Greg Norman has announced plans for the Asian Tour to hold an event in England for the first time is “just the beginning”, but insisted insists the Saudi-backed programme is not seeking a fight with rival tours.
As part of a 10-event International Series, the Centurion Club in Hertfordshire will host a PS1.5m ($A2.8m) tournament from June 9-12. This clashes with the European Tour’s Scandinavian Mixed event and comes a week before the US Open.
Norman is the chief executive of LIV Golf Investments (LGI), a company backed by the Private Investment Fund which operates on behalf of the government of Saudi Arabia and which is investing $US300m ($A420m) into the Asian Tour.
“We are setting the Asian Tour up as a powerful new force on the world golf stage,” the Australian former world No.1 said.
“Healthy competition and respectful competition should spread golf globally. That’s why it’s so encouraging we can go to London, it’ll be so encouraging when we go to the United States.
“This is just the beginning, just the infancy of this journey.”
Norman made the announcement at a press conference in Jeddah ahead of the Saudi International, a tournament which was previously on the European Tour but is now the flagship event on the Asian Tour.
Massive appearance fees have helped attract a world-class field including Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Lee Westwood and Tommy Fleetwood.
PGA Tour members were only granted releases to play in the event on condition of future support of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in California which is also taking place this week, an historic tournament won five times by Mickelson and twice by Johnson.
“We’re not in this for a fight, there’s no question,” Norman said. “We’re in this for the good of the game.
“It’s personally disappointing to see some of the attacks that have been taking place unwarrantedly. If you prejudge anybody without knowing the facts then shame on you.
“We want to work together side by side. It’s all about the game and I cannot enforce this enough. It’s for the betterment of the game, not administrations or anything else.”
As well as its investment in the Asian Tour, LGI also has ambitions to launch a Saudi-backed Super Golf League (SGL), with 48-year-old Lee Westwood admitting before last year’s US PGA Championship that it would be a “no-brainer” for him to sign a multi-million pound contract at this stage of his career.
In contrast, Rory McIlroy reiterated his opposition and labelled the proposals a “money grab” similar to football’s aborted European Super League, while players have been threatened with bans from established tours, and potentially the Ryder Cup if they were to defect.
Asked about the SGL, Norman said: “LIV Golf Investments is investing into the International Series. That’s what we focus on now.
“Will there be things announced in the future? Absolutely. This is not a one-off journey. You want to sit back and see the evolution of how this is building out. It’s going to be an incredible one.”
The International Series will kick off in Thailand from March 3-6, clashing with the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill on the PGA Tour, and also visit England, Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East, China, Singapore and Hong Kong .