PGA Tour Expects Growth In Asia To Benefit Both Players And Its Brand

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  • The PGA Tour’s interest in Asia began almost a decade ago. Today, the organization hosts three FedEx Cup events in the lucrative Asian markets of China, Japan, and South Korea.
  • There are no active plans on the part of the PGA to add more golf tournaments in Asia for the time being, for fear it will dilute player fields by expanding too quickly.
hideki matsuyama pga tour
Photo Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

When the PGA Tour announced multiple changes to its season schedule this summer, it’s safe to say there was a lot for both fans and players to adjust to.

For one, the PGA Tour moved back its prominent Players Championship tournament from May to March to create a “season of championships.” Golf’s biggest events of the year are no longer as spread out. Instead, beginning in March, each month will be highlighted by a flagship tournament in the sport.

The current 2019-2020 PGA Tour season also began on September 12,  almost one month earlier compared to prior campaigns. And while the season will still end with the FedEx Cup Playoffs in August – a change implemented last year to avoid direct competition with the NFL – the PGA Tour did add three new tournaments to its already busy fall calendar.

One of those events was the Zozo Championship in Chiba, Japan, which was won by Tiger Woods at the end of October. The tournament is one leg of the PGA Tour’s three-tournament swing in Asia going forward, which represents a key growth market for the organization, according to Ty Votaw, executive vice president, international at the PGA Tour. 

Each of the events, which include established tournaments played in South Korea and China sponsored by CJ Group and HSBC, respectively, offer FedEx Cup points that count towards seeding during the playoffs – thereby making the events more appealing to top players. 

“The purses for the Asia swing are in the top 10 for the year on the PGA Tour because of the fields,” said Votaw. “In addition to lucrative opportunities for players, we can grow the presence of the PGA Tour across the region by televising tournaments in local time zones for fans in those markets during hours people normally watch golf.”

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There’s also ample opportunity for all of the PGA Tour’s registered players to grow their own brands by playing in events in Asia, Votaw added.

Scott Seymour, vice president and managing director of golf at Octagon, agrees with that sentiment. The PGA Tour ultimately wants all the best players in the world to play on its tour, which by default would increase the value of its international media rights deal that it signed with Discovery in June 2018 worth north of $2 billion. 

Additionally, having stars from as many countries worldwide not only benefits players like Japan’s own Hideki Matsuyama – a current top 20 player in the world – but also other golfers that become household names as a result. 

“The PGA Tour is giving ground for all the best players in the world to play on the PGA Tour,” Seymour said, likening this scenario to the impact Yao Ming playing in the NBA had on the growth of basketball in China. 

“When Tiger [Woods] went to Japan and played with Matsuyama in the MGM Resorts The Challenge: Japan Skins tournament [a non-FedEx Cup event] it was massive for the sport and the growth of the PGA Tour brand,” he added.

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According to Votaw, The PGA Tour’s interest in Asia began almost a decade ago, leading to its first sanctioned event, the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, back in 2010. That tournament was eventually replaced by the Zozo Championship in Japan this year, following political tension in the country. 

The PGA Tour says it is happy with operating just three events in Asia for the time being, for fear it will dilute player fields at each event by expanding too quickly. The PGA Tour’s fall schedule is already packed with 11 events, including four international FedEx Cup events – one in Mexico – that are fully sponsored.

“Sponsors expect [player] field quality to approach their level of investment,” said Votaw. “We are happy with how the three Asian events performed this year, with respect to winners, field quality, and the leaderboards there. If we do add more in the future, it would be in another part of Asia at a later part of the fall schedule so that there would be a break in between for players.”