The Asian Tour is targeting a September re-start for its 2020 campaign following its suspension in March due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Established in 1996, the Asian Tour is the main men’s professional golf tour in Asia, excluding Japan, with events played in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, India, Taiwan, South Korea, Bangladesh, New Zealand and co-sanctioned events in Japan with the Japan Golf Tour.
The Asian Tour was suspended shortly after the Bandar Malaysia Open on March 8, with seven subsequent tournaments either postponed or cancelled during the lockdown.
Speaking during a webinar hosted by LinksAsia, Cho Min Thant, chief executive of the Asian Tour, said: “There’s lots of planning and discussions going on in the background and we think we’ll be back around September. I think what we’re experiencing everywhere is a slow return to normal in phases and it’s going to be no different on the Asian Tour. First of all, we’ve got to see countries opening up and then we’ve got to see sponsors willing to do business again and sponsor tournaments. Then finally, we have to be able to travel again.
He continued: “We’ve been talking to all the Tours around the world about re-start plans; how we’re going to structure the seasons, when we start up. Are we going to extend this season? Are we going to stop this season and start over? What are we going to do with members that have their cards this season? When is the Official World Golf Ranking going to start again and what’s the eligibility into the Majors that had to be rescheduled? There are weekly conversations on these topics. I guess the new catchword in this time is ‘fluid’.”
Before golf was halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Asian Tour had staged four Order of Merit events, all worth more than $1 million – the Hong Kong Open, SMBC Singapore Open, New Zealand Open presented by Sky Sports and Bandar Malaysian Open.
Cho said: “We got off to a flyer at the start of 2020 and were looking forward to the rest of the year. But it wasn’t to be. Now we want to continue this season, and we want to continue this season as soon as possible.
“It looks like we’ll re-start in September, if we’re lucky and people can travel. It looks like this season will be extended into next year, most probably April or May, making sure that the cardholders and members this year get a fair opportunity to play about 20 or 25 events. After that we start a new season.
“But it really depends on whether we can all travel. If there are some people who can’t travel in the early months because of where they’re travelling from, then we’re going to have to look at adjusting what we do with the season. So, it’s a work in progress.
“We’re planning to reschedule tournaments that we usually have so that we can stay in one country longer than just one week. We’re looking at places like Korea and India, where we have multiple tournaments. It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of collaboration between the promoters and the sponsors. But we’re trying to make it so that we can stay in a country longer than a week because that will reduce the amount of travel our guys have to do.”
Maintaining regular communications with members and staff during the past three months has been a top priority for Cho.
He said: “We’re a pretty tightly-knit community at the Asian Tour, so we’ve always got chat rooms going on Facebook and WhatsApp, and I send out a monthly circular to the members. They’ve been really good at keeping in touch, sending us little things that we can use on our social media to build content. I think the camaraderie among the Asian Tour staff, players and officials has been really good.
“It’s not just the players having a tough time, but the staff and non-playing officials. A lot of the rules officials, for example, are hired per event. We’ve got scoring staff, television staff. We talk a lot about the players because they’re a huge part of what we do, but the Asian Tour family is much bigger than just the players. It’s all the back office, front office, media staff and everyone involved in tournaments. We’re just raring to get out there and do our thing again.”