When George O’Grady steps down as the chief executive of the European Tour in early 2015, his successor will face some serious challenges.
Whilst O’Grady’s nine-year tenure has been a largely successful one, more and more players are basing themselves in America, and weakened European fields do not please the all-important money men. The European Tour has already lost key events in Spain over a lack of sponsors, and the 2015 World Match Play Championship will be without the support of Volvo, after the title sponsor decided to cease backing one of the European Tour’s flagship events.
The increasing dominance of the PGA Tour again begs the question: is it time to merge the PGA and European Tours?
What’s the root of the problem?
It’s a vicious circle: if you don’t have the big money, you can’t attract the best players. If you don’t have the best players, you can’t attract the big money. The situation isn’t helped by the fact that American universities offer golf scholarships to the hottest prospects, meaning many future stars are based over there before they even turn pro. “It’s the standard run-of-the-mill European Tour events that are suffering with the fields,” says eight-time Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie. “The first thing a sponsor asks is ‘Who is playing?’ If you say, ‘A lot of the guys won’t be there due to the fact they are playing in America’, then they’ll come back and say, ‘Well, I’m not putting as much money in as I might have’.”
“It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to work out that the economy in Europe is not very good,” adds Graeme McDowell. “The European Tour schedule is not ripe with $3-, $4- and $5 million events.”
Would a merger solve the problem?
Lee Westwood thinks it would benefit golf on a global scale: “We need to pull everything together and try to play the best fields against each other as often as possible to make golf more visible. There is definitely an argument for having one global tour. That is the way to go.”
How would it work?
What problems would it cause?
Is it likely to happen?
If the European Tour is fragile, why would the PGA Tour want to buy it?
It’s something that will have to be regularly assessed as time goes by, but for now, we don’t think the European Tour needs saving. Events are still well attended, and there’s no doubt that a merger would cause some countries to miss out and leave half of all current Tour pros struggling to make a living. The European Tour is visiting an increasingly diverse collection of countries, and helping to promote and grow the game worldwide. Putting all of golf’s eggs in one American-focused basket would put European golf at the mercy of the PGA and there would be no going back. It’s not a decision that will – or should – be taken lightly.
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