By Tony Jimenez
VIRGINIA WATER, England (Reuters) - The European Tour's planned alliance with its Asian equivalent is likely to be rubber-stamped in time for next season, chief executive Keith Pelley told Reuters on Sunday.
The two circuits, who first collaborated for a co-sanctioned event 17 years ago, announced in August "an innovative joint vision for the future of professional golf" without going into details.
Talks on the expected union appeared to be in trouble in December when Asian Tour chief executive Mike Kerr resigned for unspecified reasons following player concerns about limited opportunities on the combined circuit.
Pelley, however, now says the two organizations are close to finalizing an agreement that will lead to more tournaments being held in Asia.
"What has transpired with the Asian Tour over the last number of weeks has been incredibly positive," the Canadian told Reuters in an interview held during the final round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
"It has taken time because they have gone through a complete board change. The original Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that we negotiated in November was put on pause until they had a new board in place and they knew what they were doing with their organizational structure.
"We met in Malaysia at the EurAsia Cup with their new board, we then met in India with members of their board and Tournament Committee and they responded about a month ago to our MOU in terms of what they thought would work for their Asian Tour players," added Pelley.
"We've evaluated that... and we're now entering into very serious discussions. Hopefully they will be positive and we will have something new announced very shortly in terms of a strategic alliance."
Pelley, who took over as European Tour chief executive from George O'Grady last year, said the joint agreement would work well for both sides.
Asked if the new alliance would be finalised in time for the start of next season, the Canadian replied: "I think so.
"I'm confident now that discussions are heading in the right direction... discussions have heated up and I'm confident we'll come to a resolution.
"The goal is... we would add resources there and work with them to create more tournaments in Asia in the coming years."
Last year's Asian Tour featured only 12 stand-alone events with many more co-sanctioned with larger circuits such as the European, U.S. PGA and Japan Tours who all boast fuller schedules and bigger prize money.
Pelley, who often espouses his tour's 'players first' philosophy, said his members were firmly onside in the move to join forces with Asia.
"This alliance would only be formalized and created if there were significant benefits to the players in terms of playing opportunities," he added.
"The players are supportive based on the fact they'll have additional playing opportunities.
"We've already talked to the players and have already received the blessing of their Tournament Committee."
(Editing by Clare Fallon)