23 YEARS AGO BLUE CANYON COUNTRY CLUB HOSTED THE JOHNNIE WALKER CLASSIC AND ONE OF THE MOST ICONIC COMEBACKS IN THE HISTORY OF THE SPORT, AS A YOUNG 1997 MASTERS CHAMPION ROARED BACK FROM 8 BEHIND TO OVERHAUL ERNIE ELS IN A PLAYOFF IN THE COUNTRY OF HIS MOTHER'S BIRTH, BUT TODAY IT ARGUABLY PLAYED HOST TO THE START OF A MORE IMPORTANT TOURNAMENT IN THE CONTEXT OF THE MODERN Asian Tour.
ASIA WAS AND STILL IS ONE OF THE WORST AFFECTED PARTS OF THE WORLD WHEN IT COMES TO COVID19, AND AS THE EPICENTRE OF THE PANDEMIC WHEN IT BEGAN, ASIAN GOLF HAS BEEN PUT ON HOLD FOR SOME 20 MONTHS. BUT TODAY THE BLUE CANYON PHUKET CHAMPIONSHIP GOT UNDERWAY WITH A FIELD OF TOP Asian Tour GOLFERS COMPETING FOR A $1MILLION PRIZE FUND IN THE BATTLE FOR THE ORDER OF MERIT TITLE.
THE 2020 SEASON HAS BECOME THE 2020-21 SEASON, AND IT WILL INDEED FINISH IN JANUARY 2022 WITH 2 EVENTS IN SINGAPORE TO DETERMINE THE Asian Tour NUMBER ONE. THESE EVENTS WILL HERALD THE RETURN OF THE Asian Tour, BUT THEY WILL ALSO MARK THE END OF ONE ERA AND THE DAWNING OF A NEW ONE.
MORE ON THAT LATER THOUGH.
AMERICAN DP WORLD TOUR WINNER JOHN CATLIN HOLDS THE LEAD AFTER THE FIRST ROUND, THE WINNER OF THE 2020 DUBAI DUTY FREE IRISH OPEN, ANDALUCIA MASTERS AND 2021 AUSTRIAN OPEN, SHOT A ROUND OF 65 TO LEAD BY 1 SHOT FROM TAIWAN'S CHAN SHIH-CHANG. ORDER OF MERIT LEADER Wade Ormsby IS FOUR SHOTS BACK OF THE LEAD AFTER TWO BOGEYS ON THE BACK NINE.
THAILAND'S Sadom Kaewkanjana HAS WON TWICE RECENTLY ON THE ALL THAILAND GOLF TOUR AND MADE A STRONG START TO THE TOURNAMENT AT BLUE CANYON COUNTRY CLUB WITH A 68 TO SIT INSIDE THE TOP 10. COMPATRIOT AND DP WORLD TOUR MEMBER Jazz Janewattananond MADE A POOR START TO THE TOURNAMENT WITH A ROUND OF 75 TO SIT 10 SHOTS OFF THE LEAD AND FACES MISSING THE CUT UNLESS HE SHOOTS A LOW SCORE ON FRIDAY.
A FULL REPORT OF DAY ONE IS AVAILABLE HERE COURTESY ASIANTOUR.COM
AS I MENTIONED EARLIER BLUE CANYON COUNTRY CLUB HAS AN ILLUSTRIOUS HISTORY IN WORLD GOLF HAVING HOSTED THE JOHNNIE WALKER CLASSIC in 1994, 1998 and 2007 with Greg Norman, tiger woods and Anton Haig taking those respective titles.
the Johnnie Walker Classic was, from 1990 to 2009, in essence the perfect Asian Tour event featuring golfers from across the Asia-pacific region and co-sanctioned by the European Tour, making it like a mini-world golf championships event.
the event was one of the key events in the development of the Asian Tour, being played in Thailand, Singapore, china, Hong Kong, Philippines, India and Australia, and attracting many of the world's best golfers.
the first edition was won by sir Nick Faldo, and remarkably 10 of the 19 editions of the tournament were won by players who had at some point been ranked world number one - a stat surely unrivalled in golf anywhere outside the majors.
