By Andrew Both
GREENSBORO, North Carolina (Reuters) - As the heavyweight U.S. PGA Tour revamps its schedule and continues to expand internationally, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the world's other tours to survive, let alone thrive.
Nowhere are the problems more acute than in Australia, a proud golfing nation that has produced some of the game's greatest players, including this year's Masters champion Adam Scott and former world number one Greg Norman.
The PGA Tour of Australasia has shrunk considerably since the halcyon days of a couple of decades ago when Japanese sponsorship money and the regular presence of home-grown superstar Norman combined to create a perfect storm that yielded a dozen or more world-class tournaments.
This year, the tour has dwindled to just four tournaments offering prize money of at least $1 million (A$1.1 million). That might not be too much of a problem if the country's top players competed in all four, but this will not be the case.
Among the notable absentees will be Australian veteran Stuart Appleby, a nine-time winner on the PGA Tour who intends to skip his home circuit for the first time.
"I haven't got any plans to play in Australia this year," Appleby, 42, told Reuters. "It will be the first time I've aborted the whole schedule.
"The new schedule has made it really difficult and unfortunately there is very little making Australia look like a proposition now (for us) to come back and play.
"Many of us have done it for 15 years or so but you may find that this is now a trend and that you'll see very few guys (going back to Australia to play)."
The PGA Tour of Australasia faces several problems, but perhaps none is greater than the fact that three of its four big tournaments (in October and November) will clash with the start of the 2013-14 PGA Tour season.
For the first time, the U.S. circuit will officially launch its season in October, rather than in January, and six events will be played in late 2013, with two of them in Asia.
It is no coincidence that the Australian Open, the only event on the PGA Tour of Australasia that does not clash with the 2013-14 PGA Tour, will have the strongest field.
SOFTENING THE BLOW
Masters champion Scott will help soften the blow this year by playing in three events - the Australian PGA Championship in Queensland (Nov 7-10), the Australian Masters in Melbourne (Nov 14-17) and the Australian Open in Sydney (Nov 28-Dec 1).
But, as Appleby observes, Scott cannot be expected to prop up the tour indefinitely.
"Adam is going to put in a fair effort this year and that's awesome of him but he can't be held accountable for holding the torch the next five years," Appleby said.
"I love playing in Australia and truly wish I could but the Australian tour is a small tour and insignificant on the world stage compared to the other tours.
"Asia (where the PGA Tour has mainly expanded) has made a big difference. The whole landscape has changed, and I don't know how Australia is going to deal with that change in scheduling.
"Corporately we're a strong economy and yet we've had our prize money drop in golf. It's going to take a miraculous amount of ingenuity to get our prize money back to where it was."
The irony is that Florida-based Appleby will still visit Australia toward the end of the year - on a holiday with his family.
"Older guys like me have kids locked into school (in the U.S.)," he said.
"It's unfortunate but I feel like all the Australian guys, we've put our time in. I've done as much as I can and I hope there's a way we can move forward in five years, but I'm not sure how that's going to be possible."
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)