Officials of the Asian PGA Tour which began its 2007 season last month are heralding the start of a "golden era" for professional golf in the region – and Thailand golf courses and stars will figure prominently. A bumper schedule consisting of a minimum of 29 events with an all-time high of US$26.5 million in total prize money await Asia’s best golfers in their chase for the coveted UBS Order of Merit crown.
Established names will include Thai stalwart Thongchai Jaidee, who was the winner of the season-ending Volvo Masters of Asia held at the Thai Country Club last December and who achieved a highly creditable 14th place in January at the Abu Dhabi Championship European PGA Tour event. Thongchai will be joined by compatriots Thaworn Wiratchant, Prom Meesawat, third on the ranking last year, and teenage phenomenon Chinarat Phadungsil, already a two-time winner. The major events on the Asian Tour in 2007 will include the Barclays Singapore Open, which at US$4 million will be Asia’s richest national Open, the UBS Hong Kong Open, the Volvo China Open, the BMW Asian Open, the HSBC Champions tournament, the Maybank Malaysian Open, the Volvo Masters of Asia and the Johnnie Walker Classic, the latter tri-sanctioned by the European, Asian and Australasian PGA Tours.
The Johnnie Walker Classic, Asia’s premier golf event, will be played next week at Blue Canyon Country Club in Phuket, March 1 – 4. Heading the customary star-studded field will be three of the world’s top ten players: Adam Scott, and Retief Goosen, currently ranked 4 and 6 in the world respectively, South African Ernie Els, the world number 5, plus English Ryder Cup star, Paul Casey, winner of the Abu Dhabi Championship and currently ranked 15 in the world.
Phuket and the Blue Canyon Country Club are no strangers to the Johnnie Walker Classic having played host to the tournament on two previous occasions. (The only other club in Thailand to host this event was Alpine Golf and Sports Club in Bangkok in 2000 and 2004). Firstly in 1994 Blue Canyon was the scene of Greg Norman’s dramatic victory when the Australian reclaimed the world number one ranking from England’s Nick Faldo after almost withdrawing from the tournament due to a lung infection. Then in 1998 Tiger Woods, whose mother Kutilda is Thai, staged a stunning comeback from eight shots behind and then outclassed defending champion Ernie Els in a playoff to capture the title. There is a commemorative plaque on the 18th hole of the Canyon course showing where Tiger’s enormous drive landed in his final round.
Since 1998, Blue Canyon has undergone substantial changes including the construction and subsequent upgrading last year of the Lakes Course, which is now on par with the Canyon Course over which the Johnnie Walker Classic will be contested. The Canyon course has undergone a program of ‘fine tuning’ to ensure the layout provides a searching test for the 156 professionals who will be playing next week. A number of new tees were constructed and fairways re-shaped in what is only the first phase of a development program to further enhance the stature and testing nature of the course.
Tomorrow I will continue this post a full Asian PGA tour calendar, so those having an interest in combining a golf holiday with some professional golf tournament viewing can make plans accordingly. In the meantime feel free to contact me at my Thailand golf vacation company and I will gladly answer any questions about this years Asian PGA tournament lineup.