The brave new world of world golf is suddenly on the horizon.
Like suddenly seeing signs for that service station you thought was still miles away (can you tell I’m driving to Wales this week?) the redrawn 2019 season is almost upon us.
The European Tour has released their schedule for next season – it starts in less than a month in Hong Kong – but it’s the event organised by an entirely different entity than the major tours that has created a shifting of the season.
The PGA Championship (we don’t call it the US PGA here, the only major that gets a geographical location is the US Open) has been dragged out of August and rumbled into mid-May.
Why? I’d like to think it was because we’re all sick of seeing golfers with massively visible sweat stains caused by the ludicrous humidity in the USA in late summer, but it’s because the PGA was getting squeezed; too close to the Open, in the way of the Olympics, and diminished by the proximity of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs.
The playoffs, such as they are, were getting squeezed themselves by massively more popular events; the Ryder Cup (and to a lesser degree the President’s Cup) and the NFL season in the USA. When they moved, the knock-on effect was the PGA shifted to May.
But the tremors of the movement means changes are forced here, as detailed in the European Tour schedule; the BMW PGA Championship shifts out of a direct clash with its American cousin and alights in mid-September.
This is great, I think; the “flagship” at Wentworth will find superior conditions for play to those it currently endures, and it’s going to be great warm-up for the Ryder Cup in future years.
But the BMW PGA is taking some fairly significant events with it. The Italian Open continues to hop about the calendar and it’s in October next year. The Open de France, still at Ryder Cup venue Le Golf National but without a named sponsor as yet, is the week after.
I’m sure the invite to Phil Mickelson is already in the post.
Those two events’ drift towards autumnal dates seem to confirm the suspicion that the European Tour is effectively aligning itself with the PGA Tour.
A slot after the FedEx playoffs, when top players of many nationalities may be inclined to travel a little more, looks like it could become a prize.
The European Tour’s mainstay “swings” remain largely untouched. The Gulf Swing of January is augmented by Abu Dhabi being raised to Rolex Series status. There’s also the Dubai Desert Classic and the new event in Saudi Arabia – there’s been no flinching by the Tour so far despite recent events involving the Kingdom.
The Tour still go to Qatar and Turkey, of course, so the internecine machinations of Middle Eastern politics seem to be ignored.
The second “links” swing has lost France, but Ireland and Scotland remain in pole position in the fortnight prior to the Open, both resplendent with Rolex Series status.
The Tour’s innovations are still out there. Golf Sixes is back, but at a as-yet undisclosed location in Portugal. The Super 6 in Australia, Belgian Knockout and Shot Clock Challenge are also still there.
Plus there is the tour for the first time embracing the Vic Open, where men and women play simultaneously and for the same share of the prizefund.
Events in Oman and Kenya, long-time Challenge Tour staples, are upgraded to full tour status, although we’ll want to see the prizemoney involved there before openly celebrating their promotion.
Similarly, the British Masters is not dead as feared and Tommy Fleetwood, as he cryptically hinted last week while in China, is to be the host next year at the absolute treasure that is Hillside Golf Club.
It’s Southport – Tommy’s home town, of course – right next door to Royal Birkdale and not much of a step down in quality from the Open course. The caveats are that there’s still no sponsor (but they must be confident in that regard with Tommy’s name on it) and that it’s the week before the new PGA date, which may have some effect on the field.
But the overriding impression of the schedule is that we’re moving ever closer towards a proper World Tour schedule, where the European Tour’s strong swings – Desert, Links and post-FedEx – become part of a bigger picture.
Merger? It would really be a takeover if it occurred. But the schedule changes for 2019 make it a lot, lot easier to do.
The US team, humbled in Paris, have quietly begun some soul-searching, and it appears more talking is needed.
“We’ve done a massively better job communicating,” says Davis Love III, quoted in Golf Digest. “But we still have to get a lot better.”
From the outside, the fabled TASKFORCE! seemed pretty much like a buddy club chaired by Phil and containing his pals. Patrick Reed seemed to hint as much after Paris.
Maybe a new, less cliqueish committee is required. Or maybe, just put Tiger in charge of everything? Couldn’t be worse than his playing record, after all…