Spain's standing on Euro Tour takes another hit

Sergio Garcia celebrates during the 2011 Andalucia Masters.

It’s just as well that the European Tour expanded its horizons globally many years ago. As the news from Spain reveals, the Tour can’t rely on traditional markets anymore.

The cancellation of the Andalucia Masters at Valderrama brings to four the number of Spanish tournaments that have been scrapped this year. In a news release Sept. 12, the tour announced that despite a formal legal agreement with the Junta de Andalucía, the Oct. 18-21 has been canceled.

“This is extremely disappointing news to receive, especially at such a late date,” said George O’Grady, the European Tour’s chief executive. “We have been long-term partners with the junta for over 25 years. We have worked together to promote the region, and the Junta de Andalucía and the European Tour have enjoyed an exceptionally strong and committed long-term partnership.”

Add the Andalucia Masters to the Madrid Masters, Castillo Masters and Iberdrola Open as Spanish events to drop off the 2012 European Tour calendar. Last year, there were seven Spanish tournaments on the European schedule. This year, the number is down to three: Andalucia Open, won by Julien Quesne; Spanish Open, won by Francesco Molinari; and the Volvo World Match Play, won by Nicolas Colsaerts. Expect the number to drop even lower next season. The Andalucia Open must now be a doubt for 2013, given the dire financial situation in the country.

Spain has been the bedrock of the European Tour, dating to the circuit’s inception. For example, the first two events on the 1972 schedule began in Spain. Indeed, the Tour traditionally kicked off in Spain in April and then followed the sun around Continental Europe.

Spain has been a good fit for the European Tour for decades. In the 1970s, Spain was just opening up as a tourist destination for Britons keen to get away from the British weather. The advent of cheap airfares opened the country to hordes of British travelers, many of them golfers.

In fact, Spain has been so popular with U.K. travelers that many areas of southern Spain seem more British than Spanish. Many Britons have second homes in the south of the country, and it’s as easy to find a British pub in some parts as it is in London.

Andalucia’s economy has been built on the back of this mass tourism, and golf in the region has boomed as a result. No wonder the Andalucian government was keen to pump money into European Tour coffers over the years.

Like other parts of Europe, Spain has suffered during the economic downturn, and unemployment has been running at about 25 percent.

Andalucia, a region that borders the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea at the Strait of Gibralter, has suffered badly, too, despite its popularity as a tourist destination. Construction projects have been put on hold, property prices have plummeted and unemployment has been running even higher than the national average – by some estimates, up to 35 percent.

Andalucia recently appealed to the Spanish government for 1 billion euros ($1.29 billion) to help repay its debts. Given Spain’s dire financial position, it’s no surprise that funding a golf tournament is not high on its list of priorities.

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