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Tour growth depends on Dubai millions

Iain Carter | 10:26 UK time, Monday, 6 October 2008

As we know these are extremely difficult times in the financial markets but the economic woes of the world haven't prevented the European Tour from announcing what it terms the "most momentous season" in its history.

The reason, of course, is the backing of the Dubai-based Leisurecorp and the introduction of the $10m season-ending Dubai World Championship along with the $10m bonus pool for the "Race to Dubai" which will next year replace the Order of Merit.

But it would be wrong to assume that golf is impervious to the economic downturn. While no expense has been spared in the lavish announcement at Turnberry of the 2009 season, there are still plenty of I's to be dotted and T's to be crossed before the calendar is confirmed.

Indeed, the list is peppered with TBA's for the new campaign and there's an awful lot more hard bargaining to be done on sponsorship and venues for many European-based events.

Golf in Dubai

Should TBA stand for To Be Announced? Or should it be To Be Alarmed?

Of the 10 events that have yet to announce where they will be played, nine are in Europe. For some of these it is nothing more than a timing issue, with the tournaments wanting to make their own splash when details are revealed.

"This is 98% rock solid," said Tour chief executive George O'Grady of a list that he describes as a "transitional season" as the Tour heads to a calendar-year race from 2010 onwards.

But question marks exist with several popular tournaments. The Irish Open has no title sponsor or venue confirmed at this stage and the same can be said of the British Masters.

Even though it is scheduled for October, the Seve Trophy looks rocky. O'Grady didn't seem optimistic for the biennial clash between Great Britain and Ireland and continental Europe, speaking of "tough times".

The Tour has taken over the event and he said: "It's a work in progress and we're not at nine or 10 [out of 10]. It's not a done deal yet."

Five new tournaments have come into the 13-month calendar, but the BMW Asian Open has gone, prompting a late re-arrangement that sees the Ballantine's Championship in South Korea moving to an April date.

A new Spanish-based World Match Play replaces the Wentworth date lost this year. The Czech Open returns, the Canal+ Open is a new tournament for September and the English Open will be played at St Mellion in the same week as the US PGA.

At the Turnberry announcement (Leisurecorp now owns the resort and course and it is expected to stage the European Open from 2010) it was dropped in almost as an afterthought that the Dubai-based operation will be pumping in a further $40m over five years to prop up other Tour events.

It is hard to underestimate the Tour's dependency on the Leisurecorp millions as it bids to attract names like Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Camilo Villegas.

Leisurecorp will be seeking to make most of their return on this massive investment through property development.

"Before you ask your next question, we know what's happening in the markets but we are taking a very long term view on this," said David Spencer, their chief executive of golf.

"There is unfortunate and bleak economic news but we had very much committed to this well before the world was in the grip of these times.

"We are very conservative, by the way, in our business planning. We have reserved the capital injections for this very purpose. In times like this we don't want to flaunt the success of a company like Leisurecorp, but we are people of our commitment.

"We are well prepared to honour our commitment to golf," Spencer added.

Few companies can afford to be so bullish at the moment, but as long as Spencer is true to his word the European Tour should remain in a healthy state.

"We're ready for the bumps," says O'Grady. At the moment he seems to have more to smile about than is American counterpart Tim Finchem at PGA Tour headquarters in Florida.

"We are looking at opportunities around the world to work with the PGA Tour," said O'Grady. Now may be the time for him to strike with the US Tour so heavily supported by the ailing banking sector.

Europe's boss couldn't resist observing: "We don't want to be involved with too many rocky banks, so we're not following that one."

Instead he is banking on the Dubai millions as the European Tour seeks to break new ground in the global golfing market in these uncertain economic times.


  • Comment number 1.

    Good to see new tournaments in mainland Europe - especially Canal+ in France. You only have to look at the galleries at German and French tournaments especially to see that the game is really taking hold outside the British Isles and Sweden.

    O'Grady's comments regarding "rocky banks" are well founded. Being less dependent upon the financial sector for sponsorship will be no bad thing, though generally I think that professional golfers the world over might be having to rethink their plans for trading in the Lear Jet; and perhaps lower down, making Ryanair their chosen airline, rather than BA Business class! No bad thing for that either!

  • Comment number 2.

    I love the fact The European Tour is increasing it's appeal year after year and the new Dubai showpiece is a great jewel in the crown, but there seems to be an element of robbing Peter to pay Paul about it.

    The European tour is always poular with non-Americans because of it's more laid back atmosphere, the friendly rivalries and the less intense media obligations. Also, no disrespect to American fans who are warm and friendly, the lack of constant "GET IN THE HOLE BALL" outbursts must also be an appealing factor.

