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  • Alistair Tait

The French Open deserves better

First the good news: the French Open is back on the European Tour schedule. Now the bad news: it's a shadow of its former self.

That’s a pity for the oldest national open in Continental Europe.

The French Open was a notable absence when the European Tour initially announced the 2021 schedule, so all credit to everyone involved for managing to secure a 6-9 May date at Le Golf National, the 2018 Ryder Cup venue.

“The Open de France is one of our most historic tournaments and Le Golf National is one of the leading venues in Europe, so we are delighted to confirm that both will feature as part of our schedule this year,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said.

Gregory Havret acts as tournament host. The three-time European Tour winners leads a strong French contingent featuring world number 35 Victor Perez, Joël Stalter, Antoine Rozner, Romain Langasque, Mike Lorenzo Vera, and Robin Roussel.

The impressive line up of French stars is good news for home fans, but how many non-marquee names will turn up?

Sadly, not many.

The tournament has no title sponsor this year. Most recent sponsor Amundi has switched allegiance to women’s golf, becoming sponsor of the Evian Masters.

The French Open began in 1906 when Arnaud Massy lifted the trophy. Notable winners include J.H. Taylor, James Braid, Walter Hagen, Sir Henry Cotton, Byron Nelson, Bobby Locke, Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman, Sandy Lyle, Sir Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal, McDowell, Fleetwood, Alex Noren, and defending champion Nicolas Colsaerts.

It would be fantastic if Europe’s elite turned up to play in this year’s event to try to join the illustrious roll call of past champions. It won’t happen. This year’s tournament carries a purse of just €1.5 million, a far cry from recent years when it featured $7 million prize funds as part of the tour’s illustrious Rolex Series.

As we know only too well, today’s stars won’t get out of bed for a €1.5 million tournament unless they’re being paid appearance money.

The French Open wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.

It’s just over two years since the glorious scenes of Europe’s Ryder Cup victory at Le Golf National. You’d have thought the French Open wouldn’t struggle to attract a title sponsor in the wake of that fantastic performance.

A low budget French Open wasn’t what was promised when the Ryder Cup was awarded to France back in 2011.

“This will be a huge inspirational factor for French golf,” said Jean Van de Velde, a member of the 1999 European Ryder cup team. “It’s a dream come true for France."

Thomas Levet, a member of the 2004 European team Cup team, also played up the Ryder Cup’s role in inspiring French people to take up golf.

“It’s like getting the Olympics for us,” Levet said. “For the development of golf, for all the kids that are playing golf in France, it’s unreal.
“If we can get one million people playing the game, then I will be so happy.”

France hasn’t come close to that number in the 10 years since it was awarded the Ryder Cup. There are 412,726 registered golfers in France according to latest figures from the KPMG Golf Participation Report. There were 410,377 in 2009.

Pelley played up the French Open’s return to the schedule as continuing a rich tradition:

“The tournament also helps us celebrate the wonderful heritage of the national opens on the European Tour.”

It is a wonderful heritage. Too bad it’s not wonderful enough to attract title sponsors willing to invest the sort of prize money to attract Europe’s top stars.

The French Open deserves better.

#JustSaying:I saw the big tower, Eiffel Tower, an arch, I rode around in a circle, and what’s that building that starts with an L (The Louvre)?” Bubba Watson on playing in the 2011 French Open


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