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  • Alistair Tait

The day the European Tour died?

If the 1st of October 1971 is officially the day the European Tour was born, was the 27th November 2020 the day it died?

Whoa, I hear you say. The European Tour isn’t dying. It’s in “robust financial health.” It’s just formed a strategic alliance with the PGA Tour. On the 27th November.

Okay, perhaps I should qualify my opening statement. Was the 27th November the beginning of the end for the European Tour? While it makes sense for both tours to join together from a global perspective, it seems patently obvious that what we once considered the European Tour might not be the same once the two bodies start working together.

That’s certainly one way of looking at the strategic alliance between the two tours. Not just my take, I hasten to add, but that of many others too.

Maybe the writing’s been on the wall for European golf for a long time. Maybe the beginning of the end started when Europe’s top stars decamped to Florida for warmer weather, better tax breaks and to be closer to their new home circuit: the PGA Tour. Maybe the beginning of the end started long before that when our top stars started demanding appearance fees just to play on their home circuit. Think how much healthier the tour’s robust financial health would be if the tour could have ploughed fortunes in appearance fees into the tour rather than the wallets of its top stars.

Before one of those stars comes back at me, most of us would have taken the money too. That’s the world we live in. It's called capitalism. Not many of us are going to turn down six-seven figure cheques just for turning up to work. In fact, not many of us would turn down three or four figure cheques as extra bonuses to turn up at our desks every day.

Maybe the beginning of the end came when the tour watered down the criteria for membership. Remember those heady days when players actually had to play a half decent schedule in Europe to maintain membership? Nowadays players can win the Race to Dubai by playing just a handful of regular tournaments without actually setting foot on European soil.

John Jacobs fought long and hard to create an environment for British and Continental European golfers to play tournament golf. He was appointed Tournament Director-General of the PGA on the 1st of October 1971 – the official birth of the PGA European Tour – when he helped the tournament professionals break free from the British PGA to set up what, starting in the 1972 season, eventually became the European Tour. It was a phenomenal achievement. But don’t take my word for it. How about the word of Mark McCormack, another man who’s had a huge influence on this game? In Laddie Lucas’s book John Jacobs’ Impact on Golf, IMG founder McCormack is quoted as saying:

“You have to admit that the Jacobs plan worked …. Almost immediately the mood of golf changed … He laid down minima for …. prize funds. If a sponsor wanted to play his tournament in peak season, he had to pay for the privilege…. The Continentals were coaxed into line…. Golf had begun to believe in itself again…
“I, for one, do not doubt that (1972) was a year of high significance. It might be no more than a slight exaggeration to say that these 12 months saw British golf progress by a quarter of a century. And that is quite a trick.”

High praise indeed. Similar praise should be heaped on the shoulders of former CEOs Ken Schofield and George O’Grady. Schofield took over as chief executive in 1975 and was instrumental in growing the tour. It was Schofield who dared looked outside Europe’s borders to stage tournaments in different parts of the world, thus giving his members more playing opportunities, more prize money and taking golf to new markets. Rest assured the European Tour wouldn’t now be playing for so much money if not for Schofield’s vision.

O’Grady steered the tour through the 2008 financial crash. He deserves an enormous amount of respect for his leadership in tough economic times, especially when Europe’s top stars were upping sticks and moving to Florida.

Both men came in for a lot of criticism – admittedly sometimes from me – but they deserve enormous credit for building on Jacobs’s dream.

Current chief executive Keith Pelley obviously deserves credit too. He’s been a breath of fresh air in many ways with his innovations, trying new formats, and not being afraid to think outside the box.

Maybe Schofield and O’Grady would have formed a strategic alliance with the PGA Tour if they’d been in Pelley’s shoes. Maybe the Canadian has had the foresight to read the writing on the wall and has acted in the tour’s best interests by entering into this pact. Maybe once he's emptied his desk in Euro Tour headquarters and decamped back to Canada he'll be seen as the visionary who started a global golf tour. History will be the judge of that. However, it’s fair to say the European Tour five, 10, 15, 20 years from now might bear no resemblance to the circuit it once was.

Will it even be called the European Tour?

Wonder what Jacobs would have made of it all?

Again, will history judge if Friday 27th November was the day the European Tour died? Only time will tell.

#JustSaying: “When he was asked to take charge of the ramshackle tournament operation he (John Jacobs) showed a rare combination of vision and sound administration, laying solid foundations for what was to become a remarkable success story.” Peter Dobereiner on John Jacobs


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