranked European Tour players.
“They are all very good players but, for example, in James Morrison or Christian Nilsson or whoever from the European Tour is coming, I don’t think there will be a single person watching them play golf unless they are top of the field,” the 32-year-old said of his opening round playing partners in Singapore.
”I do see the value of Rory McIlroy and the top guys coming to the tournament, I just don’t see what the rest of the European Tour field is doing here.
“But the Asian Tour management seems to have a view that it is good value and it is what they wanted to do with their flagship event. My opinion, before it was co-sanctioned with the European Tour, it was a better event.”
Asian Tour CEO Mike Kerr told Reuters if players were unhappy with how things were being run they were free to discuss so with the Tour’s tournament players committee (TPC).
“We do not feel it is appropriate to comment on individual players opinion, we believe the vast majority of the players are happy with how the Tour is being run,” he said on Wednesday.
Chia and Van der Valk were both in the Singapore field last week with the Dutchman missing the cut and the Malaysian scoring a hole-in-one en route to a 67th place-finish.
World number one McIlroy attracted the biggest galleries, and eventually finished third, while Morrison tied for 70th and Nilsson missed the cut.
Australian Scott Barr told Reuters by telephone that Chia and Van der Valk should concentrate on improving their games rather than moaning about entitlements.
“Asian golf has benefited from co-sanctioning,” said the Australian, a TPC member.
“It is easy to be critical of the tour but if the guys perform better then opportunities start to arrive.”
Van der Valk argued that the Asian Tour would be better served having a full-field event of their own players with a sprinkling of the game’s main drawcards.
”I understood it when the Asian Tour was growing and they needed exposure... but at the moment, the players on the Asian tour are that good that bringing the European Tour is not really going to make it any better.
“I think at some point you come to a place as a tour where your tour is not a stepping stone anymore it is actually a stone, and I think the Asian Tour reached that point in 2007.”
Since 2007, the European Tour has grown rapidly despite the global economic crisis that hit the continent hard, while the Asian Tour still has the same number of events as they did in 2005, albeit with larger prize funds.
However, the European Tour’s expansion has been mainly outside of their own continent, with 11 of their 45 events - not including majors and world golf championship tournaments - taking place in Asia this year.
The European Tour’s Race to Dubai is in its fourth year with a lucrative end of season $8 million event in the Emirate, the fourth tournament the circuit will play in the Middle East in 2012.
The Asian Tour does not play events west of India or in China, the other big growth market for golf.
Editing by John O'Brien