So farewell PGA EuroPro Tour. After 20 years it is no more.
Now what for future aspiring tour professionals hoping to gain a footing on the European Challenge Tour?
Let the record show that Englishman James Allan won the final tournament, the MatchRoom Tour Championship, at Lough Erne Resort in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. His 5-under-par 211 gave him a one-shot victory over Welshman Jack Davidson and a £25,000 cheque. More importantly, he, Davidson, Scotland’s Michael Stewart, Dermot McElroy of Northern Ireland and English player Josh Hilleard took the coveted five spots at the top of the 2022 Order of Merit. They earn cards on next year’s European Challenge Tour. That’s been the annual reward for playing the EuroPro Tour: five tickets to the European Tour's junior circuit.
As I noted recently, this mini-tour circuit has provided an important pathway for up and coming professionals. Major champions and European Tour winners in the shape of Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Scwhartzel, Tommy Fleetwood, Ross Fisher, Tyrrell Hatton, Oliver Wilson, Andrew “Beef” Johnston (pictured) and others have used the EuroPro Tour to hone their skills in preparation for top flight golf.
There are, of course, still other excellent mini-tour circuits. The TP Tour is nine years old, and has staged tournaments over some fantastic courses over the years, including my own club, Woburn. A day before the curtain fell on the EuroPro, former England International Aaron Edwards-Hill won the Kingston TP Tour event with an 8-under-par 64 around Kingston Golf & Country Club. There’s also the Jamega Tour and Clutch Tour, while the Tartan Tour provides an important breeding ground for aspiring Scottish players. However, none provide a direct pathway to Europe’s junior circuit as the EuroPro Tour did. It leaves Great Britain & Ireland behind other European circuits: the Alps Tour, Pro Golf (former EPD) and Nordic League all carry a top-five pathway to Challenge Tour.
It'll be sadly missed. Whether the European Tour will tie up with one of the above circuits to fill the gap left by the EuroPro Tour’s demise remains to be seen. Perhaps not. After all, European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley has bigger items to deal with right now.
Should we care about mini-tour golf? As I also said in my previous blog, the vast majority of golfers in the British Isles probably won’t even have heard of the EuroPro Tour. Indeed, check out popular websites that cover the game and you won’t find much mention of the EuroPro Tour’s final event. Hardly a peep.
I think we should care. I certainly do. I’ve had friends who played on the circuit, along with starts on the other mini tours listed above. Some cynics I’ve spoken to over the years say these tours are nothing but glorified swindles like the ones club golfers play on a regular basis, since the entry fees constitute most of the prize money.
Maybe so, but they are important testing grounds for players to find out if they have the right stuff to play tournament golf. They act as a feeder system to the upper echelons of the professional game. True, great players will always find a way to reach the heights. That’s the nature of professional golf, professional sport, pure Darwinian survival of the fittest.
The stroke play element of these circuits is important, especially for those elite amateurs coming out of elite squads run by the four home unions. Match play and foursomes golf is still a big part of elite amateur golf, and while I wouldn’t want to see that changed, those internationals won’t play much of those formats for their rest of their lives given that stroke play is king in the pro game. Mini tours therefore help instil the basic fact that every stroke counts, is worth money.
Moreover, unlike other countries with more of a holistic approach to developing young talent, once those elite amateurs step out of the supportive systems of the home unions, they’re pretty much on their own to sink or swim in the cut-throat world of tour golf.
I’d like to see the EuroPro Tour model replicated, perhaps a coming together of all the associated mini tours under one umbrella with those five spots on the Challenge Tour maintained. How that would happen is not my bailiwick, but with all the money in golf at present there surely has to be a way to continue to nurture young talent? There’s understandably a lot of attention on the top of golf's food chain, but the bottom of the food chain matters too.
#JustSaying: “I didn’t know how much first place prize money was when I started playing tournaments, all I cared about was winning.” Ian Poulter