• Alistair Tait

European seniors deserve a mulligan


You have to feel for anyone currently holding a card for the European Senior Tour. That’s why this week’s news about a revamp for the over 50s circuit should be welcome news.

While every other circuit has sprung into action post lockdown, the over 50s committed to playing in Europe are sitting twiddling their thumbs after the 2020 schedule was cancelled because of coronavirus. Scotland’s Euan McIntosh was no doubt like a kid looking forward to Christmas when he got his card for the senior tour. His dream of playing professional golf in his 50s has been put on hold.

Formerly the Staysure Tour, we switch to the “Legends Tour” – doesn’t that sound like a lot to live up to? – with former Ryder Cup captains Darren Clarke, Mark James, Tom Lehman, Paul McGinley, Colin Montgomerie and Ian Woosnam along with 2005 U.S. Open Champion Michael Campbell and 1999 Open Champion Paul Lawrie named as the tour’s first official ambassadors. They will play a key role in developing the tour.

The European Tour is no longer in charge. Staysure CEO Ryan Howsam now has a controlling stake and, according to the European Tour’s press release, will oversee the tour’s commercial strategy. There will be a greater focus on amateurs too, with an amateur order of merit. Howsam said:

“I believe the untapped commercial potential that the Legends Tour has to offer is unlimited.”

Cynics would question why the European Tour is so keen to divest itself of the senior circuit if the “commercial potential is unlimited.”

The coronavirus cancellation aside, the senior circuit had been on the up in recent years. In a competitive market for sponsorship, the European Tour had done a good job of increasing playing opportunities for its over 50 members. There were 18 tournaments on last year’s schedule, albeit the U.S. Open is a bit of a misnomer since money earned in that event doesn’t count towards the money list.

Five years ago, there were just 12 events on the schedule. In 2004 and 2005 there were 23.

As with any other tour, members really don’t care who runs it. All they care about is playing opportunities. The Legends Tour will be defined by how many tournaments are on the schedule every year. It’s surely going to be an uphill battle to get companies to open their purse strings in what are surely going to be austere times when we emerge from this coronavirus world. Howsam has impressed Montgomerie and co, but he’s going to have to live up to his billing to grow the tour.

Legends Tour, Staysure Tour, European Senior Tour, the title doesn’t really matter. Howsam still faces the same problem Keith Pelley faces as European Tour CEO, that the Ladies European Tour struggles with: stopping the talent drain to the United States.

A look at last year’s respective schedules explains why every European Tour player approaching the half century dreams of reinventing themselves on the Champions Tour. That circuit was worth just under $60 million for 27 events. The European Senior Tour clocked in at just over $14 million, or just above $10 million if you exclude the U.S. Senior Open. (Exchange rate done via current figures from xe.com)

The money to be made on the Champions Tour is arguably the greatest mulligan in golf. Scott McCarron made $2,534,090 as Champions Tour number one last year. Phillip Price earned $245,238 as Staysure Tour order of merit winner. That huge disparity continues down the respective money lists. Montgomerie banked $1,512,565 for finishing 10th against Marcus Brier’s $130,536. For 20th place it was $955,906 for Lehman versus $98,784 for Magnus P Atlevi. Fiftieth place went $395,058 for Oline Browne against Esteban Toledo’s $70,745.

Bernhard Langer has earned $154,566 on the European Senior Tour versus $29,567,862 on the Champions Tour. Interesting to note he isn’t one of the new ambassadors. He surely must have been approached?

Montgomerie played 26 times on last year’s Champions Tour, but is listed as making just four appearances in Europe. Presumably as an ambassador he’s going to play more in Europe, along with the other ambassadors?

There wasn’t much detail in the announcement on the number of proposed tournaments for next year’s Legend sTour. That’s the key information the over 50s brigade are waiting for. Let’s hope it’s a healthy and hale schedule. Goodness knows European seniors deserve a mulligan.

#JustSaying: “When you get up there in years, the fairways get longer and the holes get smaller.” Bobby Locke

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