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  • Alistair Tait

European Tour gravy train shouldn’t be taken for granted


Keith Pelley seems to have found the answer to a question he struggled with last year.

Coronavirus.

As BBC golf correspondent Iain Carter revealed yesterday on the BBC website, the European Tour chief executive has told players to expect a change in prize funds when the circuit starts up again, whenever that might be.

“We are having to implement tough measures both in the short and long term,” Pelley said.
“Many of the things you have become accustomed to, such as top-class players’ lounges or courtesy car services will most likely assume a different appearance, if indeed they are present at all. Prize funds will also most likely be different.”
“We are doing everything we possibly can to come through this, but be prepared that the 2021 schedule may look profoundly different to the 2019 or the 2018 schedule."
“This is difficult for all of us to face after the tireless work we have all undertaken to grow our Tour over the last five years, but this is the new reality.”

I had the good fortune of playing with the European Tour chief executive over the Marquess Course at Woburn last year in the company of club captain Gary Johnstone and managing director Jason O’Malley.

We had a wide ranging, informal chat afterwards in the clubhouse bar. I asked Pelley during that conversation if he could see prize funds continue to spiral upwards in the light of the $7 million plus Rolex Series, majors exceeding $10 million and a Players Championship worth $15 million.

“Where does it all end?” I asked.
“Honestly, Alistair, I don’t know.”

Maybe he does now.

Pelley, who revealed that he and other members of staff had taken pay cuts during this pandemic, is right to warn players things will be different in the new normal. While the Tour is considering all options for the future, part of that future surely has to mean reduced prize funds.

Sponsors previously willing to spend millions to back a tournament might be reluctant to invest heavily in sporting events in the immediate future. You don’t need a degree in advanced economics to figure that out.

I posed a question in February that seems apropos now: Where is golf headed when $10.5 million can't buy a top-class field? I asked that question when players of the calibre of Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay, Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Henrik Stenson skipped the WGC–Mexico Championship despite a $10.5 million purse, no cut and certain points for the Official World Golf Ranking, Ryder Cup, FedEx Cup, Race to Dubai and Olympic Games.

As I pointed out, we’ve reached a stage where our top players are so rich they can afford to skip the game’s richest tournaments. The Rolex Series is a case in point. Eight $7 million plus tournaments with some struggling to attract top players.

When the top players can attract seven-figure appearance fees for playing in low budget tournaments, why should they get into their private jets to fly to Mexico or South Africa or Turkey?

The current top stars will still be able to pick and choose where they play when golf returns to normal. They’ve already made their fortunes, but maybe the next batch of stars will think twice about snubbing multi-million dollar tournaments.

One thing’s for sure, players in future should never take it for granted the European Tour gravy train is going to run interrupted forever.

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