THE Asian Tour WILL COMPLETE ITS 2021 CALENDAR YEAR IN PHUKET WITH A SECOND EVENT AT LAGUNA GOLF AND COUNTRY CLUB NEXT WEEK BEFORE RESUMING IN JANUARY FOR TWO EVENTS IN SINGAPORE. THIS WILL MARK THE END OF THE MOST PROTRACTED SEASON ANY TOUR HAS EVER FACED, BUT IT WILL ALSO HERALD A NEW DAWN FOR THE Asian Tour , WITH THE 2022 SEASON BEGINNING AT THE NEW FLAGSHIP EVENT OF THE TOUR, THE SAUDI INTERNATIONAL, IN Saudi Arabia IN THE FIRST WEEK OF FEBRUARY.
PERHAPS THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A MORE CONTROVERSIAL TOURNAMENT STAGED IN GOLF, THE SAUDI INTERNATIONAL LAUNCHED IN 2019 AND HAS A STELLAR ROLL OF HONOUR FROM ITS THREE PREVIOUS EDITIONS, ALL PLAYED UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE European Tour.
Dustin Johnson won the inaugural event in 2019 by two strokes from Chinese star li Haotong, before coming second to former us open champion Graeme mcdowell in 2020, and then taking the title again in 2021 by 2 shots from Justin Rose and compatriot Tony Finau. the event has been shrouded in controversy due to Saudi Arabia's appalling human rights record and the supposed murder of an American journalist. the European Tour took hefty criticism for staging the event as part of their season-beginning Middle East swing, but it took something other than human rights abuses to see the event move from the European Tour to the Asian Tour.
over the last 18 months proposals and plans for a breakaway tour have emerged or been proposed. firstly the premier golf league, which says it does not have financing from Saudi Arabia, and the super golf league, which is backed by the Saudi public investment fund. both have made approaches to players on the PGA Tour, which were rejected by the tour itself and many of the players have come out publicly and said they are not interested in joining such a project. some have remained silent on the matter though.
it was reported in may that the Saudi pif had approached several big named golfers making them huge offers to join the league, and with the European Tour entering into a strategic alliance with the PGA Tour the Saudi international was removed from the European Tour schedule from 2022.
in September it was announced that the organisers had struck a 10-year deal with the Asian Tour for the event to become the flagship tournament of the Asian Tour, featuring a $5million purse and then last month the Asian Tour, Greg Norman and liv golf investments announced a 10-year $200million investment into the Asian Tour to establish a 25-event season and a new 10-event series within that schedule.
AS OF YET THERE HAS BEEN NO FURTHER DETAILS RELEASED ABOUT THE 10-EVENT SERIES OR THE LONG-TERM VISION OF LIV GOLF INVESTMENTS, BUT GOING ON THE INITIAL STATEMENT OF THERE BEING 10 EVENTS ACROSS ASIA, Middle East AND EUROPE IT WOULD SEEM THE PLAN IS TO STAGE THESE TOURNAMENTS OVER 72-HOLES IN MAJOR MARKETS ACROSS THAT REGION. WHETHER THESE EVENTS ARE ALREADY EXISTING TOURNAMENTS OR NEWLY CREATED ONES STILL REMAINS TO BE SEEN, AND THERE HAS NOT BEEN ANY INDICATION AS TO THE MAKE UP OF THE FIELDS FOR THE EVENTS YET.
THE STATED AIM IS TO HAVE ELITE FIELDS, BUT THIS DOESN'T NECESSARILY MEAN LIMITED FIELD EVENTS WITHOUT A CUT, ALTHOUGH THAT WAS GREG NORMAN'S ORIGINAL VISION FOR THE WORLD GOLF TOUR IN 1994. THIS SERIES COULD POTENTIALLY FEATURE EVENTS IN CHINA, KOREA, MALAYSIA, THAILAND, SINGAPORE, AUSTRALIA, New Zealand, INDIA, Saudi Arabia AND TURKEY.
