What next for the Senior Tour?
The greatest mulligan in European golf isn’t taking place this year. The Staysure Tour, aka the European Senior Tour, was wiped out at the stroke of a pen because of coronavirus. What does that say for its future?
Would most golf fans mourn if the circuit disappeared altogether?
The European Tour can’t be blamed for putting the over 50s circuit on hold given the mess the world is in. It has enough work on its hands getting the regular circuit back up and running. The tour has promised to work hard to ensure European seniors get a strong schedule for 2021. However, there has to be a question mark hanging over the circuit.
Who knows what the post coronavirus world is going to look like. With many companies making massive losses through lack of business/trade, putting staff on furlough, making redundancies, you don’t need a PhD in Advanced Economics to realise sponsorship money might be hard to come by next year. Even the regular tour might suffer as companies tighten their belts. And if sponsorship money is going to be scare on the regular circuit, it’s probably going to be even scarcer for the senior tour.
I have fondness for the senior tour mixed with ambivalence. The fondness stems from so many friends playing on this circuit, guys I covered when they were on the European Tour. Woburn staged a senior tour event for 18 straight years between 2001 and 2018. It was well attended, had some great winners – Mark James, Gordon J Brand, Tony Johnstone, Des Smyth and Colin Montgomerie on three occasions. I enjoyed watching the stars of yesteryear play the Dukes Course.
My ambivalence comes from the fact I don’t think senior golf registers with too many golf fans. With the exception of a couple of mates, it’s not a big topic of discussion for many of my playing companions.
I used to play a wee game with fellow members. I’d ask them what European Tour event was taking place that week. Most hadn’t a clue. Sure, they knew the weeks the Masters, Open Championship, US Open, Ryder Cup, etc. was being played, but regular European Tour events? No chance for most. Afraid the French Open or BMW International or Oman Open or any number of regular European Tour events don’t really register with a lot of ordinary golfers.
If golf club members didn’t know what event was taking place on the European Tour in given weeks, then I’m betting they’d be hard pressed to name a Staysure tournament outside the Senior Open, unless it’s one played over their home course.
Here’s a test: without looking, see if you can name the player who topped the last year’s Staysure Tour Order of Merit. Thought so.
Well done if you came up with Welshman Philip Price. You might deserve to be called a true golf geek. And if you know South Africa’s James Kingston was second then you either work for the European Tour, are a fellow golf journalist or you need to get out more.
Sadly, the Staysure suffers because it doesn’t offer enough prize money to entice Europe’s big names to play more. Stars like Colin Montgomerie, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam and others head straight to the Champions Tour in America the first chance they get. Who can blame them when the prize money is far greater?
Without marquee names on a regular basis, the Staysure Tour struggles to gain traction with ordinary golf fans. The Ladies European Tour suffers from the same problem.
This year’s schedule was to consist of 19 tournaments. The Tour has pledged to work hard to provide a strong schedule for 2021. For the reasons I gave previously, getting sponsors to dip their hands into cash reserves is going to be a tall order.
Pity. I feel for my friends on the senior circuit, for players just starting their senior careers who were looking forward to taking advantage of professional golf’s greatest mulligan. I hope the circuit comes back stronger in 2021, but I fear many ordinary golfers couldn’t care less.
Those of us who think the world revolves around professional golf should always remember it doesn’t. As former Golf Magazine editor George Peper famously said, golf isn’t about the FedEx Cup, the Race to Dubai. If they ended tomorrow most regular golfers wouldn’t care a jot. They’d carry on playing the game they love.
And if they feel that way towards the regular tours, then most might not even notice if the European Senior Tour quietly slipped away.