Euro Tour sees great growth potential

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- The head of the European Tour says there is great potential to expand into Eastern Europe, Asia and even South America as several countries step up their construction of world-class courses.

George O'Grady also told The Associated Press on Friday that golf being named an Olympic sport will "kick-start" growth of the game in developing countries as federations are given funding to attract and develop young players.

The European Tour schedule includes 26 tournaments in Europe, seven in Asia, six in the United States, five in the Middle East and four in South Africa.

It was announced this week that Bahrain will be the next Middle Eastern country to host a tournament in January 2011.

O'Grady said that selecting additional tournament sites will depend on where good courses are built and top players emerge.

"There are new courses being built in Eastern Europe so there is growth potential there," O'Grady said. "The Asian market has still got masses of really good players and there is growing participation in Thailand and Korea, which have strong golfing markets."

O'Grady also singled out South America, which has produced several top players in recent years, including Camilo Villegas from Columbia and Rafa Enchenique from Argentina. But he said there remained a shortage of good courses.

"There is a need for new courses down there," he said. "It has largely been a country club sport as opposed to making it accessible."

The 2016 Olympics will ensure a new course is built by host Brazil, O'Grady added.

He said the Middle East also was an important region for the Tour because of the good weather during the winter months, when playing in Europe is impossible.

He said the new $2.2 million Tournament of Champions in Bahrain, which will be held Jan. 27-30 at Royal Golf Club, was a good addition to the schedule.

O'Grady said golf at the Olympics also could inspire the next Tiger Woods to take up the game, especially in poor countries where there are few courses and even fewer players.

"The decision for golf to go into the Olympics has really kick-started a lot of developing golfing countries," he said. "It means a lot in each country and to amateur federations that grow the game. The strength and depth in countries that don't have top-ranked players will grow in the years to come."