THE New Zealand OPEN IS THE ONLY OTHER EVENT SO FAR CONFIRMED ON THE 2022 Asian Tour SCHEDULE, AND THERE IS TALK IN THE AUSTRALIAN GOLF MEDIA THAT THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN COULD BE A TARGET FOR LIV GOLF AND Greg Norman TO BE INCLUDED IN THE SERIES. SINCE THE START OF THE PANDEMIC THE TURKISH AIRLINES OPEN HAS BEEN MISSING FROM THE DP WORLD TOUR SCHEDULE, AND WITH SOME OF THAT COUNTRY BEING IN EUROPE THERE'S POTENTIAL FOR THAT EVENT TO EMERGE AS AN Asian Tour EVENT AS PART OF THIS 10-EVENT SERIES.
WITH OTHER Middle East NATIONS ALREADY HOSTING DP WORLD TOUR EVENTS IT IS UNLIKELY THAT ANYWHERE ELSE OTHER THAN Saudi Arabia WOULD STAGE AN Asian Tour EVENT AT THIS STAGE, SO WHILST THE SAUDI INTERNATIONAL WON'T BE PART OF THIS 10-EVENT SERIES (YET) I WOULD EXPECT AN ADDITIONAL EVENT TO TAKE PLACE THERE.
THAILAND HAS ALWAYS BEEN A KEY DESTINATION FOR THE Asian Tour, AND SURELY BLUE CANYON WOULD STAGE A LEG OF THIS SERIES ALONG WITH SENTOSA IN SINGAPORE, MISSION HILLS IN CHINA, THE KOREAN OPEN, DLF COUNTRY CLUB IN INDIA AND BLACK MOUNTAIN COUNTRY CLUB IN MALAYSIA MAKING UP THE 10-EVENT SERIES. THIS IS OF COURSE PURE SPECULATION, BUT BASED UPON MY KNOWLEDGE OF THE GAME AND READING IN BETWEEN THE LINES OF INFORMATION WHICH SEEMS TO POINT TO A SERIES OF THIS NATURE.
SO WHERE WOULD THE WORLD'S BEST GOLFERS FEATURE IN THIS?
LARGE APPEARANCE FEES WOULD BE USED TO TARGET THE WORLD'S TOP 50 GOLFERS, PERHAPS IN THE FORM OF A CONTRACT FOR THE BEST PLAYERS TO PLAY ALL 10 EVENTS THROUGHOUT THE SEASON WITH GUARANTEED MONEY IRRESPECTIVE OF THEIR FINISH IN THE TOURNAMENT. IT MAY EVEN BE DRESSED UP AS A STATED CRITERIA THAT TO BE ELIGIBLE FOR THE APPEARANCE FEES YOU MUST BE RANKED INSIDE THE WORLD'S TOP 50, WHICH WOULD ADD CREDIBILITY TO THE PROPOSAL POTENTIALLY AS IT IS BASED UPON PERFORMANCE TO SOME DEGREE.
THERE MAY BE A SEPARATE ORDER OF MERIT OR LEAGUE TABLE FOR THE SERIES, AS WELL AS THE $1MILLION PRIZE FUND COUNTING TOWARDS THE Asian Tour FOR THE Asian Tour MEMBERS. IT HAS ALSO SUGGESTED THERE MAY BE A TEAM ELEMENT TO THE SERIES, PERHAPS IN THE FORM OF A NATIONS LEAGUE FEATURING THE BEST SCORES FROM SELECTED PLAYERS FROM EACH COUNTRY PARTICIPATING IN THE SERIES. IT WOULD SEEM UNLIKELY THE SERIES FOLLOWS THE PROPOSED MODEL OF THE PREMIER GOLF LEAGUE WITH FRANCHISES.
IT WOULD SEEM LIKELY THAT THERE WILL BE A FIRM ANNOUNCEMENT FROM Greg Norman AND LIV GOLF INVESTMENTS, ALONGSIDE THE Asian Tour, AT FEBRUARY'S SAUDI INTERNATIONAL.
you can read much more on the future of golf in 'giving the game a sheikh up - the battle for the future of golf' on www.shankmedia.co.uk soon.