Since my last column in February I‘ve played over in Thailand and India – finishing 23rd in the latter. I’ve had a couple of weeks off lately with the WGCs and The Masters, so I have got a lot of preparation in ahead of a four week run of events in Spain, two in China, and finally Morocco. Though it’s not too exciting on the course, there’s lots of excitement off it.
The European Tour is entering a new era, which I’m very excited to be part of. The Tour, and golf, have had a tough time recently. Declining participation means many clubs are struggling to stay afloat. As less people become interested in golf, sponsors have questioned their involvement.
Enter Keith Pelley, the new European Tour CEO. From what I’ve seen so far, he is driven to close the gap between the European and PGA Tours. Not only in prize money, but in the number of tournaments, spectators, viewing figures, and quality of competition.
Since his arrival, the Italian Open has gone from a €1.5m event to €3m in 2016, and then €7m for the following seven years. After years of stagnant prize funds, that is an incredible achievement. The Irish Open has increased by £1.5m, and we hear more tournaments are set to follow. Incredibly, the minimum prize money on the PGA Tour is $6m dollars, so we have a long way to go, but Pelley has made a lot of progress in a short time.
There are also several smaller changes taking place, which will make the Tour much more spectator and sponsor friendly. We are now allowed to wear shorts on practice days, which doesn’t seem like much, but it will make golf more appealing to a wider audience. The Tour is also looking at holding skills challenges on pro am days, where players will participate in long drive, chipping, and putting contests – giving fans a chance to interact with players in a much more casual and entertaining atmosphere, and who doesn’t love a bit of friendly competition?
While it is important that we don’t lose the things that makes golf what it is, we have to adapt. I’m very excited about the future of the European Tour!