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Bright or bleak? The future of the European Tour

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By Kees Jan Stel

GolfWRX European Tour Contributor

With Europeans Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Graham McDowell and Padraig Harrington already playing in America, the top European golfers spent more time on the other side of the Atlantic than on home soil.

The increasing desire to play in America has much to do with the sustained acceptance and success of the PGA Tour’s FedexCup. And who can blame the players? The total purse of around $260 million in prize money on the PGA Tour is almost twice the amount in Europe. Moneywise, it’s a no brainer to cross the Atlantic once equipped with the required exemptions.

The good news for Europe is that more stars in America will help the old continent as well. Playing on the PGA Tour will make them better players and thus increase their chances of landing a major championship, further improving Europe’s record in team events such as the Ryder Cup. But there is an obvious downside. Englishman David Lynn, who came second in this year’s PGA Championship, is one of the European Tour players that has the credentials to give the PGA Tour a shot, but he is not intent to do so yet.

“It’s not good for the Tour if guys all keep playing in America all the time,” Lynn said. “If guys just have that attitude, like ‘I’ve got the right to go and play over there, it seriously doesn’t do a lot of good for the European Tour in the future. It is a vicious circle where America keeps getting stronger and Europe keeps getting weaker.”

Complaining never solves problems. So instead of staring at the success of the PGA Tour, the leaders of the European Tour recognized the flaws and decided to up the specs on their own tour. And it seems they are heading in the right direction, since there will be a substantial revamp of the European Tour’s calendar in 2013.

With the economic climate in Europe still heavily under par (the European Tour lost six tournaments in one year due to lack of funding), it is clear that the growth of the European Tour will come from outside of Europe. There are 46 events on the European Tour, 24 of which are played outside the continent and eight of which that are played in Asia.

The recently played Turkish Airlines World Golf Final in Belek will become an official, 78-man stroke play event on the European Tour next year with a purse that will surely be one of the better ones in the season. The Turks are after a bid to stage the Olympics in 2020, and are eager to show the world they can pull off events large events like the World Golf Final.

There is also BMW Masters in Shanghai, China. In 2011, it was an exhibition tournament, but this year it was an official part of the European Tour with an 80-man field and a $7 million purse.

Last but not least there is the inaugural Tournament of Hope that will be held in South Africa in late November of next year. Co-sanctioned by the European Tour and the Sunshine Tour, it is a 10-year signed event with a $9 million purse, which places it even above the four majors and the World Golf Championships in terms of total prize money. With the $7 million WGC-HSBC Champions in China, the $6 million Singapore Open and the $7 million Dubai World Championship already scheduled, all of a sudden the end of the year on the European Tour looks completely different. Rory McIlroy was clear about it:

“I think that’s what the European Tour needs to do, give it some sort of buzz like the PGA Tour has,” he said. “It will mean a very busy end to the season for us, but an exciting one too.”

The 2013 FedExCup Playoffs will mark the official end of the PGA Tour’s 2013 official season. Competition for the 2013-2014 FedExCup will resume three weeks later with the PGA Tour’s Fall Series. Much of the refurbished European Tour season will be not be played during the ultra-rich FedExCup Playoffs, but during the Fall Series, which should give the European Tour’s more lucrative season-ending events a boost.

It will be interesting to see how players deal with the serious amounts of dollars and ranking points that all of a sudden are available. Not only it will give the top players interesting options, it also leaves a mouthwatering prospect for golf fans who have gotten used to a fading end to the season once the Wannamaker Trophy was presented.

Currently, European Tour rules state that its members must play at least 13 events in a calendar year (up from 11 last year). But it significantly helped make itself more attractive to top international talent by doing what the PGA Tour has done for years, making participation in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup counts towards membership (the Seve Trophy, a biennial golf tournament between teams of professional male golfers representing Great Britain & Ireland and Continental Europe, will also count toward membership). Since the four major championships and all the WGCs already count toward membership on both tours, the strain of joining the European Tour will be much less for players.

Rory McIlroy said in Turkey that playing both Tours was clearly on his mind, in particular since he has never won the Harry Vardon Trophy*, which is given to the Order of Merit winner (leading money winner) on the European Tour. Not that playing on both the European and the PGA Tour is easy — it requires serious travelling and intelligent planning. On the other hand, Luke Donald successfully showed last year it can be done and Rory McIlroy is close to pulling it off this year. Tiger Woods also said in Turkey that he is contemplating membership of the European Tour. This year, including the Ryder Cup, Woods fell only four events short of the 13-tournament minimum (4 majors, 3 WGCs, and the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi Championship).

Will the exile of Europe’s best players hurt the European Tour? Not necessarily, as long as they decide to play on the European Tour as well. That would indicate that they will not play on European soil as often, since the restructuring of the European Tour’s end of the season will mainly take place in Asia and Africa. That may lead to Rory McIlroy not playing in his own Irish Open and Lee Westwood and Luke Donald not playing the BMW PGA Championship (Wentworth). But if it means that in the bargain players such as Tiger Woods become members of the European Tour and Europe remains as dominant as it is in Ryder Cup, no European will complain.

*The Harry Vardon Trophy should not be confused with the Vardon Trophy, which is awarded by the PGA of America to the player with the lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: GolfWRX.com – Bright or bleak? The future of the European Tour | Golf Products Reviews

  2. Dave Sefton

    Nov 2, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    Another issue is the movement of tournaments away from the heartlands of golf support. Too many tournaments are being played in oil rich, fan -less desert wastelands. Only one PGA tournament is played in England each year (with The Open every other year). Fans and future players are being lost in this country, club memberships are down. George O’Grady is causing the demise of European golf. Only 3 players got on the ‘plane back to Europe after the Ryder Cup, this is a pattern which will continue and soon the Ryder Cup will also be staying on the US side of the Atlantic.

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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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