China mega-event planned?
Rory McIlroy winning the inaugural Shanghai Masters (AFP)
Shanghai - The European Tour has held talks with China’s controversial new golf tournament, the Lake Malaren Shanghai Masters, and would consider sanctioning the "impressive" megabucks event.
Ben Cowan, the tour's deputy director of international policy, met the tournament's founder, property tycoon Shi Jian, and his executive director son Janson Shi, just before last week's HSBC Champions.
"We visited the Lake Malaren Shanghai Masters last week where the venue facilities and presentation of the event were certainly impressive," said Cowan.
"If the European Tour were to be officially asked to sanction the event in the future we would certainly consider the opportunity as we would any other potential event," he said.
Lake Malaren is contentious in the golf world because it is not sanctioned by any major tour, meaning it carries no rankings points for players.
But it drew a top-quality field for last month's $5 million inaugural edition which included a whopping first prize of $2 million, picked up by US Open champion Rory McIlroy.
The flashy new tournament took some of the gloss off the more established and multi-sanctioned HSBC Champions, which took place a week later in the same city.
"A lot of people are upset and unhappy. Having two big tournaments back-to-back in one city is unheard of and has taken the spotlight off of the Champions," said a member of the European Tour staff who asked not be named.
Cowan said that Lake Malaren, which was also slammed as a "vanity" tournament by Asian Tour boss Kyi Hla Han, would be boosted by joining an established tour.
"The event would clearly benefit were it to be integrated into the organisational structure of professional golf and therefore receive world ranking points," he said.
The European Tour's stance differs from the US PGA, whose tour commissioner Tim Finchem ruled out sanctioning any more events in Asia because of a planned schedule revamp which would see autumn starts for its seasons from 2013.
Meanwhile HSBC sponsorship chief Giles Morgan denied Malaren has prompted a speeding-up of plans to move the HSBC Champions to the Mission Hills complex in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong.
"Any move from the Sheshan International course and away from Shanghai will have absolutely nothing to do with the arrival of Lake Malaren," Morgan said.
"We have been in talks with the Mission Hills course in Shenzhen for a while about moving the event to southern China," he said.
"Our contract at Sheshan comes to an end in 2013 and there are other mitigating issues. So we are looking at our options."
But Morgan added that HSBC also had the power to pull its sponsorship of the Champions tournament, which has been a mainstay of Asian golf since 2005.
"We are not a golf brand. We have the ability not to sponsor it. We are not so sucked in. If it doesn’t work, we’ll do something else," he said.
"They (Lake Malaren) are going to get one tour sanction, and that is by no means clear. We are sanctioned by all the tours," Morgan added.
"What they’ve done, in a positively opportunistic way, is to rise off the back of our tournament. That happens in every sport in the world.
"But they are not going to become a world golf championship and won’t have our status, so that’s why I am not worried...Ours is the established event. We give people better value. There is no comparison."
The Shis are happy to keep their event "special" until it is established, and it is rumoured the purse will be increased up to $8 million next year - putting it alongside the sport's richest tournaments.
"But we are hoping we will get approached by one of the tours and sanctioned, maybe as early as next year. It is our plan," Janson Shi said.