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Asian Tour set to expand rapidly

The Asian Tour is set to massively expand with corporate interest higher than ever as golf becomes "cool" thanks to Tiger Woods, executive chairman Kyi Hla Han says.

Kyi, who has been running the Tour since chief executive Louis Martin left to work with Ernie Els five months ago, predicted it was on the verge of exploding.

"I think it is only going to grow. Golf is in popular demand by the corporates, the Tour is growing in stature and I feel that it hasn't really exploded yet," he told AFP in an interview.

"We just feel there is going to be more sponsors wanting to come into golf."

The Asian Tour, the third largest in the world behind the US PGA and European Tour, has been growing rapidly since regional players decided to form a new representative body in 2004.

This year it encompasses 29 tournaments and Kyi sees 40 tournaments within the next five years.

"The main thing for our Tour is to play week in and week out," he said.

"Geographically we are covering 20 countries so there's a lot of expansion still to come.

"I think in the future we should be able to expand it to 40 tournaments and raise the prize money and ensure the quality of the golf courses are in top condition."

The countries he is focusing on for expansion are India, China and South Korea, but he also sees room in Southeast Asia for more events.

"India, China and Korea, but also in the Southeast Asian countries. With their economies they should be able to have a few more tournaments. The whole region is growing."

A key reason for golf's surging popularity in Asia is because increasing numbers of youngsters are picking up clubs, with Woods largely responsible for their interest.

"I've got to admit that Tiger coming into the picture has made a big difference not only to golf in the United States but worldwide," said Kyi, a former professional golfer from Myanmar who is now based in Singapore.

"It has really made an impact on kids to see that golf is a cool game now. When I was growing up everyone thought it was an old man's sport and no one could really figure out why I was playing.

"But now it is a cool sport and a lot of parents, especially in Asia, are encouraging their children to go out and play.

"Everywhere I go all across Asia everyone is talking about junior development. Because of this I just think it is just a matter of time before Asian golf explodes."

So much interest amongst youngsters is having a big knock-on effect, with sponsors eyeing opportunities to plug their products to potential customers at a younger age.

"From a corporate point of view, everyone from banks to airlines to mobile technology companies really want to start exposing their brand and to start from the juniors," said Kyi, a founding member of the former Asian PGA Tour.

"So that makes it very attractive for sponsors to get involved in golf."

Getting Woods out to Asia more often would help tremendously, he admits, but he also know how important it is for the Asian Tour to build the game from the grassroots.

"Having Tiger in Asia for one or two events a year would greatly boost and enhance the sport here, but our main goal really is to basically make the game more appealing to the masses and the juniors," he said.

"Tiger brings that appeal but it is also up to us to do a lot of development ourselves."


March 7, 2007

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