PGA Tour global takeover continues forward momentum with acquisition of Canadian Tour
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

O Canada!

Commissioner Tim Finchem announced on Thursday that the PGA Tour is assuming “operational control” of the Canadian Tour, which will become re-branded as PGA Tour Canada. The conversion process will begin on November 1st and PGA Tour Canada will be up and running for the 2013 season.

The takeover didn’t come as a surprise since the PGA Tour bailed out the floundering Canadian Professional Golf Tour in 2012, lending its strategic and financial support to the dwindling mini-tour circuit.

The kicker of the deal: Similar to the partnership made last year with Tour de las Américas to form PGA Tour Latinoamérica, PGA Tour Canada will serve as a pathway to the Web.com Tour.  The top-five finishers on the money list will earn playing privileges to the PGA Tour’s developmental circuit (the no. 1 player would have full exempt status and the other four would have conditional status, but “reasonable access”), and the next five will be exempt to the finals of Web.com Q-school.

Basically, it’s MLB system — the Web.com Tour is like Triple-A baseball, and PGA Tour Canada and Latinoamérica are the Double-A leagues. I guess that would make the other domestic tours Single-A — i.e. the eGolf Tour, the NGA Hooters Tour.

It’s all coming together now, isn’t it? The Tour launched a massive overhaul of the its traditional qualifying system that dates back to 1965, fondly known as Q-school with the grueling three (and four if you count the pre-qualifier) stages of Q-school, which culminates in the top-25 finishers of the six-round final event earning a spot on the PGA Tour. The 2012 Q-school finals in December will be the last one before the revamped plan —  the Web.com Tour Finals — takes over.

Details on the PGA Tour Canada’s schedule have yet to be finalized, but it will debut with a minimum of eight tournaments in 2013 offering a minimum purse of $150,000. The goal is eventually to increase it to 12 or 13 events. All will be held in Canada during the summer months.

The PGA Tour Latinoamérica has debuted this fall with 11 events in seven countries. The grand plan the powers-that-be envision is to have a split spring-fall schedule in Latin America, and then summer in Canada — that way players qualifying for both Tours will have the opportunity to play some form a year-long schedule. However, both Tours will conduct their own qualifying tournaments for membership. In other words, it’s not going to be exactly easy for the “double-A” or “single-A” players, especially financially — entry fee for q-schools and most of all, travel expenses, particularly to Latin America.

But wait, why is the Tour bailing out Canada? Just a charitable act for our northern neighbors? Perhaps to grow the game? Maybe to sign lucrative network deals and secure more of a stronghold on the pro golf circuit? Or more simply: cash money.

“I think that we felt the events themselves were managed well but I think fundamentally here we’re looking at the need to continue a couple of things,” said Finchem in a teleconference.  “One, elite player development in Canada.  But also we recognize that the Canadian golf fan is a great supporter of our telecast in Canada.  So we have a lot of reach in Canada.  We have a number of sponsors in Canada.  So we have an ongoing relationship with the Royal Canadian Golf Association.

“So we have an awful lot of activity there now.  We see this Tour as important to maintain the thread of being able to say to new players, here’s an avenue that’s available to you.  And the combination of being able to strengthen these events and add to that, the goal of moving to the Web.com Tour, which now starting next year will be the pathway, the pathway to the PGA Tour, which is a fundamental difference in the way our qualifying is hopefully we’ll have the impact of stimulating interest to young players to take advantage of that route.

“It’s important to be done regionally, and it makes all the sense in the world to be operating in an area where we have such very strong interest the game of golf.”

Look out for similar deals with Australia and Asia to be announced soon! Speaking of which, it’s been noted that the new qualifying system for the PGA Tour will be the most disadvantageous for players from those parts of the world.

“Now there is a way you can go to the Web.com Tour in South America,” said Finchem. “Now there is a way can you go in Canada.  That will attract players from Australia.  Because these two Tours now will come up in stature in terms of the kind of competition they are and because largely because of the nature of the players.  Behind that, would be the structure of the Tour.  Then from then on, it’s how well a player plays.”

“I do think that in both cases making the early stage of qualifying very available on a cost standpoint to more players by playing the early qualifying there in South America, not waiting for players to come to the United States, same thing in Canada, we hope has the impact of creating a growing number of elite players in both areas.  With the focus on golf going into the Olympics in 2016, there is a lot of interest in these countries for that happening.

“From the standpoint of the U.S., the future of the U.S. Tour and global golf generally, clearly the more elite players that come from these players is a positive thing as well. The more diversity internationally, the more global feel of the sport, the stronger it is as a global property, regardless of how these various tours, us and Canada and Asia map out.  So 30 years from now we’ll look back and see these steps have caused an impact.”

What say you, Aussies and Asians? Are you more likely to grind it out in Latin America and Canada than your home tours? I’m not seeing the appeal if I’m Seung-yul Noh (ranked no. 91 in the OWGR and 47th on the money list this year) or Sang Moon Bae (ranked no. 50 and 77th in money) — both of whom earned their cards on the PGA Tour last December at Q-school.

Finchem claims he hasn’t thought about acquiring any other tours to add to the Canada and Latin America models yet.

“The game of golf is a global game,” said Finchem when asked if he envisioned adding to the Tour’s current portfolio of pathways to “graduate” to the bigs.  “The competition at this level and the organization of it is going to continue to move down the path of being organized on a global basis.  Maybe in some people’s minds, a snail’s pace, but I think it will continue to move in that direction. Now where that leads well after my watch, I don’t know.  But I think there are all kinds of permutations that are out there that could be harnessed in years to come.”

Doesn’t sound like it will happen any time in the near future.

There was some discontent voiced on Twitter over the Tour expanding beyond its borders and not helping the struggling mini tours in the U.S.

2011 PGA champ and 2012 Ryder Cup team member Keegan Bradley tweeted:

Sounds like the NGA Tour, just one of many of the single-A leagues in the U.S., has approached the PGA Tour about forming a partnership on various occasions but to no avail.

So why hasn’t the PGA Tour pursued a deal? Money (TV, sponsors, etc.). They already have a monopoly on the U.S. market share, so it’s probably not worth pursuing.

(Photo via Golf Canada)