Golf Goes Global, Steered by Money

Asia and the Middle East are giving the U.S. competition, just as America once lured golfers from Europe.
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As the U.S. government, along with the rest of the industrialized world, wrings its hands over whether this globalization thing was such a good idea after all, the powers that be in golf are suddenly rushing around the world faster than a


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ball off the face of Tiger Woods' driver.

The pro game always has prided itself on being a bastion of pure capitalism. Not for golfers the guaranteed contract -- miss the cut and you go home without a paycheck. But the chase for the yuan and the Dirham, which cuts across all tours and segments of the industry, has less to do with ideology than self-preservation. Here are some of the most recent, eye-opening examples of golf's world(wide) view.

  • A week ago, the Masters and the British Open, the two most global of golf's major tournaments, announced a joint creation of a new event, the Asian Amateur Championship, whose winner will receive a coveted spot in the Masters field and an exemption into the final stage of British Open qualifying. The inaugural version will be played on Oct. 29-Nov. 1 at Mission Hills Country Club in China. Since it opened in 1992, Mission Hills has become the world's largest country club, with 12 courses, four clubhouses, three spas, two golf academies and a five-star hotel (never mind the 51 tennis courts) occupying a landmass equaling five New York Central Parks. In the past decade and a half since the government embraced golf, the number of Chinese players has risen from 30,000 to 2.5 million. Golf-wise and money-wise, it's a rather flush country at the moment.In the tournament's birth announcement, Peter Dawson, chief executive of the Royal & Ancient Golf Society, which among other duties runs the British Open, said, "We do feel the main potential for growth is in Asia. America and the U.K. have plateaued. Growth in the game lies in these other territories. Our fields from the majors now are coming from a wide range of countries. I believe it's wise for majors to reinvest in these countries."
  • The European PGA Tour's answer to the PGA Tour's much-maligned FedExCup playoffs? The $10 million "Race to Dubai." No, France hasn't annexed the UAE -- more likely, it would be the other way around. It's just the Euro Tour continuing its expansion beyond Europe. Indeed, the 2009 season begins with tournaments in China, Hong Kong, Australia, South Africa, Thailand, the UAE, Qatar, the UAE again, Malaysia, Australia again and Indonesia before starting the European swing in March in Portugal. Then it goes back to China and South Korea before returning to Spain.The Race to Dubai -- a joint venture between the European Tour and Leisurecorp, a company owned by the Dubai government -- will conclude in mid-November with the world's richest golf tournament, the Dubai World Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates, with $2 million going to the winner of the bonus pool and $250,000 to the 15th-place finisher. Not very long ago, there was concern that the Euro Tour wouldn't survive due to its best players fleeing to the U.S. in search of bigger paydays and better competition. Now young American hotshots like Anthony Kim are playing enough overseas tournaments to make sure they're eligible for the Race to Dubai. As I believe a golf pro once said, the times, they are a changin'. Indeed, both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have expressed interest in hosting the 2018 Ryder Cup -- a once-laughable prospect that's now well within the realm of possibility.
  • Speaking of Dubai, it will soon be the home of the first Tiger Woods-designed golf course, at Al Ruwaya Golf Club. (Sources estimate Woods may bank more than $20 million on the deal when all is said and done.) More veteran American architects have gone abroad in the search for shovel-ready projects, as the phrase goes. Robert Trent Jones II has 14 new courses or renovations slated to open in 2009; only five are stateside. Pete Dye is currently building the first course on Roatan, the largest of Honduras' Bay Islands, called the Black Pearl at Pristine Bay. Schmidt-Curley Design, which built 10 of the 12 Mission Hills courses, has gone so far as to open a second Asian office last month, in Kunming, China.
  • The LPGA Tour will return with an event in Los Angeles after a five-year Tinseltown hiatus. What does this have to do with foreign money? The deal is funded by JoongAng Broadcasting Corp. of Korea, whose J Golf division will get near-exclusive LPGA broadcast rights in Korea until 2014. Last year's big LPGA story was the proposed, highly controversial (and quickly shelved) "English-proficiency" policy. As recent events have reminded, money is the true international language.

Evan Rothman is a freelance writer living in Staatsburg, N.Y., and senior writer for

Golfweek. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Men's Journal and other leading publications.