Asia's biggest golf tours have reached a landmark agreement to form a new Asia-Pacific "super-series", it was announced yesterday.
The China Golf Association, the Japan Golf Tour, the PGA of Australia, Korea Golf Association and the Korea PGA said they had signed a memorandum of understanding to create an elite competition for the best golfers in the region.
However, the Asian Tour, the only existing pan-Asian circuit, opted not to join the super series having repeatedly accused its creators of trying to muscle in on its turf.
The series will be launched this year with six events but will be extended in 2010.
"This series of elite tournaments has been planned and prepared for a very long period of time and we are delighted that it's finally in place now," Zhang Xiaoning, the executive vice-president of the China Golf Association, said in a joint statement.
Max Garske, the chief executive of the PGA of Australia, said yesterday's announcement was just the first major step in a long-term plan to establish an even bigger Asian tour.
"The Asia Pacific region needs to collectively be the master of the destiny of professional tournament golf in this region," he said.
"The formation of a consolidated Asia-Pacific tournament series is the first exciting stage of this process.
"This will go a long way to developing a strong pathway for players of this region."
The inaugural series will start with the China Open in April and end with the Australian PGA Championship in December.
Meanwhile, Japanese schoolboy sensation Ryo Ishikawa will become the second youngest player to compete at the US Masters after receiving a special invitation on Thursday.
The 17-year-old professional, already a household name in his homeland, will make his major debut on April 9.
"At a young age Mr. Ishikawa has shown the skill and competitiveness to make him a deserving recipient of this invitation," Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne said in a statement.
"We see this as an opportunity to expose an emerging talent on a world stage and fulfil our objective to grow the game. I am optimistic his participation in the Masters will inspire younger players and increase interest in golf in Asia and beyond."
Ishikawa, who helped Asia beat Europe to claim the Royal Trophy earlier this month, will be 17 years, six months and 23 days when the opening major of the season starts.
American Tommy Jacobs, who played in his first Masters as an amateur in 1952, was 17 years, one month and 21 days.
Ishikawa, widely seen as the potential savior of the flagging JGTO men's tour, is set to make his US PGA Tour debut in next month's Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club.
Nicknamed the "Bashful Prince" because of his unassuming demeanor, he shot to fame in May 2007 when he became the youngest winner on the Japanese tour at 15 years, eight months.
His victory at the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup in a remarkable debut shattered the previous record held by Spain's Seve Ballesteros, who won the 1977 Japan Open aged 20 years, seven months.
Ishikawa won his first tournament as a professional in November at the ABC Championship after joining the paid ranks at the start of 2008.
Last year he became the youngest player to win 100 million yen (US$1.11 million) in a single season on the Japanese tour.
(Agencies via Shanghai Daily January 24, 2009)