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Australasian Tour in state of crisis

The number of professional tournaments in Australia should be slashed by 50 per cent, according to the Australian Golf Union. AGU chief executive Colin Phillips said that spiralling appearance fees and a decline in the Australian dollar means there is not enough money to go around.

Phillips called for six big events over the Australian summer instead of the current schedule of 11 which includes the $5 million Andersen Consulting World Match Play Championship at Melbourne's Metropolitan club from January 2-5, 2001.

Prizemoney for the Australian Open at Kingston Heath, also in Melbourne, from November 23-26 has been boosted by 25 per cent, but Phillips said international players who were in demand had raised their appearance fees sharply now that Tiger Woods charges more than $1 million to play in any non-US Tour event.

"Prices have gone up dramatically since Tiger came on the scene, and there is so much money on offer from competing events around the world," Phillips said. "In the last two to three years, there has been a 30 to 40 per cent increase and everybody has been caught out.

"For a country of 19 million people, we are trying to maintain too many golf tournaments. There should be about six large events with higher prizemoney which would have a better chance of getting top players."

Phillips said that by the time the Australian Open is staged, international players "have made so much money they don't really care" about coming to Australia. "People ask why we don't change the date to January, but at that time players are trying to win prizemoney on their own Tours so they don't have to worry later in the year," he said.

The World Match Play Championship had also adversely affected the field for the Australian Open, he said, because players committed to that event felt they could not make two trips to Australia in such a short period.

Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Mark O'Meara, Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby and Padraig Harrington are the star turns for next month's Australian Open and it has already been reported that both O'Meara and Faldo are being paid about $150,000 to play.

However, PGA Tour of Australasia operations director Trevor Herden rejected the call, saying that any reduction in the number of tournaments would harm the chances of Australian players being invitated to major overseas events.

"I don't think cutting the Tour in half would do any good," Herden said. "We need to increase the benefits for our players on the world tour, to get more players into the US and British Opens. By reducing our Tour we'd never be able to do that."Herden said it was not just Australian events which were struggling to attract big-name players.

"Even US tournaments are having trouble if they can't get Tiger Woods or David Duval or Phil Mickelson."

He added that the focus in Australasia should switch to the emerging young players such as Brad Lamb, Scott Gardiner and Aaron Baddeley who is set to turn professional next month.

"I think we're in for a bumper season and we can show the rest of the world how good our young guys are. This season should be the launching pad for their careers."

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