MEN'S PROFESSIONAL golf is banking on Asia to be its next frontier. Augusta National chairman Billy Payne, clad in his Masters green jacket, joined Peter Dawson, CEO of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, and the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC) to introduce the Asian Amateur Championship, which will debut on Oct. 29 with a 120-man field near Hong Kong. That Payne and Dawson flew that far to unveil an amateur event shows how serious this venture is—it's being funded by the Masters and British Open organizers—but no statement is greater than this: The winner will get a Masters invite, while the winner and runner-up will enter the final stage of international qualifying for the British Open.
While the LPGA counts 63 Asians (including 47 South Koreans) among its 122 international players, the PGA Tour has only eight Asians among its 74 international cardholders. To help the men catch up, for the first few years the Asian Amateur will be restricted only to APGC players. (The British and U.S. Amateurs are open to all competitors.)
According to the National Golf Foundation participation numbers in the U.S. have been stagnant since 2000, at about 28.6 million golfers. China, meanwhile, expects 30% annual growth over the next three years, to 2.2 million, thanks to its expanding middle class.
This February the LPGA signed its richest TV deal, reportedly worth at least $4 million per year, with Korean network J Golf. In August, Titleist announced that it will move some production of its most popular line of golf balls from New Bedford, Mass., to Asia, in part to save on shipping them to a growing Asian customer base. And according to Callaway's 2008 annual report to investors, sales grew by 44.7% in Asia over the preceding three years. (U.S. sales dropped 1.6%.) It seems Payne's jacket isn't the only green to be found in the Far East.
Asian Amateur Championship
Expected growth in the number of golfers in China over the next three years.
Increase in Callaway's Asian sales from 2005 to '08.