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European Tour to relaunch without fans in July at five ’emergency’ tournaments

The British Masters, last held at Close House in 2017, will relaunch the European Tour in July.
The British Masters, last held at Close House in 2017, will relaunch the European Tour in July.

The European Tour will relaunch after the coronavirus in late July with five tournaments in four days, without spectators, at self-contained venues in England and Wales.

After being forced into 21 postponements or cancellations on their 2020 tournament schedule because of the pandemic, the Tour will start at first remaining scheduled event, the British Masters at Close House near Newcastle.

It will be brought forward a week and four more “emergency” tournaments at other venues in England with large hotel accommodation attached will follow in a “summer festival” of golf, the final two events being staged at Celtic Manor near Newport in Wales, the venue for the 2010 Ryder Cup, in the same week.

The British Masters will be played on July 23-26, and will be played for close to the original prizefund of £2 million at Close House in Northumberland. The new “British Swing” will then head for Forest of Arden in Warwickshire, followed by Hanbury Manor in Hertfordshire just north of London.

It will culminate in two events played simultaneously on the two courses at Celtic Manor. An additional “entry” event over two days may be played in the build-up to the British Masters.

All events will be behind closed doors but broadcast by the tour’s TV partner Sky Sports. The intention is to create a closed bubble for tournament players, caddies and officials to stay on site and isolate once they have passed the 14-day quarantine to enter the country before the start of the series.

Other than the British Masters, all events in the series will carry prizefunds of 1 million euro – a third less than the common prizefund for events outwith the Tour’s lucrative Rolex Series.

The new schedule underlines the importance to the Tour’s ailing finances to get some sort of tournament golf up and running with TV coverage, given that the contract with Sky is their main source of revenue and no golf since March is already likely to result in a sizeable rebate to the broadcaster.

The irony is that the Tour has struggled to get English venues and sponsors for many years, with the recently revived British Masters being the only event in England other than the annual BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

In common, the last Wales Open at Celtic Manor was played back in 2014, and the Tour has not visited the Principality since. Now this “emergency” swing will result in five events in succession in the UK for the first time since the 1990s.

In a letter to players last week Tour chief executive Keith Pelley announced an intention to play as many as 22 events in the remainder of the year, and to crown a Race to Dubai winner at the DP World Championship in the Emirates as scheduled in December.

It’s believed they’ll attempt to do this with multiple events at continental venues including Portugal and Austria, and an Autumn stretch which will take in the biggest-paying events in the British Isles and Ireland – the Irish Open, the Scottish Open, the BMW PGA and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews.

Whether these events have the multi-million dollar prizefunds originally intended is dependent on how the pandemic develops between now and the autumn.

In his letter to members, seen by Golf Digest, Pelley also promised players “robust testing and hygiene procedures” and that the qualification process for entry to the tour would be scrapped for 2020.

All members’ 2020 categories and rankings will be retained in 2021 and protected throughout the season, he wrote, adding that there would be promotion from the Challenge Tour secondary circuit and no Qualifying School this year – an event which raises up to £2 million in entry fees.

“To put any member in a position where they feel they have no alternative but to play in certain events in certain countries to protect their livelihood, is not right,” stated the chief executive in his letter.

The chief executive had previously told members to expect significant reductions in luxuries for players such as on-course accommodation and courtesy cars as the Tour attempts to cut costs and stay afloat.

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