By Patrick Johnston
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The political turf war between the Asian Tour and rival OneAsia has created a messy environment that has ruled out the involvement of global golf sponsor HSBC, the bank's head of sponsorship Giles Morgan told Reuters.
The two golf circuits have been at loggerheads since OneAsia's inception in 2009 with tournaments swapping hands and the Asian Tour fining their members who competed in their rival's events.
Four members won a restraint of trade case against the Asian Tour in December over the penalties and the rivalry of the duo is set to continue next month when OneAsia's season-opening event, the Thailand Open, goes up against the Asian Tour's Avantha Masters in India on March 14.
The criticism, court cases and confusion were best avoided, said HSBC.
"We absolutely support that we would want to see a clear hierarchy for golf in Asia, there is so much potential and growth here, but I don't want to be involved in it, no," Morgan told Reuters in Singapore on Tuesday ahead of the HSBC Women's Champions event which starts on Thursday.
"In this part of the world it hasn't always been politically plain sailing in golf. We sit above it, so that is not an issue for us."
The lofty perch comes through their World Golf Championship (WGC) HSBC Champions event in Shanghai, China, with an eye-catching $8.5-million prize fund in October.
As one of four WGC events, the tournament is run by the International Federation of PGA Tours, whose members include the U.S. PGA Tour, the European Tour, the Japan Golf Tour, the Australasia Tour, the Sunshine Tour and the Asian Tour.
"That is why we were delighted to be a World Golf Championship event, the reason we absolutely mandated that," Morgan said, happy to be dealing with one united voice.
"Certainly sitting at the top table of golf is a good place for a sponsor to be."
Even with the elevated position, Morgan and HSBC have encountered problems.
Last year's tournament did not feature the sport's two top-ranked players, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, who opted to compete in a lucrative head-to-head duel elsewhere in China. The players said they could not take part in every event in a schedule that has grown significantly.
Morgan described the snub as 'disappointing' and warned that the bank's involvement could end, but he was confident that the new three-year contract extension they had signed, which increased prize money and key ranking points, would help to avoid a repeat scenario.
"I know the European and PGA Tour of America are acutely aware that if you are a big sponsor of one of the 15 big events, which are very expensive to put on, that sponsors are all requiring the top players to play. It is a very difficult balance and one I feel the game of golf needs to police rather than sponsors.
"If the World Golf Championship doesn't offer us value for money at the end of the three years it is quite a simple decision - we don't do it.
"I hope it does as there is nothing more we can do. The way we sponsor golf tournaments is as good a way as you can. The Tours are acutely aware the last thing they want to do is lose the top brands."
With the China event, the $2.7-million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on the men's European Tour, the British Open men's major, an LPGA event in Brazil and this week's LPGA tournament, which has attracted the elite of the women's game, Morgan believes their sponsorship portfolio is full, probably.
"We never say never," said Morgan, whose company also heavily invest in junior golf, including the China Junior Golf team which helped to bring through 14-year-old Asia-Pacific amateur champion Guan Tianlang,
With a saturated market and multiple professional events taking place each week in all corners of the world, less is more.
"All successful sports run the risk of over-exposure," he said.
"There is a lot of golf for sure and a lot of events, that's why I think it is important, if you are a sponsor, if you can find an event that makes you stand out."
(Editing by Clare Fallon)