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  • Alistair Tait

The Seeds of Euro Tour Destruction?

The elephant has finally arrived in the golf room. Or perhaps the planting of the Fiddleleaf fig tree (above) would be more appropriate.

The Fiddleleaf fig tree?

That shrub stood out from a recent trip to the Eden Project. It’s stayed in my mind for obvious reasons.

Here’s the description of said tree as snapped from my mobile phone.

Hmmm, an organism that grasps on to another organism and slowly strangles its host.

Sound familiar in the game of golf as it currently stands, particularly in reference to the European Tour?

This week sees the arrival of the first Asian Tour event to be played on European soil, with the International Series England at Slalely Hall. There was a time when the prospect of the Asian Tour playing in the European Tour’s backyard would have been unthinkable. But why not? After all, the European Tour, now the DP World Tour, has had no qualms about staging tournaments in Asia for years.

I remember when Asian Tour chief executive Kyi Hla Han was apoplectic at Europe’s expansion into his turf. In 2008, when the European Tour announced events in India and Korea, Han said:

“The European Tour continues to proceed on its expansion program to colonize Asia… This represents the European Tour’s blatant disregard towards the Asian Tour, which is the official regional sanctioning body for professional golf in Asia.”

You can bet chief executive Keith Pelley isn’t too happy with the arrival of the Asian circuit at a course which has previously held a European Tour event.

Call it payback time.

Things obviously get more interesting next week with the latest chapter in the LIV Golf Tour/Greg Norman/Phil Mickelson/PGA Tour/European Tour saga when the Centurion Club hosts the $25 million LIV Golf Invitational Series London, the inaugural event on the Saudi-backed LIV circuit.

We still don’t know who’s actually playing at the Centurion Club just outside of St Albans, but should find out imminently.

We know some of the players who have requested PGA Tour releases – Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood and Robert Garrigus. Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer are rumoured to be thinking of playing, while 49-year-old Richard Bland is on record as saying he’s intent on filling his pension pot by playing the new circuit. With $4 million first place prizes and a guaranteed $120,000 for finishing last, why wouldn’t he jump on the Saudi band wagon?

Call it a no brainer for a guy who’s been the epitome of journeyman professional for his entire career, even if the money emanates from arguably the world’s most repressive regime. Besides, as I’ve pointed out ad nauseum, golf and golfers have been accepting money from repressive regimes for decades now.

Norman gave Sky Sports a wee hint at who’ll turn up at the Centurion Club next month when he recently said:

"We're going to see what happens with the European Tour and the PGA Tour, but I can tell you this though: 36 of the top 150 players are playing, there's 19 of the top 100, and six of the top 50 in that first event. Which is pretty impressive.”

Not sure how impressed golf fans in the St Albans area will be at paying $80, £67.21, for a daily ticket to watch just 19 of the top 100 players. Yes, nearly £70, not far off daily Open Championship ticket prices.

Guess when Norman and the Saudis say they want to grow game, they mean in affluent households only.

Just who turns up to Centurion and who plays the rest of this season’s LIV events remains to be seen. However, one thing seems sure: the Saudis are not going away. And that spells bad news for the European Tour, as good friend and fellow golf writer John Huggan pointed out recently in his Golf Digest column.

As John notes, there’s little chief executive Keith Pelley can do other than plead with members not to play the LIV tour.

Good luck with that, Keith.

Padraig Harrington put it succinctly during the recent PGA Championship when he said reservations over who’s backing the tour will soon fade thanks to the wads of cash on offer.

And as I wrote in February, professional golf only has itself to blame. When you create a culture where most is best, as in cash, then you can hardly complain when someone comes along with a bigger wallet and threatens your very existence. Besides, the European Tour had no problems with Saudi money when the Saudi International was part of the European Tour schedule for three consecutive seasons, when they Riyadh regime was spending approximately $20 million annually, most of it on appearance fees.

The Fiddleleaf fig tree? Perhaps Pelley and the Tour planted the seeds of the organism that now threatens its very existence.

Funny old game.

#JustSaying: “What’s happening right now with LIV Golf and Golf Saudi has really changed the landscape. There’s been a lot of criticism all around. But I think if you just look at it, golf in general has benefited from it. Every Tour in the world has pushed their prize monies up as a result of it.” Shiv Kapur

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