The European Tour will relaunch in July with six events in five weeks, a “rigorous” coronavirus testing regime and a maximum of 500 people on each site.
Chief Executive Keith Pelley said he was “very close” to naming a full schedule for the remainder of the season which would take in many of the events postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic but has been able to confirm an initial “UK swing” plus a run of four Rolex Series events to close the season.
The Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open has been rescheduled to October 8-11, with the tour flagship BMW PGA Championship following in the weeks before the season ending DP World Championship.
The plan is to have the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns as the only tournament to retain its date on the original 2020 schedule, although that is still to be confirmed.
Some fans and media other than TV broadcasters may be allowed at those events later in the year, but the initial run of six events, starting with the British Masters at Close House near Newcastle on July 22-25, will all be played behind closed doors.
Pelley said the possibility of the customary 30,000 spectators every day at the BMW PGA Championship was “probably not feasible” and even suggested the new schedule, with a “swing” of events held in quick succession within a few hours’ drive of each other “might be a glimpse into the future”.
Pelley also refuted the suggestion that the tour was in a financial hole that threatened its existence, saying that the four Rolex Series events in October and November to complete the season would be played for the full $6 million prizefunds.
The Tour will fund the six “restart” events themselves from a development fund it established in 2017, he added.
Pelley repeatedly declined to make any comment on this year’s Ryder Cup, scheduled for September at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, saying that the discussions between the Tour and their partner in the event, the PGA of America, would become public in the next month.
The six events to restart will be the British Masters, a week earlier than originally scheduled, followed by the English Open at the Marriott Forest of Arden, and the English Championship at Marriott Hanbury Manor in Hertfordshire.
The Celtic Manor Resort in Wales, host of the Ryder Cup ten years ago, will host back-to-back events, with the Tour returning to another former Ryder Cup venue, The Belfry, for the sixth and final event, the UK Championship.
All tournaments played in the reshaped 2020 season will be governed by the Tour’s comprehensive Health Strategy which has been developed by Scot Dr Andrew Murray, the European Tour’s Chief Medical Officer, in consultation with health care specialists Cignpost, who will deliver the testing procedure, and advisers in many of the 30 countries the Tour plays.
The tour’s relaunch also has a charitable addition, with a new “Golf for Good” which will distribute £500,000 from the re-start series to local community charities at the venues and those chosen by ten players on a mini Order of Merit from the six events.
“Since the suspension of our 2020 season in early March, we have taken a measured approach in reassessing our schedule, informed every step of the way by our medical advisers and government guidance,” said Pelley.
“We have consistently said that safety is our absolute priority and that is why today we are announcing our resumption in two months’ time supported by a comprehensive health strategy which has been led by our medical team.
“Without question we have had to think differently about the remainder of our 2020 season which is reflected in today’s announcement. Diversity is ordinarily one of our biggest strengths, but in this instance it has become one of our biggest challenges.
“Initially, therefore, based on the expert guidance we received, playing in clusters, in one territory, is the best option in terms of testing, travel and accommodation.”
While the intention remains to crown a new Race to Dubai Champion on Sunday December 13, as part of the changes to the end of the 2020 season caused by the impact of COVID-19, the European Tour’s Tournament Committee recently agreed that all Members’ 2020 Categories, and their ranking within that category, will be retained in 2021 with related playing rights being protected to the absolute maximum possible in the 2021 season.
“As a consequence, there will be no Qualifying School this year and no formal graduation from the Challenge Tour, although the Tournament Committee has agreed to reward exceptional performance on both the European Tour and the Challenge Tour in 2020, precise details of which we will announce in due course,” added Pelley.