Tait’s Take: The European Tour has a money problem – it has too much

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Tait’s Take: The European Tour has a money problem – it has too much

Euro Tour

Tait’s Take: The European Tour has a money problem – it has too much

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Money, according to the old proverb, is the root of all evil. It’s certainly giving the European Tour a huge headache with it’s much vaunted Rolex Series.

Forty-nine of the European Tour’s top 50 are in Dubai to play in the season-ending finale, the $8 million DP World Tour Championship, the third consecutive and eighth and final Rolex Series event. (Only 39th-ranked Tony Finau is missing. He’s allowed a pass: the Euro Tour isn’t his main tour.)

Getting high-caliber players to turn up for other Rolex Series events hasn’t proven as successful as the European Tour hoped when it launched the series in 2017. Last week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge is the second-richest Rolex tournament at $7.5 million, yet eventual winner Tommy Fleetwood was the highest-ranked player in the field at world No. 18. Shane Lowry and Jon Rahm skipped even though they were, and still are, in contention to finish the season as European Tour No. 1. There was no Justin Rose, no Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and others. Rose and Lowry teed it up the week before in the $7 million Turkish Airlines Open.

DP World Tour Championship, Dubai: Leaderboard

European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley was in an ebullient mood when he faced the press during the third round of the DP World. All is rosy in Pelley’s Rolex Series garden, at least on record.

“Talk of player participation is very important,” Pelley said. “But it’s not the only thing that defines a great tournament.

“I don’t look at it from a ‘concerned’ perspective. If we spend our entire time on top-player participation and if that was the only metric that our sponsors and partners look towards, then we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.

“There is unbelievable optionality for the players right now and it is pretty significant,” Pelley added. “There are probably less than 10 golf tournaments now that are mandatory. The top players are playing less. They played 24.9 times in 2015 and they are now playing 22.3 times. There are 35 tournaments over $7 million, so we look at it but we don’t become obsessed with it.”

There’s a contradiction here. The Rolex Series was set up precisely to try to get Europe’s top stars to play more on their home tour.

The problem? The top players earn so much money they can afford to turn their noses up at tournaments worth $7 million and more.

The three final Rolex Series events came on the back of the $10.25 million WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai. There was a time when the tops stars would have built their schedules around a quartet of events worth a combined $32.75 million. Not now. These guys are so rich they don’t have to play four in a row. Even players who are not box office names can afford to skip Rolex Series tournaments, a fact Pelley acknowledged.

“I had an interesting discussion with Victor Perez, who is ninth in the Race to Dubai. Last year he was a Challenge Tour player but he got into the WGC-HSBC Champions but he doesn’t want to play four in a row, so he made a decision not to play in Turkey or South Africa.”

If a relative unknown like Perez can afford to skip two tournaments worth a combined $14.5 million, it sends a pretty strong signal. It’s why Pelley is looking at ending the 2021 schedule with just two Rolex Series events instead of the current three.

Another problem is that some Rolex Series sponsors are still having to shell out appearance money to lure the top stars. So potential sponsors have to dig deeper into their coffers to stage tournaments, and that’s not an easy sell in the current financial climate.

Pelley did well to introduce the Rolex Series, but it’s throwing up as many problems as answers. All because of money.

 

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