The European Tour has revitalised itself after the PGA Tour introduced the fascinating (but not quite perfected) FedEx Cup Series. The Race to Dubai is golf’s richest prize producing star winners: Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald, Henrik Stenson and Rory McIlroy twice. It has rejuvenated the European Tour, at least for now, and has the backing of serious sponsorship across the world. But in the few dark spots currently out of sight for most to see there is still major work to be done to continue this redevelopment including a return of sponsors and events to European soil. In 2010 there were six events on Spanish soil however in 2015 there is only one. Albeit the European Tour is a global tour picking up big sponsorship from events in Asia, South Africa, Australia and the Middle East, the tour must be careful not to turn its back on its roots. After an overwhelmingly successful Ryder Cup at Gleneagles the Scottish Resort venue has been removed from the tour calendar.
The tour has unearthed talents from across the globe this season alone in Branden Grace (RSA), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Thailand) and Anriban Lahiri (India). But as the last few seasons have shown the better player you are the more you will gravitate to the United States to play. Jamie Donaldson, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer and Justin Rose are all great supporters of the European Tour but are now viewed as world players. They benefit from playing in one country as opposed travelling around four continents.
However in the past few seasons we’ve witnessed golf’s top names playing more often on the European Tour. Top American players Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson played events on the European Tour in the past year outside the majors. But how can the tour continue to attract the world’s best when the PGA Tour pays out more prize money and travel to the next event is normally a state or two away as opposed to long haul flights. Following the Portuguese Masters in October players face a flight to Hong Kong for the next event.
In recent years we have lost Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood to the PGA Tour. Whilst they are still European Tour members they use the majors and world golf events to count towards their 14 counting events. Poulter and Westwood have joined Brian Davis and Greg Owen as US based players who make a good living without seeing the improvement in their game they went to America to achieve. Home players Jamie Donaldson, Stephen Gallacher and Paul Casey have taken advantage of entries to PGA Tour events this season weakening the field of European events.
The European Tour has it’s months – January, May, July, October and November where the players flood to the biggest events. That aside most will pitch for regular events in the States. Now that three World Golf Championships and The Players Championship have been spread across the year (based in the United States) it is hard for the European Tour to schedule their events to attract the biggest names. How can the tour stop becoming a feeder tour for players embracing the PGA Tour?
There is a PGA Tour event on alongside this week’s World Golf Championship at Firestone. Yet the European Tour takes a week off. In fact the PGA Tour schedules an event alongside The Open Championship to cater for those professionals who didn’t qualify for golf’s greatest prize. Yet the European Tour wouldn’t dare schedule an event alongside The Masters, U.S. Open or PGA Championship. These weeks are available to allow Challenge Tour and non-exempt European Tour players to play European Tour events instead of taking weeks off to watch their peers on television.
One of the tour’s biggest failures was its loss of the once prestigious World Match Play at Wentworth. The Paul Lawrie Match Play was a welcome return to straight knock-out but without the big names. The British Masters has returned to the calendar with the help of Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald. Now other European advocates much do the same. Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace support all the South African events. Perhaps the return of Sergio Garcia and the emergence of new Spanish talent would demand that the European Tour increase events in Spain.
Keith Pelley has taken over from George O’Grady as European Tour Chief Executive. O’Grady has presided over the most successful period in the tour’s history. Pelley has the backing of Thomas Bjorn (Chairman of the European Tour Championship Committee): “On behalf of the players, I am very pleased to welcome Keith as our new Chief Executive. Having spoken with him on numerous occasions I am very much aware of the desire he possesses to drive the Tour forward in every direction, which can only be good news for everyone associated with European golf.”
In 2010 and 2014 European Tour players held 3 of the 4 majors and the Ryder Cup.
Time will tell whether the European Tour has the capability and resource to keep up with its superior rival. The hope for viewers and spectators of the European Tour is that the game’s greats will continue to play and support the tournaments into golf’s developing future.