A conversation with Rob Ohno
July 25, 2020
By Staff, PGATOURLA.COM
- July 25, 2020
- Rob Ohno, PGA TOUR’s Head of International Tours.
Earlier this month, the PGA TOUR, in conjunction with its International Tours in Latin America, Canada and China, announced the formation of the LOCALiQ Series, a set of eight tournaments for players from these three circuits. With the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada and PGA TOUR Series-China canceling their seasons because of the COVID-19 situation and PGA TOUR Latinoamerica delaying its season for the same reason, Rob Ohno, the PGA TOUR’s Head of International Tours, gathered his team to discuss member playing options. In a short time, Ohno’s team had designed the framework for the LOCALiQ Series and then went to work. Ohno recently sat down to discuss how all this came to be and what he sees in store over the next couple of months as the LOCALiQ Series gets off the ground.
Your team has been busy. What’s it been like establishing the Canada Life Series and the LOCALiQ Series in such a short period of time?
Honestly, I think seeing our team rally to put together these two new Series in 30 days, with the help from the team in Corporate Partnerships, which identified LocaliQ, has to be one of the greatest achievements with which I have been involved at the PGA TOUR. It was truly a miracle to develop these new Series in such a short period of time. And it was amazing to see the effort, drive and collaboration of our team to make this all happen.
We’ve already heard that the playing spots for the Canada Life series are completely filled, and the story is sign-ups for the LOCALiQ Series has been robust. Does this validate your decision to create these two entities?
Player interest in this concept was very strong when we did the initial survey, in early June, but the idea was very conceptual and many details had not yet been shared. Once we informed our players in early July that these two Series were going to happen, it has been extremely gratifying to see the vast number of sign-ups for both Series, especially since we are a membership organization. For the LOCALiQ Series, we informed the players about the new Series on July 3 at 5 p.m., Eastern, and our first sign-up came 30 seconds later. That was impressive.
What are your expectations for LOCALiQ Series, or are you in a wait-and-see mode?
Our expectations are that the player fields will be incredibly strong since we are combining players from all three International Tours into one. Many people thought we were only going to serve our members in the U.S., but I am happy to report that we have members in the LOCALiQ Series who represent 24 countries, a number that is still growing.
What’s been the most satisfying part of this process?
It was incredible to see everyone’s efforts get rewarded by seeing a concept come to fruition in 30 days.
So much credit goes to John Slater and Jamie Wiles, who lead our competitions in Latin America and China, respectively, two men who were heavily in this project from the beginning. That timeframe is crazy. This effort included securing high-quality venues that players will want to play, securing sponsorship of the Series, developing incentives for the top performers, creating proper COVID-19 protocol, determining player-eligibility categories, generating a player commitment process from scratch and developing all the other aspects of a new Tour. Lastly, we needed to put together these new Series in a way that was self-funding, which our team accomplished.
It’s a strong group of host courses you have secured. How did that process go, and how proud are you to be able to offer such a diverse set of venues to the players?
The venues that our team secured are truly amazing. They’re incredible properties, and the players will have such a great time and challenge playing them. We knew from the player survey that the Southeastern U.S., was their preference. We also looked at the Korn Ferry Tour schedule to try to play our events nearby so our players could try to Monday-qualify into Korn Ferry Tour events, if desired. We wanted to find venues in clusters of two or three, allowing players to drive from one event to the next. So, the team developed a really solid plan. Then our team had to try to execute it. Thankfully, we knew some of the properties from existing relationships. We got introduced to other venues through our friends at the American Junior Golf Association and some of our International Tour players. We secured another property on a tip from a TOUR colleague
Was there ever a chance this was going to be more than eight events, with the Series leaving the Southeastern U.S.?
We considered doing a couple of events in the Northeast, but it just didn’t seem feasible for the players given the Korn Ferry Tour schedule as we were trying to keep things within driving distance for the players.
Why did you choose this part of the country? Did you worry many players from out west or in the Northeast wouldn’t want to venture this far from home?
We knew the Southeast would serve a lot of the players based on the survey, but again, we wanted to keep the events near Korn Ferry Tour events as much as possible. We also knew that Atlanta and Orlando have major airports that could serve as good hubs for players outside of the area.
We keep hearing that the “PGA TOUR is getting in the mini-tour business.” You’re not treating these as mini-tours, per se. What are some of the key differences you see?
In some ways, we looked at these events like mini-tour events, but our team tried to make enhancements to the mini-tour model. For example, we tried to secure top-tier venues that would be very appealing to our members. We knew the competition would be very strong with players from all three International Tours. The players know that the events will be operated professionally by the PGA TOUR. They also know they will get paid promptly. The players will also have access to a practice round, which isn’t typical at a mini-tour event. Purses will be a minimum of (U.S.) $100,000, with a full field, which is very attractive. While the purpose of these Series is not merely about the player rewards, the LOCALiQ Series will be offering three players each with a sponsor exemption into a PGA TOUR event in 2021. One player will receive a sponsor exemption into a 2020 Korn Ferry Tour event, among other incentives for the players. Lastly, the players weren’t charged an additional membership fee and didn’t have to play in a ranking school for this Series, which many mini-tours require.