Last week’s announcement of the formalisation of the “strategic partnership” between the PGA and European Tours has resulted in a more than a little gnashing of teeth in some quarters.
The deal elevates the re-sponsored Scottish Open to FedEx Cup status in 2021. It gives up half the field in one of the European Tour’s marquee events to PGA Tour members. In exchange there are 50 spots at the two lowest ranked PGA Tour events on the schedule for Euro Tour members.
It’s “just the beginning” of the partnership says Euro chief executive Keith Pelley, which is regarded by some as a promise and by others as warning.
How long before it’s “PGA Tour Europe”? Is the European Tour to be little more than a slightly more prestigious Korn Ferry Tour? And what’s next, are the other crown jewels of Europe, the PGA Championship, Abu Dhabi, the Dubai Desert Classic and DP World Championship, about to be carved up too?
The answer is – look closely, it’s pretty much happened already.
Covid’s punishing effect on the European Tour
The European Tour and PGA TOUR announce first details of our Strategic Alliance.
Introducing…Genesis Scottish Open 👋🏆#GenesisScottishOpen
— Genesis Scottish Open (@ScottishOpen) August 3, 2021
Covid has plunged the European Tour into a deep financial trough. The Rolex Series has been cut in half. The average prize fund for regular events has dropped to late 1990s levels.
The top players are now in America, full-time. However regrettable you may find this situation, it’s a reality and really, there’s no way out of it.
This is not a virus-dependent situation – it would take decades to raise the Tour back to pre-Covid levels.
A clue is in other part of the deal, the cash from the PGA Tour to double the prizefund of the Irish Open to $6 million. Yes, it was $7 million when it was a Rolex Series event. But that was more than halved by Covid and wasn’t getting anywhere as high again for at least 10 years on its own.
The gap between the tours has widened to a chasm
We’re fond in T2G of using the world rankings strength-of-field (SoF) measurement, and this year it really underlines the way gap between the tours has already widened to an extraordinary degree.
The strongest field in Europe so far in 2021, you’ll not be surprised to learn, was the Scottish Open at 424 points. But what’s illuminating is that 424 points would only place the Scottish 11th in the list of 25 regular PGA Tour events – that is, not majors or WGCs – played so far this year.
Take out the “opposite field” events – those played in major or WGC weeks – the Scottish is squarely in the middle rank.
Outside the three events of Gulf Swing in January/February only two other Euro Tour events have been three figures or close – the Irish Open (113) and the BMW International (97).
With the WGC going on in Memphis, the Hero Open at the weekend at Fairmont St Andrews was effectively an “opposite field” event. It recorded just 20 SoF points.
Furthermore, only 11 players in a field of 144 were inside the world’s top 200 and just two – Andy Sullivan and Danie van Tonder – in the top 100.
There were no realistic alternatives
What exactly can the Tour do? They could have gone against the PGA Tour and thrown their lot in with the PGL.
But however many rounds of his media contacts Andrew Gardiner goes through he isn’t getting the discussions that matter, with Pelley or Jay Monahan. On the announcement zoom last week both said they hadn’t spoken to Gardiner and had no plans to.
The SGL? They’re off trying to buy the Asian Tour and get around the obvious barriers that way. It’s perhaps a way of getting their foot in the door.
But although they may win small concessions from the established Tours, they’re surely not getting anywhere near equal status however much riyal they throw around.
The best they can hope for is finding a decent player willing to throw three years of his career down the pan in a lawsuit. Or they can become a Desert Champions Tour, a last respite for over-the-hill players trying to keep their earnings up.
Where does the European Tour end up? Effectively where it is right now: a developmental tour most weeks, with some heavy-duty “swings” tied up with the PGA Tour – The Middle East, Links in July, and post-FedEx Cup play-offs in September/October.
After the traumas of the last two years, is that such a bad place to be? Doesn’t matter, really. It’s the only place there is.
— Trust Golf Women's Scottish Open (@Womens_Scottish) August 9, 2021
Grant Forrest was one of those Scots you just knew (well, hoped…we’re Scottish) would win one day, and he did so in grand fashion at the Hero Open. We think the same of Calum Hill, who had a chance but came up short.
The Perthshire man’s reaction to his stablemate’s win, despite his own disappointment, was quite special.
Olympic Golf: It belongs there, alright. Just don’t think that it’s only for existing golf fans – the whole point is to engender avid interest in the sport outside our narrow confines, like India’s Aditi Ashok did to her homeland in the women’s competition.
A good way of helping that further would be to introduce a team – preferably mixed team – element to the Games. It shouldn’t beyond our wit to come up with something.
Two brilliant weeks of links golf for women starts with the Scottish this week at Dumbarnie Links in Fife, a new jewel among Scottish courses.
Open barely a year, we can’t wait to see how it goes with an excellent field, many coming straight from Tokyo.
Sadly, no spectators are being allowed because of logisitics. We have 8000 fans a day at Carnoustie for the Women’s Open, but more on that next week.