Struggling OneAsia's foothold in Australia under threat

By Nick Mulvenney SYDNEY (Reuters) - OneAsia's continuing presence in Australia looked far from assured as the seventh season of the struggling Asia-Pacific golf tour drew to a close in Sydney last weekend. The PGA of Australia was one of the main driving forces behind the establishment of OneAsia in 2009 but in June it dropped the tour from its oldest event, the Australian PGA Championship. The European Tour will instead debut as co-sanctioners of the tournament on the Gold Coast this week, leaving the Australian Open as the last remaining stop Down Under on a shrinking OneAsia schedule. Asked about the long-term future of the relationship between the Australian Open and OneAsia at the weekend, Golf Australia chief executive Stephen Pitt was non-committal. "I guess, it's hard to look at it for the next four or five years because it's a very dynamic area, there's a lot going on with tours," he told reporters on Sunday. "So at the moment we're looking at some of those things with our commercial partner Lagardere ... we'll make those decisions at the appropriate time. "There'll be some tour options without a doubt. But I'd say it's an interesting time in terms of the tour landscape." The interesting times have been brought about by talks over a proposed merger between the fast-expanding European Tour and the Asian Tour, a player-run organization that preceded OneAsia and bitterly opposed its establishment. Pitt said the decision over the future alignment of the tournament would ultimately be taken by Lagardere, formerly the World Sport Group, and Golf Australia. Lagardere are a major player in the Asian golf market and have been long-time global marketing and media partner of the OneAsia tour. Mark Hardess, their president of southeast Asia and Australia, did not want to specifically discuss the relative merits of aligning with various tours but did explain the reasons for co-sanctioning. "For us, the more can link Australia to Asia and the huge population up there, hopefully that's a bigger and better proposition and brings money back into the event," he told Reuters on Sunday. "Particularly on our broadcast platform. We try and get Chinese, Japanese, Korean, southeast Asian players in there because people obviously follow their own. "So that's the whole purpose of looking to sanction with whatever partner up in Asia is to get Asian lads in here so they get seen on television up there and people follow us. "OneAsia was the link into Asia but it could have been with any Asian tour, we could have just gone to the Japanese, to the Koreans, to the Chinese. OneAsia was just one conversation instead of three." The prospect of a tour that could bring big names from not only Asia but also Europe might be highly attractive to an event like the Australian Open, which has been revived from a fairly moribund state over the last few years. PARLOUS STATE It was the generally parlous state of the Australasian tour, with its best homegrown talent heading to the U.S. and Europe and cut off from the potential riches of the Asian market, that led to the formation of OneAsia. With the Australian PGA, China Golf Association, Korean Golf Association and the Korean PGA on board, the new tour was launched with ambitious plans of 20-to-30 events a year each with a prize purse above one million dollars. But for branding on the TV pictures, however, you would have hardly have noticed that last weekend's Australian Open was the final stop on its schedule. South Korea's Moon Kyong-jun was crowned Order of Merit winner after the event but there was no presentation as he was not among the OneAsia members playing at the Australian Golf Club. The schedule was reduced to seven events this year after the cancellation of the Indonesian PGA and China Masters as well as the loss of the Australian PGA. "We've struggled, it's been a difficult year," David Parkin, OneAsia's Director of Tour Operations, told Reuters on a Sunday as he fulfilled his role a co-tournament director. "But we're still offering our members the chance to earn good money and play in big tournaments and that's what it's about at the end of the day. "Hopefully we'll have a couple more tournaments next year, we're hoping to have the China Masters and the Indonesian PGA back," he added. "I'm positive about the future." (Editing by Patrick Johnston)