PULAU UJONG (AFP) – The Asian Tour announced on Sunday plans to restart its coronavirus-ravaged season in September after a six-month suspension, but players may have to travel alone despite restrictions beginning to ease across the world’s most populous continent.
The tour, which has been suspended since American Trevor Simsby won the Malaysia Open on March 7, told AFP it aims to tee off again at the Shinhan Donghae Open from September 10 to 13 in South Korea, the first of three events in consecutive weeks.
The $1.181 million tournament at Bear’s Best Cheongna Golf Club, Incheon, will be played under COVID-19 travel and distancing protocols which could mean few spectators and players using local caddies.
“We are targeting between 10 to 12 events from September to December,” Asian Tour Commissioner and CEO Cho Minn Thant told AFP, with the tour calendar almost certainly extending into the new year before transitioning into the 2021 season.
“Unlike domestic markets, we understand international travel will slowly restart in phases and the ultimate lifting of quarantine periods will determine the tour’s ability to resume full-scale operations,” Cho added.
“If we need to minimise the number of foreign travellers travelling into a host country, we may have to do without private caddies, entourages, and support staff,” admitted Cho.
“It is possible that only players and essential staff are permitted to travel.”
The last of golf’s three leading men’s circuits to announce a return to action, the Asian Tour is faced with a complex international schedule that necessitates players from more than 25 countries crossing borders for each tournament.
The US PGA Tour will make an eagerly anticipated return on Thursday, without spectators but with a star-studded field including the world’s top five players, at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas.
The European Tour has announced a six-event “UK Swing” to begin next month with the British Masters.
– ‘Travel predicament’ –
“We are targeting a conservative restart in September because of the current predicament with restrictions on air travel and large gatherings,” Cho said.
The $950,000 Mercuries Taiwan Masters from September 17 to 20 and the $1.4 million Panasonic Open in Japan from September 24 to 27 will complete the opening mini-swing in three countries where lockdown and travel restrictions have already been eased.
Discussions are taking place for an event in South East Asia in October before an “Indian Swing” of three tournaments in October and November with the Panasonic Open, the rescheduled Indian Open and a possible new event in Delhi, though dates are yet to be confirmed.
“There is a prospect of the tour travelling to China and culminating with a stretch which includes the Hong Kong Open and Mauritius Open in the later part of the year,” said Cho.
“During this period, if things go our way, there may also be a couple of new events.”
Cho recognised the huge logistical challenge for the majority of the tour’s players who live outside countries where tournaments are staged.
“We anticipate that there may be some restrictions for travellers from certain countries when we resume.
“If this is the case, we will still start as planned with players who can travel, and assess the impact and severity of the disadvantage for those who cannot,” said Cho.
Australia’s Wade Ormsby, who won the Hong Kong Open in January, leads the fledgling 2020 Order of Merit but only four tournaments have been completed.