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  • Alistair Tait

London Calling For Asian Tour?

There’s a fair chance Keith Pelley probably didn’t think he’d have to deal with the ramifications of the Asian Tour holding a tournament in his new patch when he became chief executive of the European Tour, now the DP World Tour.

The Canadian could be facing exactly that situation this summer with the Asian Tour seemingly set to break new ground by announcing its first tournament in England. That’s the news I’m hearing on the golf grapevine.

Seems Saudi company Aramco is to stage an Asian Tour event in June at the Centurion Club, near St Albans, just north of London. Talk about close to home, it’s just 31 miles from Pelley’s office in Virginia Water to the Centurion Club. The Canadian should have that trip plugged into his car’s Satnav system: The Tour staged the 2017 and 2018 GolfSixes at Centurion.

Aramco appears set to run back-to-back men’s and women’s events at the course between St Albans and Hemel Hempstead. The $1 million Aramco Series London tournament on the Ladies European Tour is set for June 16-18, one of four Aramco sponsored tournaments on the LET along with Sotogrande, New York and Jeddah. The men’s tournament is pencilled into the week previous to the London date, clashing with the $1 million Scandinavian Mixed hosted by Henrik & Annika, a co-sanctioned event between the DP World Tour and LET.

I have no news on prize fund, or whether the event is a one off or part of a series of tournaments like the four on the LET. Perhaps we’ll find out this week with the Asian Tour staging the Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club near Jeddah.

One thing’s for sure: it is an audacious move to stage a tournament in traditional European Tour territory. As one of my sources who did not want to be named said:

“I’m sure the European Tour won’t be too happy, but it’s great news for Asian Tour players after what they’ve been through.”

Covid-19 hit the Asian circuit hard to the point where it look on the verge of folding, but a massive investment by Saudi-backed LIV Golf Investments, with Greg Norman as chairman, has allowed the Asian Tour to rise from the ashes. It spelled the end for the partnership between the European and Asian Tours, a partnership that had worked to produce a host of co-sanctioned events over the years.

The strategic alliance between the PGA Tour and European Tour, along with the latter forming recent partnerships with the Australasian and Sunshine Tours, was supposed to see off the Saudi threat. The Saudis obviously aren’t going away. That much is obvious this week with the appearance money being paid to the likes of defending champion Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Shane Lowry, Paul Casey, Tyrrell Hatton, Kevin Na, Tommy Fleetwood, Bubba Watson, Henrik Stenson, Jason Dufner and others to play in Jeddah.

Human rights? Sports washing? The above obviously don’t care. They’re voting with their wallets, not their consciences.

To add insult to injury, this week’s Saudi International is up against the inaugural Ras al Khaimah Championship presented by Phoenix Capital on the DP World Tour. The $2 million event features Danny Willett, Bernd Wisberger, Padraig Harrington, Colin Montgomerie, Thomas Bjorn, Miguel Angel Jiménez, but it can’t compete with the star-studded $5 million Saudi International field, and its estimated of $20 million appearance fee fund.

The field for the Asian Tour event at Centurion, if it is to take place, should make for interesting reading. Will financial inducements be paid out to lure major European stars, especially the week before the U.S. Open? Only time will tell.

In November last year, European Tour chairman Keith Williams said this about the Asian Tour.

“The Asian Tour has gone from being partners to being competitors. And we are fierce competitors.”

A proposed tournament in Williams and Pelley’s backyard is sure to make that competition even fiercer.

Interesting times in professional golf to say the last. I wonder where it will all end?

#JustSaying: “The only stats I care about are pay cheques and victories.” Greg Norman

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