European Tour will survive slashed bonuses
In 2008, the European Tour were shouting from the top of Dubai’s skyscrapers about the news of a massive cash injection from the Emirate that would bring “a new dimension” to their schedule.
This year, that most lavish of launches has been replaced by a low-key email telling of a reduced bonus pool available for this year’s Race to Dubai.
It is a sign of the current economic times that the Tour’s top golfers will not be able to cash in on their ability this year to the extent they have in previous ones.
Three years ago, just as the “Race to Dubai” was being launched, the world economy crashed.
World number one Luke Donald clinched the Race To Dubai trophy in 2011. Photo: Getty
An immediate restructuring of the deal was required to keep the concept alive. Instead of $10m (£6.5m) being split between the top 15 in the Order of Merit, the fund to finance the newly branded Race quickly became $7.5m (£4.86m).
The purse for the new season-ending Dubai World Championship was similarly reduced.
Last month, on the day that Luke Donald became the third world number one to win the Race, the Tour announced a three-year extension to the running of the championship, with its prize money rising to $8m (£5.2m).
It will be known as the “DP World Tour Championship” but the size of the bonus pool has only now been revealed to have suffered a significant drop.
The contract has been extended a further three years with the spoils halved and only the top 10 finishers gaining a piece of the $3.75m (£2.42m) now on offer.
So how big a blow is this? Does it signal a significant downturn in the fortunes of the European Tour at a time when its players are enjoying unprecedented success?
Certainly the figures would suggest as much but that only applies if you consider a bonus pool as vital to the Tour for attracting top talent to play its events. That is patently not the case.
It is hard to imagine leading players changing their schedules because they will only gain an extra $1m (£640,000) rather than $1.5m (£970,000) for already earning more money than their rivals.
Furthermore, the creation of the Race to Dubai did not succeed in dragging players away from the PGA Tour or result in a raft of Americans signing up to play European events.
It would have been naive to have imagined such a scenario and it is hard to see any size of bonus pool making that kind of difference.
Indeed, American golf, bolstered by lucrative new television contracts, is riding purposefully through the economic turbulence. It remains strong despite not having a native among the world’s top four players.
The future strength of the European circuit is much more dependent on astute scheduling than the size of an end-of-season cash carve-up.
Last season there were no fewer than nine weeks when the European Tour staged tournaments that offered more world ranking points than were simultaneously available in America.
This is the currency that most interests the best players. The rankings are the key to them being able to pick and choose the events they want to play.
It’s why the upcoming Abu Dhabi Championship will have such a strong field and why tournaments like the Alfred Dunhill Links in the autumn carry such prestige.
The quality of tournaments and venues is also of paramount importance, hence the staging of this year’s Irish Open at Royal Portrush is hugely welcome news.
Adding another links venue to the run up to the Open Championship can only attract a higher quality field. The move is the dividend from the Northern Ireland major wins of McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell.
Rest assured no one will be complaining about the size of the bonus pool as many of the Tour’s finest players tackle one of the greatest courses in the United Kingdom.
Even so, there have been bullish noises from America already this year, with PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem talking of “a solid growth rate” and re-stating his belief that there will be more global integration in the running of the game.
“Nobody’s jumping up and down saying we have to do that [work with the European Tour] tomorrow,” he told reporters at the season opener in Hawaii.
“I just think that eventually the value of that, if you look at sports like soccer and tennis that are globally integrated, you can leverage contracts much better on a global basis.
“We are all out selling television rights globally. That has been a big part of our growth in the last ten years, but to do that together would make sense.”
While not signalling a major shift in the way that world golf will be run in the near future, these remain interesting comments from the man who runs the American tour.
Finchem knows the value of working with circuits like the European Tour is high because it provides further access to the world’s best players. That won’t change just because the size of the bonus money has been halved.