The rhetoric surrounding the European Tour has generally been downcast in nature since the untimely arrival of Covid-19. In truth, issues had started appearing long before the coronavirus pandemic plunged the world into turmoil.
Prize pools haven’t grown anywhere near as fast as those on the other side of the Atlantic – understandable, of course, given geographical and economic factors – and many were stagnating even before Covid reared its ugly head.
Going back further, economic problems in countries like Spain and England caused long-standing events to be cancelled or staged with very small – relatively – prize pools.
By contrast, funds on the PGA Tour have been increasing year in, year out, even during the pandemic – a mark of the financial clout of US-based companies and institutions. The population of sports-mad America is almost three times that of Europe’s most populated country, Russia, highlighting the size of the market on the other side of the Atlantic.
Even ‘smaller’ events on the PGA Tour still have a number of world top-50 players competing and prize pools in the multiple millions, a statement that simply doesn’t apply to European Tour tournaments of the same stature.
Let’s take the Czech Masters and the John Deere Classics as examples – two of the lesser lights on their respective tours. This year, the former had a prize fund of €1m and no players from the world’s top 100; the latter $7m and too many to count.
Given the above, it’s no surprise the PGA Tour is attracting some of Europe’s top players in ever-increasing numbers. More money equals better fields and higher world ranking points.
It’s also no one’s fault at the European Tour, with Keith Pelley and his team doing an excellent job in launching the Rolex Series and showing ingenuity in staging events during the pandemic. Simply put, the European Tour hasn’t been able to weather the storm anywhere near as well as the PGA Tour.
But this week’s announcement that the European Tour will be re-branded the DP World Tour from 2022 has brought some much-needed positivity to the circuit. With European economies struggling to bounce back from the pandemic, selling overarching title sponsorship was a savvy and shrewd move by Pelley and his team. Plus, the tour has been global in nature for some time, so it’s a more representative name.
What’s more, every event solely sanctioned by the DP World Tour must have a prize pool of at least $2m, which is significant. Giving the lower-tier tournaments a much-needed boost is the first step in raising their stature.
If this trend continues over the next few years, events like the Czech Masters are likely to attract better fields and more commercial interest, leading to a better fan experience.
At the other end of the spectrum, a fifth Rolex Series event has been added to the schedule, the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic. Four of these tournaments have purses of $8m and the season-ending DP World Tour Championship will carry a prize fund of $10m. The DP World Tour’s top-tier events are already strong and globally significant and should hopefully continue to attract top talent from all over the world.
For the first time in 2022, the Scottish Open will also be co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour, while the Barbasol Championship and Barracuda Championship will be co-sanctioned by the European Tour as part of the strategic alliance announced between the two organisations last year – most likely to present a strong and united front against Saudi-backed initiatives to infiltrate top-tier golf.
This co-sanctioning is good for two reasons. It might encourage more top-class Americans to compete in both the Scottish Open and wider Rolex Series, especially given these events are specifically scheduled not to clash with anything unmissable on the PGA Tour.
It will also give DP World Tour players the chance to compete in the States and test themselves in different conditions and against strong fields. It’s hard to disagree with Pelley’s assertion that “the entire ecosystem of our Tour will be strengthened because of this hugely significant deal”.
New tournaments will also take place in the UAE, Belgium, Japan and South Africa and the schedule will include a minimum of 47 events in 27 different countries. In addition, the agreement will see investment into prize funds on the Challenge Tour and increased playing opportunities.
A new John Jacobs Bursary Award will also support the top-five players on the aforementioned tour with their travel and expenses the next year on the DP World Tour.
After a difficult period for the European Tour, it seems as if new life has been breathed into the beleaguered circuit. For the first time in a while, there is genuine excitement about what’s to come and huge credit must go to DP World, Pelley and his team and the PGA Tour’s commissioner Jay Monahan. As Rory McIlroy says, it’s “great news for global golf”.
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