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  • Alistair Tait

European Tour heads back to the future

News that the European Tour is to stage five consecutive events in England and Wales this year is like stepping back to the future. There was a time not so long ago when UK golf tournaments formed a significant backbone of the European Tour schedule.

Those days seemed long gone. However, the coronavirus pandemic has forced European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley to take drastic measures.

As Jamie Corrigan revealed in The Telegraph this week, the tour plans to hold five consecutive tournaments in the UK from the Betfred British Masters in July. The tournaments, low budget affairs in the €1 million range, will be held at venues with onsite hotels like Celtic Manor, Forest of Arden and Hanbury Manor. The tour is said to be ready to issue a 21-tournament schedule, perhaps as early as next week.

The above venues make sense. The tour has approached British Golf clubs that have previously staged European Tour events. However, such clubs are hardly likely to upset members by staging a golf tournament when said members have gone nearly eight weeks without access to their courses. I can imagine the voices of discontent at my club, Woburn, if members were told the club was going to stage a European Tour event later this summer. There would be a revolt. Woburn (pictured below) has staged many European Tour and European Senior Tour events over the years. The club said thanks, but no thanks, on this occasion.

Pelley is desperate to get tournaments going to save the tour from losing money. The tour’s TV contracts, especially with Sky Sports, are a lucrative source of revenue. Pelley doesn’t want to be giving any of that money back in the form of rebates. Hence the need to get tournaments up and running as soon as possible.

It’s also why Pelley would love to see the Ryder Cup played even without fans. While the tour doesn’t make as much money when the event is staged in the United States, it does provide revenue. Holding the Ryder Cup will also please Sky, which is desperate to show live sports to keep subscribers happy, many of whom must be thinking of cancelling subscriptions, if they haven’t already done so.

Pelley would also love to see the Rolex tournaments take place. These minimum purse $7 million tournaments are the Canadian’s brainchild, part of his success story. The Scottish and Irish Opens haven’t been cancelled, merely postponed, while the BMW PGA Championship, Turkish Airlines Open, Nedbank Golf Challenge and DP World Tour Championship, Dubai remain on the schedule. Pelley needs to keep Rolex as happy as possible to maintain that partnership. The luxury watch company hasn’t been totally happy with the series, considering some events have struggled to attract truly world class fields.

Pelley has been a breath of fresh air since he took over. He’s brought an innovative approach to a drab sport, but he hasn’t been afraid to splash tour cash either on events like the GolfSixes, ShotClock Masters, Hero Challenge and other marketing initiatives. It's cash the tour desperately needs right now.

Thirty years ago, there were seven tournaments in England alone on the European Tour schedule. Remember the Wang Four Stars, the English Open, World Match Play, Murphy’s Cup and the Benson and Hedges International Open? The tour was forced further afield as these events disappeared from the schedule. It reached the stage where English golf fans were lucky some years to get one event. For example, the 2010 BMW PGA Championship was the only European Tour event staged in England that season compared to four in Scotland.

The only problem with Pelley’s proposed schedule is that these events will probably take place without fans. Still, if we have to go back to the future to restart tournament golf then I’m sure most golf fans won’t mind. European Tour players certainly won’t.

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