Golf: Asian Tour eyes Korea and Japan after making inroads into China

Josh Burack, CEO of the Asian Tour golf organisation.
Josh Burack, CEO of the Asian Tour golf organisation. PHOTO: AFP

Hong Kong (AFP) - The Asian Tour is aiming to hold more tournaments in " golf-crazy" South Korea and Japan after striking a breakthrough deal to return to China.

"Korea is an instrumental market for golf in Asia," the Asian Tour's CEO Josh Burack told AFP in a telephone interview on Thursday.

Two weeks ago, Burack announced a new partnership with the Chinese Golf Association (CGA) that will see the Asian Tour co-sanctioning four new tournaments with prize purses of between US$300,000 to US$500,000 (S$418,000 to S$697,000).

The Asian Tour has designs on Korea and Japan as it seeks more playing opportunities for its members in the lucrative East Asian market.

"We are trying to put more focus on East Asia because those are the biggest markets in Asia, right?" said Burack. "I mean Korea, Japan, China, so for sure that is an area I am trying to steer the Asian Tour towards."

The Asian Tour has been largely shut out from the East Asian golfing powers of China, Korea and Japan since 2008 when their respective professional golf associations threw their weight behind the rival OneAsia Tour.

But struggling OneAsia has just three events confirmed on its 2017 calendar: the China Open co-sanctioned with the European Tour, and two others in Korea.

"We are meeting with the KPGA (Korean PGA) and definitely we are trying to add more tournaments in that market that is a golf-crazy market," said Burack, who took the reins as CEO in October last year.

"We have one tournament (in Korea) already, the Shinhan Donghae Open, but we'd love to have more tournaments there and we are working towards that.

"We have three tournaments in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, two in Japan, one in Korea so we already have eight events (in East Asia).

"Now if we have four events in China and expand our presence in Korea, then for sure it will definitely increase the scale and prominence of our tour," he said.

Burack noted that the Asian Tour had enjoyed "brilliant" success when it worked with the CGA prior to the emergence of OneAsia, and he believed that could be repeated.

"As you know the Asian Tour co-sanctioned with the CGA for a long period from 1995 to 2008. Over the course of that we feel it was a brilliant time for the Asian Tour and also for golf in China," he said.

"A lot of original Chinese golf stars emerged from that period. Guys like Zhang Lianwei and Liang Wenchong went on to our tour and were trailblazers for Chinese golf. We believe a big part of the development of Chinese golf happened in that period."

China boasts only one player, Li Haotong, in the world's top 200 at present.

But Burack said huge potential remained in world's most populous nation.

"We're delighted to be coming back into China. We know there are so many talented players there. The CGA want a strong domestic tour. They want it in the future to be as strong as the Japan Tour," he said.