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Singapore Open tees off ambitious Asian women’s golf investment by Hana Financial Group

(L-R) Managing director of Mediapro Asia, Lars Heidenreich; Kyung Ja Kim, Executive Director, KLPGA; women’s golf legend, Seri Pak; Hana Financial Group Chairman, Jung-tai Kim; Singapore Golf Association President, Ross Tan; and President of Tanah Merah Country Club, Ho Beng Huat at the launch of the inaugural Hana Financial Group Singapore Women’s Open.

Korean finance firm Hana Financial Group is title sponsoring a new women’s golf tournament in Singapore this year, as part of an ambitious wider plan to create an Asian women’s series and ranking.

Hana, already an active sponsor of women’s golf through partnerships with tournaments and players in its home market, is stepping up its investment in the women’s game, aiming to capitalise on its growing popularity and to build a platform for Asian playing talent that it says does not currently exist.

The company is working with a host of golf rights-holders on the project, including the R&A and the golf associations of Korea, China, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Hana is also working with the Mediapro agency, whose first task is selling the commercial rights for the new Singapore Open. 

To underpin the project, Hana has created the Asian Golf Leaders Forum, an non-profit organisation based in Korea whose membership includes the golf associations listed above. The AGLF’s ‘mission statement’ includes: assisting member associations with the development of golf; conducting the Asian Ladies Professional Golf Series; and hosting an annual congress of member associations. 

The Asian Ladies Professional Golf Series starts this year and will involve five existing tournaments and one new tournament. The five existing tournaments are the Hana Financial Group Championship in Korea, the Korea Women’s Open, the Taiwan Women’s Open, the Asian Airline Open in China, and the Hyosung Championship in Vietnam. The new tournament is the Hana Financial Group Singapore Women’s Open. It is planned that further new tournaments will be established and added to the series.

Paul Park, director of sports marketing at Hana Financial Group, told SportBusiness that the series would not compete with existing women’s tours in Asia, and the vision was akin to the Rolex Series in the men’s European Tour – a set of events that sit inside existing tours and calendars, but with elevated status and special prizes.

“The AGLF is not a sanctioning body, and therefore has no plan to compete with existing tours in Asia,” he said. “The new series is envisioned to be similar to the Rolex series on the European Tour in Asia. The series schedule will not interfere with most major tournaments sanctioned by Asian golf associations and will continue to be adjusted as we search for the optimal schedule for the progress of professional Asian women’s golf…The AGLF has a very important role in listening to and finding a compromise between all parties concerned with the development of golf in Asia.”

A ranking will be established based on Asian players’ performances during the series, with prize money and a trophy for the ‘Asian Player of the Year’. Park said it was planned that the ranking system would start from the Taiwan Women’s Open on March 3, with the first awards at the end of this year.

There is no plan yet for a unified commercial structure for the ALPGS, Park told SportBusiness, but he said the “matter will be discussed with all concerned parties, with the main aim of channelling profits to develop women’s golf in Asia”.

Mediapro Asia’s managing director Lars Heidenreich told SportBusiness that the stakeholders in the AGLF and ALGPS were “not getting ahead of themselves” as regards a unified commercial structure. For a start, the existing tournaments on the series have existing commercial and media partners. “I think we need to take the first step before we really worry about marketing commercial rights to a tour where we’re still 11 months away from having first tee-off in Singapore,” he said.

Mediapro’s involvement in the new project came about via its pre-existing commercial relationship with the Singapore Golf Association, for which it manages marketing and media rights.

Asian player focus

At the heart of the new project is a desire to create a platform for Asian women golfers, separate to the existing tours and rankings, in order to aid the development of the sport in the region. Top Asian women’s golfers currently participate in the US-based LGPA and Europe-based LET tours, as well as in domestic tours such as those in Korea and Japan. Both the LPGA and LET tours – which recently announced a merger – have events in Asia.

Heidenreich told SportBusiness that, while the American and European tours were focused on expanding their own businesses in Asia, “I think our approach and the Hana approach is fundamentally different…the real focus is to promote women’s golf and Asian women’s players in this part of the world, rather than have the other tours come in with their own agendas.”

In the new Singapore Open, for example, 16 slots will be allocated to Singaporean players. This sets it apart from Singapore’s LPGA Tour event the HSBC Women’s World Championship. Singapore Golf Association general manager Jerome Ng told SportBusiness: “The HSBC is [an] event for the top 70 players in the world. It’s a great showcase for the best women golfers…however it is not the full showcase of Asia.

“That’s where the Asia Golf Leaders Forum links to the Singapore Open. The purpose and objective is different…With the Singapore Open, we want to give opportunity for the best women golfers in Asia to compete.”

Singapore start

The inaugural Singapore Open will take place on November 6 to 8 at the Tanah Merah Country Club, and will feature some of Asia’s top women golfers competing for a KRW1bn ($864,000) prize purse.

Competing players will include current world number nine Minjee Lee of Australia, former world number one Lydia Ko of New Zealand, America’s Yealimi Noh, Thailand’s Paphangkorn Tavatanakit, and China’s Sui Xiang. 

The event is sanctioned by the Singapore Golf Association and the Korean Ladies Professional Golf Association, and the bulk of the players will come from these associations. Retired Korean star Seri Pak is on the organising committee. 

Paul Park told SportBusiness that the company’s title sponsorship of the event was linked to the importance of Singapore to its growth in Southeast Asia: “We plan to set up a new headquarters in Singapore for this region in the near future. The Singapore Women’s Open is not envisioned as merely a golf event, but also a marketing vehicle for us in this region.”

Park said Hana wants the event to become the biggest of its type in the region: “We hope this event will grow to be the marquee event of players in the region within 10 years… In discussion with SGA and local sponsors in Singapore, we aim to increase the total prize purse and, in tandem, improve player hospitality as the tournament progresses. I hope this will eventually come to be considered as one of the major championships in the world of women’s golf.”

Mediapro Asia is in charge of promoting and commercialising the tournament. Lars Heidenreich told SportBusiness that the commercial sales process was underway: “We’ll be talking to car companies, tech companies, other brands here in Singapore and the region, who see it as a really good platform to promote women’s golf…these are the conversations that we’ll be having in the next three, four, five months.” He said the company was also currently speaking to potential host broadcasters.

Singapore Golf Association’s Jerome Ng told SportBusiness that the new tournament would exhibit the nation’s event hosting capability, and encourage the development of its sporting culture: “It’s not just about golf, it’s about sport. It’s about engraving a new sporting culture in Singapore. We may be a small country, but we certainly can host international events – we have the experience, we have the resources, and that’s where our ‘little red dot’ can stand out…That’s what we envision – to grow the game in Singapore, and at same time the sporting culture.”

Expansion tournaments

Looking to the future, Hana is examining adding tournaments in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia to the ALPGS. Paul Park told SportBusiness: “We are in active discussions with the golf associations of Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia, but talks are in their early stages. In addition, the Asia Golf Leaders Forum is in the process of establishing new relationships that can take the project forward. In February, the AGLF will meet with most of the members from APGC [Asia Pacific Golf Confederation] in Pattaya, Thailand, and will continue to work alongside golf associations in Asia and potential partners or co-sponsors to expand the project.” The Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation is a pre-existing umbrella group of 45 golf associations from the region.

Heidenreich said: “Singapore for Hana Financial Group is a starting point, a first in Southeast Asia. But there’s definitely a game plan to grow also to markets like Indonesia, to grow into the Philippines…I think given a two, three-year horizon, Hana Financial Group has a great opportunity to develop more events in Southeast Asia and to put Asian womens’ golf on the map. That is really the game plan and the bigger picture.”