By Andrew Both
SHANGHAI, Nov 3 (Reuters) - The U.S. PGA Tour continued its growth into Asia on Sunday with the announcement of a new developmental circuit to be launched in China next year.
PGA Tour China will feature 12 events with fields, not restricted to Chinese players, expected to be between 120 and 156 players and purses around $200,000.
Qualifying events will be played early next year, with details still being finalised.
The new venture was launched by PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, China Golf Association (CGA) chief Zhang Xiaoning and China Olympic Sports Industry (COSI) president Sun Liping at the WGC HSBC Champions event.
"We are very pleased to announce the establishment of PGA Tour China, which builds upon our longstanding relationship with the China Golf Association," Finchem said.
"PGA Tour China will provide open competition on a quality tour for elite players from China and other countries and the opportunity to advance to the world stage.
"We plan to provide access to the Web.com Tour for the season's top players."
The PGA Tour already owns and operates two tours outside the United States - PGA Tour LatinoAmerica and PGA Tour Canada - but a move into the world's second largest economy could upset its rivals.
Finchem, though, dismissed concerns that the new tour would pose a threat to the European and OneAsia Tours, which have had a presence in China for several years.
"We don't see any effect on either OneAsia or the European Tour's interests in co-sanctioning events in certain places," he said.
"Matter of fact, if we're just talking about China, the extent to which they accelerate those things would be a positive. It is an avenue for elite player participation."
The European Tour has been playing official money tournaments in China since 2004, holding two events there this year, while the OneAsia Tour is scheduled to hold four of its 11 in the country this year.
PGA Tour China won't be an immediate threat to the European or OneAsia Tours because of the small purses but that might change should it prove successful and grow.
The new Tour follows the introduction of the PGA Tour's first fully fledged event in Southeast Asia at last week's $7 million CIMB Classic in Malaysia.
Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat came close to winning that event and has received invites to play in further PGA Tour tournaments.
China will be hoping for similar opportunities for their players such as Guan Tianlang, who made the cut at this year's U.S. Masters aged 14, and Ye Wocheng, who became the youngest player to take part on the European Tour when he missed the cut at the China Open in May.
"We have seen great advancement of Chinese elite golfer development in the last few years, and the creation of this tour is the next positive step forward for this sport in China," Zhang said.
"This will raise the level of golf in China even further and prepare players from China to participate in the Olympics and other significant global competitions. We are happy to partner with the PGA Tour, the world's leading golf organization, and to work together in this effort." (Editing by Patrick Johnston)