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  • Alistair Tait

Golf History Can’t Compete With Cash

Updated: Apr 24, 2022

Fair play to European Tour Chief Executive Keith Pelley for playing the history card to try to persuade his members to say no to the vast sums of money Greg Norman and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Investments Tour are dangling in front them.

Good luck with that Keith.

Pelley might want to dig into European Tour history to see how money has turned many so called “heritage events” into shadows of their former selves, or even made them the extinct.

As James Corrigan revealed in The Daily Telegraph this week, Pelley emailed European Tour members to appeal to their sense of loyalty, saying the new Saudi circuit threatened the very existence of the Tour now sponsored by DP World:

“Conflicting events, regardless of how attractive they might appear to you personally, potentially compromise our efforts in these areas and could significantly hurt your Tour in both the short and long term,” Pelley said.
“Please, therefore, continue to bear this bigger picture in mind, particularly considering some of these conflicting events in 2022 are scheduled directly opposite some of our most prestigious ‘heritage events’, including the Horizon Irish Open, the DS Automobiles Italian Open and the Acciona Open de España – three national Opens which combined have more than 300 years of history.”

The Spanish Open has been around since 1912, the Italian since 1925, and the Irish began in 1927. There was a time when top Europeans would have played all three. Not so much now. They’ve been pushed down the pecking order largely because of money.

The Irish was in danger of disappearing not too long ago. It was saved from extinction thanks to Irish major winners Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell who made a concerted effort to put it on their schedules. It has rebounded to the point where it carries a $6 million dollar prize fund this year.

The Italian briefly held Rolex Series status, one of Europe’s $7 million events. It’s now worth €3 million. The Spanish is offering just $1.75 million in October.

And there’s the rub: money. You don’t need a PhD in mathematics to realise the above three prize funds total around $11 million, $13 million less than the three events LIV is offering in the same weeks. Pelley would have no problem persuading members to stay loyal to their home circuit if he was offering that money, which is why he perhaps should have accepted the Saudi cash when it was offered to him, as contentious as that decision would have been.

I hope the Spanish, Irish, and Italian Opens don’t suffer as a result of this new circuit, but wouldn’t be surprised if they did. The European Tour is littered with “heritage events” that no longer exist. Here are a few with the start and end dates in brackets: German Open (1911-1985), Belgian Open (1912-1994), PGA Match Play (1903-1979), World Match Play Championship (1964-2014) and Trophée Lancôme (1970-2003). Those are the juiciest titles in a slew of former events no longer played.

All of the above were celebrated events in their time, all of which disappeared for a variety of reasons, the most critical probably being money. And without money it’s hard to attract the top players. Money, and those crucial world ranking points rich tournaments offer, is the reason Europe’s top players now call the PGA Tour home and cherry pick lucrative European events, especially those that pay appearance fees.

With the exception of the majors, cash is king when it comes to where professional golfers tee it up. Always has been, always will be. Look at this week’s $2 million ISPS HANDA Championship in Spain. There are just four world top 100 players in the field, with world number 78 Bernd Wiesberger the highest ranked player. No offence to the Austrian and the rest of the field, but you can see why sponsors might think twice about backing a tournament when all they can attract is the B team, even if they’re considering so-called “heritage events.”

Pelley’s right to appeal to the collective consciences of his members. No one wants to see the three tournaments he named go the way of the German and Belgian Opens. I hope players heed his words, especially marquee names, and play in the Spanish, Irish and Italian Opens. However, I fear he’s whistling in the wind.

Golf history can’t always compete with money, especially when there are $4 million first place prizes, and a guaranteed $120,000 just for finishing last.

#JustSaying: “I don’t think golfers are all that highly paid. Besides, the actual money didn’t enter my head when I was on the course. Anyway, once the taxman, my agent and my caddie have all had their share, we are down to about $400,000. Barry Lane after earning $1 million for winning the 1995 Andersen Consulting Championship

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