By Kent Gray
The MENA Tour’s foggy post-COVID future is finally “crystal clear” and all roads lead to Asia.
After more than a year of behind-the-scenes collaboration, MENA Tour Commissioner David Spencer confirmed on Wednesday the regional developmental circuit is close to finalising a game-changing partnership with the Singapore-based Asian Tour.
The blueprint is to “mould” the MENA and the Asian Development Tours into the “most comprehensive and innovative development tour in men’s professional golf, outside of the United States”.
Just as the second-tier Korn Ferry Tour is the feeder circuit to the PGA Tour, the MENA/Asian DT offshoot will provide a pathway to a re-energised Asian Tour, the details of which are soon be revealed after the circuit was put on ice following the outbreak of COVID-19.
While the PGA Tour’s historic strategic alliance with the European Tour (announced Nov. 27) has been the most significant development in the world of golf since the outbreak of the pandemic, the quiet manoeuvrings of the Asian Tour should not be underestimated.
Sources continue to hint at a link to Golf Saudi and more loosely with the cash-rich, Kingdom-backed Super Golf League, the demise of which appears to have been hastily reported.
The MENA Tour, via the Asian Tour partnership, has decided to back the ambitious Saudi plan to reinvent the professional game. A major powerbroker in the shake-up is young Asian Tour Commissioner and CEO, Cho Minn Thant. He was promoted to the top job in July 2019 after more than a decade working several key roles with the organisation, most recently as Chief Operating Officer.
“I’ve long been keen on seeing golf harness some younger administrators. Cho has clearly articulated his vision for the Asian Tour and I believe in his vision,” Spencer said.
“I’ve always wanted to find the MENA Tour the right home and partner and I believe this is it. And this is just the beginning.”
Spencer is convinced just announced changes to how the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) will be calculated from August 2022 will make it harder for players to graduate from the Korn Ferry and Challenge Tours to the PGA and European Tours respectively and could even kill off many smaller development circuits around the globe. The PGA-European Tour alliance is also likely to limit playing opportunties, further narrowing the pathway to the elite level for the game’s next generation. That double-whammy has the Thai-based Australian administrator convinved a combined MENA-Asia Development Tour will be a boon for the region’s best up and coming talent.
“Sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make the perfect omelette,” he said.
Golf Digest Middle East understands a schedule of between 12-15 events, including tournaments in the Middle East, is likely in 2021-2022 and could build to a maximum of 25 events over time. The goal, as opposed to a packed schedule, is richer prize purses than previous US$75,000 MENA Tour events, cheaper entry fees and more opportunities at the elite level, firstly on the Asian Tour and, presumably, the Super Golf League if it takes flight.
“To be clear, what we are putting together is not going to be perfect straight away, especially not in what is something of a transitional year as we mould the tours together,” Spencer said. “But as we’ve always strived to do, we’ll eventually get to perfect or as close as we possibly can.”
Wednesday’s announcement comes after two failed attempts to reschedule the five 2020 events postponed when the MENA Tour shut down on March 4 last year, and to play a full 2021 schedule after that. The first plan included a lock-in at the tour’s destination partner, Ayla Resort in Aqaba, Jordan, the second a wider travelling bubble taking in Jordan, Oman and the UAE.
Now it seems likely events as early as December are on the cards as part of a new, more powerful joint tour. What Spencer did guarantee is that all members of the MENA Tour in 2020/21 will be able to renew their membership for 2022 and there will not be a Q-School until later in the 2022 calendar for the 2023 season.
“Cho has been working tirelessly since the commencement of the COVID-19 pandemic to protect his tour and create an even better future for his players. He realises that a tour must demonstrate and invest in a clear pathway to attract players and provide them with a future.
“It is because of this vision and set of beliefs that the MENA Tour and the Asian Development Tour will escalate dialogue to create the most comprehensive and innovative development tour in men’s professional golf, outside of the United States, to inspire the next generation and to be an expanded development pathway to the Asian Tour and beyond.”