The announcement that the European Tour is reducing the number of tournaments players must enter to retain membership from 13 to five again raises the issue of whether having a PGA Tour and European Tour competing with each other makes any sense.
European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley says: “The change to our minimum tournament requirement for the 2016 season recognises that many of our members are global players who, at the same time, wish to remain loyal to the European Tour”.
The issue facing the European Tour is that more and more of its members are basing themselves in America, where favourable conditions make year-round practice far easier and bigger events mean more money.
Is it time to merge the PGA Tour and European Tour to create a simpler, marketeer’s dream of a World Golf Tour?
What’s the root of the problem?
You’re one of the world’s best golfers. Do you… A) Buy yourself a mansion in Florida, practice in short sleeves all year round, and play competitive events with bulging prize funds every week. Or… B) Stay in Europe, deal with the weather, and play events of mixed quality for half the money available to you in the US?
You can’t blame the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter for choosing option ‘A’, but it does mean the European Tour is missing a lot of star power on a regular basis.
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?
“I think it’s a fantastic idea,” says Sam Torrance. “We know the American Tour
is the best in the world. And if they’re considering buying us and then running us, I don’t see a problem with that. It didn’t do Manchester United any harm when they were bought by Americans. I think it’ll be great for Europe, I really do.”
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?
“I would go with the weather and make sure we play everywhere in the world a little bit, even countries where we normally don’t go,” says Martin Kaymer. That sounds like a nice idea if you’re in the top 50, but what impact would a merger have on the players in the bottom half of the table on both tours? Unless field sizes double, which would be impossible, half of the players currently plying their trade on the PGA or European Tour would be left out in the cold.
What problems would it cause?
Aside from having to cull half of the current players, a tour that attempts to cover the world may mean that some regions are neglected. In 2014, the European Tour held 24 events in Europe, visiting Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Austria, Ireland, Germany, France, Scotland, Russia, Denmark, Czech Republic, Italy, Switzerland, Holland, England, Wales, and Turkey. A global tour, even with a packed 48-week schedule, would mean many of these countries lose their event.
Is it likely to happen?
To an extent, a global tour has already emerged. Nearly half of the European Tour takes place outside Europe, visiting South Africa, Hong Kong, UAE, Qatar, Malaysia, China, Singapore, and Australia.
“I absolutely do see the PGA Tour, the European Tour, the Asian Tour, and the Australia Tour somehow turning into some sort of global world tour,” says Matt Kuchar, while Kaymer adds: “It will take maybe another two or three years, but eventually it will come”.
If the European Tour is fragile, why would the PGA Tour want to buy it?
The European Tour has, largely by necessity, already made greater steps towards globalisation than the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour has been trying to play catch-up of late, recently purchasing the Canadian Tour and Latin American Tour.
Acquiring the European Tour and its established links in Asia and the Middle East would be a quick way to broaden the exposure and revenue of the game’s leading franchise and most recognisable tour brand.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem says: “The integration of professional golf can create additional value for our players, sponsors and fans.”
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, 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.