The restructured European Tour schedule for 2020 might be less of a temporary arrangement to rescue events from the coronavirus but “a little bit of a glimpse into the future”, says Chief Executive Keith Pelley.
The Tour will relaunch in late July with six events held in five weeks at sites with contained accommodation in England and Wales. A further series of four events, all in the lucrative Rolex Series with $6 million prizefunds and including the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at The Renaissance in East Lothian, will be played in October and November.
A further ten events, likely to include the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns in its original place in the schedule in September, are likely be announced next week, but dependent on clarification of COVID-19 containment regulations in a number of territories. However the template of “swings” – events in close proximity where players can be isolated and tested more easily – is likely to be followed there as well.
That’s all understandable to get the season complete in 2020, but with social distancing and other requirements likely to extend into 2021 as a reliable vaccine is developed, it might become the norm, admitted Pelley.
“Everything is about ease of travel this year,” said Pelley. “When you see the next wave of our schedule to come out…I said to David Howell, our tournament director, last night, that he will never have an easier schedule in terms of travel.
“And to be honest with you, it might quite honestly be a little bit of a glimpse of the future.
“For example, these six new tournament venues are all within a three‑hour drive of one another. We have created these events from scratch, and produced a strategy that has allowed us to do three things. It’s allowed us to navigate through this initial phase of the crisis and resurrect our 2020 schedule.
“It has helped us prepare for the short term in term of 2021 and of course helped us create a platform to help plan for the long term, for the future, from 2022 onwards.”
Certainly the medical health strategy developed by the Tour’s chief medical officer Dr Andrew Murray is not designed for the short-term, and the Scottish medic has become a newly significant figure in their operations.
“I cannot tell you how much time that we have spent on this,” added Pelley. “Obviously I’ve worked with Dr Murray for a number of years, but now he has become an integral part of my executive leadership team.
“I really cannot thank him enough. We are incredibly fortunate to be guided by him and his past experience in working for government and specifically in the area of public health, has been invaluable.”
The tour is not in the financial difficulty that was rumoured, stressed Pelley, but the prizefunds at the first six events beginning with the Britsih Masters at Close House in July reflected the need for the tour to entirely fund them themselves.
“You see the 2020 schedule, it’s completely different than 2019. And in 2021, a lot of the tournaments that have cancelled for this year will come back. However, I honestly believe that you are seeing a little bit of a glimpse into the future.
“All of these venues are incredibly excited about this year, and two of them have already said, “Can we get on the schedule for 2021,” and I look at that as an incredible positive.
“The prize funds for these events, will all be one million Euros with a 500,000 pound bonus. Given what we are facing, it’s no surprise that our prize fund levels will fall a little bit given the global crisis that is affecting the world.
“We could have made these tournaments larger in terms of the purse. We chose not to at this particular time as a prudent decision, not understanding yet where 2020 will take us going forward.
“But we will be able to climb again, and as we come through this situation and continue to shape The European Tour finances for the future under which has become an incredibly strong commercial team, led by Guy Kinnings, we are confident that we will be able to grow the revenue and strengthen our overall prize funds once again.”
With no fans at the first six events, and likely just limited spectators at all events for the rest of 2020 and into 2021, the onus will be to make the TV product even better, Pelley agreed.
“They are full‑field events,” he said. “We are looking at this particular time at a field of 144, but we have as you can expect many innovations that we have because this provide a wonderful opportunity for us to create a television product that can be even a little bit different.” It’s understood this may involve players wearing microphones and other innovations.
“This schedule on April 18 looked a lot different than it did on May 18,” continued Pelley. “Once we got the actual seal of strong encouragement from Dr. Murray to look and play multiple events in one country, at the same time while we were losing other tournaments, we realised we were going to have to create tournaments on our own.”
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