    But at the end of the day the deciding factor to get more Europeans to stay and more Americans to cross the pond will be ease and money. The tour has finally got their hands on prize funds that whilst not equalling the US, are close enough to tempt a few bnig names but then at the same stroke introduce a 12 tournament minimum that will surely deter as many top 25 players as it gains.

    Some of the US players just don't like the effort that playing in Europe involves. And that's understandable, with kids in school, the wife possibly working full time, long flights and then hotels in countries where you don't necesserily speak the language, 12 x 6 days abroad a year is a pretty hefty ask!

    When you put in it days you're asking people like Phil Michelson and Tiger Woods to give up AT LEAST two and half months of the year. How can someone with young kids do that when they're on the road in Hawaii one day and Chicago the next cope with that?

  • Comment number 3.

    Good for O'Grady for publishing his schedule before Finchem whose PGA Tour calendar may be in a more precarious state.

    And: Good for the European Tour for increasing the number of required events from 11 to 12, though the original rise to 13 would be preferable. Make players decide between two Tours, not bend over backwards to accomodate them on both sides of the Atlantic. That arguably cost us the Ryder Cup with Harrington and Garcia arriving in Kentucky exhausted.

    If, say, Woods wants to play the Euro Tour he only has to leave the States for six weeks, only one or two more than this year's original schedule. (Joe Green, you're perhaps unfamiliar with the schedule of such as Woods, or the comfort provided by TWA.)

    As for those Europeans like Ian Poulter, who want the best of both worlds but who seemingly can't count up to fifteen, you need more help than O'Grady or Finchem can provide.

  • Comment number 4.

    'I think that professional golfers the world over might be having to rethink their plans for trading in the Lear Jet; and perhaps lower down, making Ryanair their chosen airline, rather than BA Business class! No bad thing for that either'

    a) The golfers outside of Europe will be stuck at home then, unless of course Ryanair has expanded globally.

    b) You are presuming Ryanair can continue operating in the current climate.

  • Comment number 5.

    It is true that the Tour has upped its minimum requirement to 12 events but 6 European Tour events are played in the USA - 3 majors and 3WGCs - so i think it is only reasonable to ask US players to play 6 more events in Europe.

    The British Open plus a warm up event will leave just 4 more needed. The final event in Dubai will reduce that number to 3 so one 3 week stretch post-FEDEX cup would be enough. So if the top US stars want to get their hands on the EURO MILLIONS it will be easy enough for them.

  • Comment number 6.

    This is great news for the European Tour, in Leisurecorp they effectively have the Sheikh of Dubai backing the tour!! With the end of season Dubai World Championship Europe finally has the equivalent of the America’s FedEx cup. Leisurecorp is the chosen instrument by the Sheikh to promote Dubai as a premier Golf destination.
    For the Dubai World Championship Leisurecorp are developing a massive four course and property site Jumeirah Golf Estates. The four courses are designed by Greg Norman, Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia and Pete Dye. The FIRE course in particular is geared towards professional golf players with every conceivable facility provided specifically for professional players. This development is set to become one of the world’s most desirable places to live.
    I’m doing my research with a view of investing in a villa on the FIRE course – check and

  • Comment number 7.

    So the European Tour has been bought by Leisure Corp of Dubai and nobody bats an eyelid - but then why would they because everyone, particularly golf professionals are happy as long as there's lots and lots of cash to swish around.

    The European Tour is now a tool for the sale of houses. The tour and its players have happily handed their services over to Spencer and Leisure Corp to do with as they please in exchange for endorsing thousands of ultra luxurious villas and hotel rooms in Dubai. It's wrapped in nice looking paper with ribbons and bells on, but if you look past all the pizzazz....The Tour is now about selling homes and The Ryder Cup. That's it.

    Expect to see very soon, as you are watching the Dubai Championship, Sergio Garcia taking a little stroll through one of the homes around the course highlighting the state of the art kitchen appliances that come as standard while Vijay floats on an airbed in the terrace pool and talks about why everyone should buy a place in Dubai.

    The European Tour has been sold and the players and the house builders are all thrilled with the deal. But is this what golf is from now on? I can just see the channels being changed to X-Factor or Noel's whateveritscalled and that will make it all the more likely that events like the Irish Open will just slip off the calendar for good - not because they are great events on great courses, but because they don't make sense when there is no property to sell!

  • Comment number 8.

    Prediction--slowly but surely the awareness will grow that, as a group, the European players are better than the Americans(this Ryder Cup notwithstanding), and honestly they are more fun to watch.

    Watching most US tournaments now is like watching paint dry.

  • Comment number 9.

    You're right - The last two events on the European Tour, the Madrid Masters and The Portugal Masters were pure entertainment! The tension, the standard of golf, the winners.....who were they again?


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