ASEAN Tour looks to expand after encouraging start

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SINGAPORE, Nov 12 (Reuters) The ASEAN Tour is still in its infancy but after only three events the region's newest circuit is targeting huge development in Southeast Asian golf.

Launched in September with a five-stop calendar, tour executive chairman AC Wong expects to double that number next year to fulfil a promise of hosting ''one tournament in each of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries''.

''We are extremely pleased with the way things have gone so far,'' Wong told Reuters after the final round of the Laguna National ASEAN Championship in Singapore at the weekend.

''One thing that is very encouraging over the last three events is that we had a lot of younger professionals coming forward. These are the people who are hungry for tournaments and we are providing them with that opportunity.'' The tour was founded with a mission to provide players from the 10-nation ASEAN group a chance to compete in tournaments on a regular basis after reaching a conclusion that the Asian Tour was doing little to help a majority of players from the region.

However, with only ASEAN nationals allowed to participate in events, early plans that would have rewarded the top players on the order of merit with Asian Tour cards for next season have been dashed.

PLAYER BACKING The Asian Tour has not taken too kindly to the limited eligibility and is refusing to recognise its newest rival, although the ASEAN Tour has received the backing of nearly all the professionals based in the region.

''There really isn't the opportunity to play on the Asian Tour for ASEAN players,'' Chris Johnson, senior vice president golf at tour stakeholders World Sport Group said.

''Once you strip out all the co-sanctioned events on the Asian Tour where only the top-60 can participate, you are left with around 11 tournaments on the schedule,'' he added.

''Those top-60 pretty much secure their cards for the next season at those co-sanctioned tournaments, leaving a majority of Asian players short of events to play in.

''Our motivation is to give young, aspiring ASEAN players a chance to compete.'' While the Asian Tour snub could be regarded as a setback, the support of its players is a huge boost that will also encourage more local professionals to turn out for their home tournaments.

''As long as we don't have an Asian Tour commitment I will come and play ASEAN Tour events,'' Filipino Angelo Que said after winning the ,000 Laguna National event on 20-under par.

''I live in the Philippines, an ASEAN member, so I am here to support this tour as it represents opportunities for everyone, especially the guys who cannot get onto the Asian Tour,'' added Que, who is also chairman of the Asian Tour Tournament Players Committee.

''It's almost like a stepping stone for them. The pressure of playing in tournaments will help them make the step up to another level.'' REUTERS SSC RK1415

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