The Asian Development Tour is a strong and emerging secondary Tour, with its own identity and an impressive schedule, rich with events. It has also become a conveyor belt of stars-in-the-making, and of course it’s a circuit that the Tour’s membership cannot wait to play once the ‘new normal’ is resumed post COVID-19. We spoke to some of its best-known graduates about how important the Tour has been for their careers.
When Korean Joohyung Kim earned a remarkable ‘battlefield promotion’ to the Asian Tour last year thanks to three brilliant victories on the Asian Development Tour (ADT) it meant the region was excited and proud to have discovered another young and prodigious talent.
But, perhaps, more important than that was the fact that the ADT had once again served its purpose and met its objectives.
Launched in 2010, the ADT is the region’s secondary circuit that runs parallel and in unison with the Asian Tour – providing opportunities for up-and-coming players, not just from Asia but from all over the world.
It is a feeder tour, a supporting tour, a stepping stone tour that gives even the most talented golfers the one thing they are not born with: that all important element called experience.
The top-seven players on the ADT Order of Merit at the end of the season earn their Asian Tour cards plus all events receive Official World Golf Ranking points – both magnet-like attractions for players just starting out.
And, last year the ADT boasted 19 events with a total purse of US$1.74 million while it was in 2015 that the Tour enjoyed its finest year-to-date with a record 28 tournaments boasting overall prizemoney of US$2.2 million.
Kim, now aged 18 but 17 when he completed his hat-trick, is the most recent high-profile graduate who this year went on to play in his maiden Major – the US PGA Championship – and his first PGA Tour event.
But there have been many players who have successfully emerged from the ADT and perhaps the best known is American John Catlin – who sensationally claimed two titles on the European Tour in September this year: the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters and the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
“The year I played , I played 22 events, they were all four rounds, they are Official World Golf Ranking events, and you are playing against good golfers and you have to go out and shoot good numbers to win tournaments,” says Catlin.
The Californian did just that, winning the Combiphar Golf Invitational in Indonesia on the ADT in 2016 – his first Tour title. And, he also claimed the PGM EurAsia Perak Championship in Malaysia, on the same tour, the following year.
At that time the top-five on the ADT Order of Merit earned their Asian Tour card.
Says Catlin: “I think playing that many tournaments and having to finish top five, when I was playing, to earn my Asian Tour card, it was a great experience for me and gave me confidence. It was top-five on ADT, then top-60 on Asian Tour and then top-110 on the European Tour – it was all stepping stones. But to have accomplished that first stepping stone gave me a lot of confidence to accomplish the second one and so on and so forth.”
He says it also taught him how to win.
“Winning is not easy, any Tour you play on you have to play very good golf. Winning those two events on the ADT was a huge boost and gave me the confidence to win on the main Tour, especially that first win [on the Asian Tour] at the Asian Pacific Classic in China. I was able to draw on those previous wins,” added the American.
“The opportunity that the ADT gave me was very, very big.”
Catlin explains that it was his coach Noah Montgomery who first suggested he play in Asia.
“It wasn’t an avenue I had considered,” he explains.
“As I looked into it and saw the opportunities and saw some of the success stories and guys like Cameron Smith, Kiradech [Aphibarnrat], Anirban [Lahiri], the list goes on and on. There are so many success stories about Asian Tour players who have moved onto the European Tour and PGA Tour. I saw it as a great opportunity and I saw the cost effectiveness of it.”
He went on to win four times on the Asian Tour, including three in 2018 – when he was voted the Asian Tour’s Players’ Player of the Year.
But he is quick to acknowledge that life was difficult in the early days, as it is for all rookies.
“The hardest part, if you don’t have unlimited funds, is to find a place to play where you can develop your game in order to become a better golfer and not break your budget.
“And that is what is great about the ADT, they make it affordable for guys, entry fees are US$50, caddie fees aren’t outrageous, you can find a reasonably priced hotel, food is reasonably cheap, and with the same amount of money you can play one year in America, you can play two or three on the ADT.”
Catlin, who based himself in Hua Hin, Thailand, while playing in Asia, finished second in the Boonchu Ruangkit Championship in January – which was the only ADT event played this year before the coronavirus pandemic.
The main who beat him was Thailand’s Pavit Tangkamolprasert – who, thanks to the victory, became the most successful player in ADT history with seven wins.
Pavit is a two-time winner on the Asian Tour but he mastered his craft on the ADT – particularly in 2014, when he triumphed four times and lifted the Order of Merit title.
“I respect the ADT very much, it is a Tour that is only getting stronger. I got into the Asian Tour through this tour and will always recognize that,” said Pavit.
“The ADT gave me an opportunity to develop my game to this level. I had so much experience during the journey and I appreciate being part of both the development tour and main tour. The experience of the development tour helps me to keep my game at a high level. It [the ADT] is an experience that everyone needs to try, it is a quality tour.”
Rising Indonesian star Danny Masrin was starting to play some of the finest golf of his career at the end last year and beginning of this season and says his time on the ADT has played a big part in his development.
“When I first came out I remember when the cut line was typically over par, but as I spent my time there it quickly became that if you weren’t under par you probably were not going to make the cut. I definitely think that the quality of players has significantly gotten better every year. I mean we are seeing ADT players winning AT events which is great and says a lot about the ADT,” says Masrin.
“I think also especially starting out as a professional the key is trying to get as many four round events as you can by playing the weekend. The ADT was a good developing ground to feel comfortable with four days of tournament golf. I would say a lot of the courses were very scoreable which gave us confidence when it was time to play Asian Tour events when we got the opportunity.”
Another crucial part of the success of the ADT is the relationships it has built with the domestic circuits that it jointly-sanctions events with, as well as local promoters.
The ADT hosts regular events with The PGM in Malaysia, the Professional Golf Tour of Indonesia, the All Thailand Golf Tour and Taiwan PGA and has also held events in Bangladesh, Brunei and Pakistan in the past.
It is a coming together of the major stakeholders of golf in Asia that will serve the ADT well long into the future.