Business

Golf industry aims for growing success in Asia

Golf legend Tiger Woods, who surprised many critics with his equal-fourth finish at the Masters, heads to China and South Korea this week on his first Make it Matter tour for his sponsor Nike.

The tour aims to lift the popularity of the game amongst Asia's youth and inspire golf fans and athletes alike.

One of the players seeking to be inspired is Singapore's 12-year-old Amanda Tan.

With a handicap of 0.1, the young golfer dreams of playing the world's best courses and representing Singapore in the Olympics.

She wants to be better than Taiwan's Yanni Tseng, who is currently ranked number one in the Women's World Golf rankings.

Tiger Woods notwithstanding, it's the proliferation of upcoming Asian golfers like Ms Tseng and American-Korean Michelle Wie, which has made it easier for young golfers in the region to dream big.

Twenty years ago, the chances of someone like Amanda making it to the top would have been slim.

Japan may be the world's third largest golf market, but other Asian countries were not developed enough to produce many golfing greats.

'Growing prize money'

Image caption Michelle Wie is an inspiration to young Asian golfers

But Asia's booming economies has meant a rapid growth in the number of golf tournaments in the region and brighter prospects for budding professional golfers to flex their skills... while simultaneously attracting some of the world's best known names to play here.

The Asian Tour is one of the most established golf bodies in South East Asia.

They co-sanction part of their tours with their European counterpart - so home-grown talent can pit their skills against players from the European tour.

It has 25 golf tournaments taking place around the region this year, awarding prizes of up the $45m (£27.6m).

Kyi Hla Han, a former professional golfer from Burma and once ranked number one in the region, is the executive chairman of the Asian Tour and has seen it grow since its conception in 2004.

"The prize money increase has been great and the sponsorship potential but we're still trying to do a lot work, getting it over to 30 to 35 events and growing our prize money," he says.

"We have tournaments in over 16 different countries here in Asia.

Image caption The Asian Tour works in partnership with its European counterpart

"We've gone to countries and markets like Bangladesh, we've got tournaments in Cambodia, in Vietnam and we're looking at new events in Sri Lanka."

He adds: "Where golf wasn't a very big sport, we're trying to introduce it, and we're producing some really good players out of those smaller countries."

So big is the demand for golf tournaments in the region, new ones are being developed.

'Regional alternative'

The OneAsia tour, started just three years ago, is headed by Ben Sellenger, who had previously worked with the Australian PGA.

Image caption Amanda Tan is one of a growing number of youngsters playing golf in Asia

This year they have confirmed a total of 13 events offering over £16m in prize money.

"One Asia does not seek to replace the existing tours across the region, but aims to provide this elite playing destination for Asian players, Asian sponsors and Asian audiences, that the ever important existing regional tours, like the Asian Tour, feed their champions into," says says Mr Sellenger.

"We want to develop a regional platform offering leading players in the region a place to earn and play at that level, thus retaining their talent in the region."

The Asean PGA tour, meanwhile, allows Asian players from the ten-member ASEAN bloc to play on a regional basis.

It too has seen rapid growth, starting with just 5 events in 2007 - which offered $230,000 in total prize money - to 10 events last year with more than double that on offer.

"With a few supporters we set up the Asean PGA Tour for players in our own back yard," says A C Wong, the executive chairman of the group.

"The concept is to prepare players for graduation to the bigger, more lucrative and competitive tournaments."

Their target for this year is to host 12 events with a record pot of nearly $700,000 in prizes.

Image caption Golf prize money and sponsorship is growing in the region

Positive future

While that doesn't seem like a lot compared to the whopping $280m of total prize money handed out at their American counterpart - the US PGA tour - Asia's prize pot is getting bigger with the growth of the number of tournaments being staged.

Accountants KPMG say 20% of golf's total prize money in 2009 was awarded in Asia.

The money comes mainly from sponsorship, which is also growing in the region.

HSBC hosts one of the biggest competitions in Shanghai with $7m on offer last year.

'Attractive'

The World Sport Group is a company that helps find sponsors and sells television rights not just for golf, but for football, cricket and other sports.

But golf in Asia is becoming a big part of their business, says their chief operating officer Andrew Georgiou.

"We talk to sponsors all around the world every day, that's our business and the one thing they are telling us is that markets like Europe are very difficult to get growth in, while markets like Asia are very attractive to them," he says.

"So what we're seeing is sponsors very focused on Asia as their next growth opportunity and using sport as a passionate and emotional connection to an audience."

Image caption Tiger Woods will be taking his brand and image to Asia on a golf-promotion tour

Those sponsors are not just looking to promote Asian tournaments and golfers but increasingly, like Nike's Make it Matter tour with Tiger Woods this week, they are also leveraging on his name to sell their products in Asia.

According to Mr Georgiou "one of the trends is that all the major stars of the world are being told by their sponsors that they also want access to the Asian market".

"So the big stars are being pushed to play more in Asia because their endorsement contracts are also asking for access to the growing Asian market," he says.

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