India figures prominently in Asian Tour's reworked plans, says CEO Cho Minn Thant

V Krishnaswamy

India figures very prominently in the Asian Tour's plans as it seeks to rework its golf schedule for the latter part of 2020.

Two tournaments, which have been on the schedule for long stay on, while a new event is also on cards besides the likelihood of a PGTI Tour being upgraded. If the vision of Cho Minn Thant, the CEO of Asian Tour, goes through as planned, India could have a series of events from sometime in the middle of October.

"India has always been a big destination for the Asian Tour. Also, it contributes one of the highest number of players on the main Tour. Also, the quality of Indian golfers, who play on our Tour is very high. We regularly see them win or contend each week," said Cho.

On the issue of events in India, Cho said, "The Hero Indian Open, a major event on the schedule for us and Panasonic Open India which has been around for almost a decade are steady. We are in detailed discussions for a new event, which we hope to reveal soon. At the beginning of the season there was a realistic intention of staging four events in India which would have been outstanding but the current climate doesn't look like it will allow us to do so this year."

So, beginning mid-October, it could mean three weeks of top class golf in India, including the Hero Indian Open.

Coming back to the season, he said, "The 2020 Season began in early January with an exciting stretch of National Opens. Beginning with the Hong Kong Open and SMBC Singapore Open, followed by the New Zealand Open and Bandar Malaysia Open, all of which offered prize purses over US$1 Million. However, following the Malaysia Open, the Tour came to a grinding halt in early March due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

"This forced abrupt cancellations or indefinite postponements of the three events confirmed for the weeks immediately following the Malaysia Open (Royal Cup, Hero Indian Open and Bangladesh Open) and several events in the months to follow, including high profile events such as the Maybank Championship, Volvo China Open, APGC Diamond Cup, Maekyung Open and the Kolon Korea Open," he added.

He went on, "Needless to say, the excitement of a strong tournament calendar in 2020 has now been replaced by an overarching feeling of humility. The remainder of 2020 will very much be about salvaging what is practically possible and repairing whatever is needed for the 2021 season."

The Asian Tour realises that it cannot have a full season in 2020 and will need to extend it into 2021. Now, it will not be possible to have 20 events in 2020, and that the best case would be this season extending to somewhere around May 2021 with a transition into a new season with a Qualifying School.

Cho said, "Our best-case scenario, based on best estimates, is to gear up for action in August. There are positive signs, which point to Korea and Taiwan being the first countries to return to a new normal. Yet we are not naïve enough to think this is a foregone conclusion. August is a long way away in today's context and many things, positive and negative, can happen in the blink of an eye."

Like other Tours, Asian Tour is also drawing plans and manuals for operations ranging from testing to contact tracing procedures. "It is literally a book," said Cho. "We will need to work all that in as we move along."

The Tour is also mindful of the hurdles that may crop up with different countries having different rules for entry and exit, quarantine, testing and social distancing.

"So, wish to have events in a bunch in a single country or region with similar rules and regulations. That would save players travel costs and overcome some 'quarantine' regulations," he said

The Asian Tour has a Plan B, in case it is unable to have two different seasons and it , 2020 and 2021 have to bundled as one season.

"Then we will need to ensure no member is disadvantaged and membership issues will be sorted out to ensure fairness," he said.

Commercially, Cho exuded positivity. "Many of our supporters have stood by us. Either as Tour sponsors or as sponsors of various events. We are forever thankful to them," he said.

The Asian Tour finished 2019 with 24 official events offering just over $25 million in prize money. The ADT ended with 19 official events played across six countries. The number of events was likely to have increased in 2020 before the pandemic ruined the plans.

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