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Time for Tour to cash in on British success

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Iain Carter | 10:49 UK time, Monday, 6 June 2011

Scheduling is uppermost in the mind of professional golf at all levels. For players, it is about making sure you are in the right place to peak at the right times. For administrators, it is about staging tournaments that fit those demands.

For the European Tour in general and UK golf in particular, the imperative has never been greater to come up with a calendar that makes the most of the extraordinary era of success being enjoyed by our players at the moment.

A total of about 130,000 fans were at Wentworth for the PGA Championship and at Celtic Manor for the launch of Powerplay and the Wales Open, confirming that the appetite for the game in the UK remains strong

As for the hordes that bestrode the West Course fairways to watch Luke Donald snatch the world number one spot from fellow Englishman Lee Westwood at the climax of the PGA, they were scenes reminiscent of the European game's heyday.

In those times, Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle and Sir Nick Faldo generated a new audience and laid the bedrock for the rapid global expansion of the Tour.

For the current crop of superstars, it is more difficult to connect with their home fans. This is the price they pay for being able to play for vast riches anywhere in the world.

Most have swapped post codes for zip codes, making Florida the hub for schedules that, given three of the four major championships are staged there, focus on the USA. Three of the four WGC events also have American homes.

Throw into the mix the Players' Championship and the competition to lure the big names becomes astonishingly intense for the rest of the world.

Hence, it was nigh on impossible for British golf to sustain momentum generated by the dramas played out at Wentworth. Ian Poulter and Paul Casey hung around for Powerplay but were gone by the time the Wales Open began.

wentworth595.jpgRecord crowds visited the PGA Championship at Wentworth to see Luke Donald crowned world number one

Indeed, of the current crop of European leading lights, only defending champion Graeme McDowell remained at Celtic Manor - and the superstar dust soon fell from the leaderboards with the US Open champion's third-round collapse.

Illustrating my point, Steve Stricker gained 62 world ranking points for winning the Memorial Tournament on the PGA Tour, while only 30 went to Wales Open champion Alex Noren.

This weighting reflects the relative strength of the two fields - but not which continent is dominating the world game.

"We all know this date is a little bit shaded by the US scene," said Celtic Manor owner Sir Terry Matthews. "I would like to have things one week earlier and then have the best players here. That's what we are working towards."

Matthews repeatedly told me of his desire to build up the tournament, which is under contract at the Newport resort until 2014.

"We have to negotiate where we go from there," he said. "I have my plans in place but it is not appropriate this year to talk about them.

"It is economically tough times but we have a great field of play. The availability of top golfers from the European Tour is excellent, so it's a tough one. Will the economy come back soon? I don't think so. It is going to be a long haul."

Look also at the glaring omissions that remain on the Tour calendar. At a time when the top two players in the world are from England there is no English Open, while the British Masters and European Open are no more.

The Tour would love to find sponsors and dates for these events. The desire to stage the English Open at St Mellion certainly remains.

To attract sponsors, there has to be a guarantee that the big names appear. In turn, that inflates the price any backer would be asked to pay to put on such an event.

There is not enough top golf being played in England but the recent scenes at Wentworth, where 90,000 fans turned up, shows the potential.

Yet only the PGA, the Scottish Open near Inverness and, of course, the Open will attract the Tour's biggest names to Britain this year.

Imagine the pull of, say, a top tournament near the big cities in the north of England, which has been starved for too long of international class golf, especially east of the Pennines away from Open venues like Lytham, Birkdale and Hoylake.

In an ever more crowded sporting marketplace, finding a way to incorporate British events to work with the schedules of the Tour and the players is incredibly difficult. But it should be a priority to make sure the most is made of the current golden era.


  • Comment number 1.

    Nice article Iain, I also think the decline in UK events was influenced by the tax situation where players have to pay tax on not just the earnings they make at the UK tournament, but also a percentage of their annual endorsements. I'm sure there is a threshold for it, i.e. play here for longer than 4 weeks out of 52 and you become liable, something like that.

    I remember Sergio quoted this as his main reason for not playing in the UK more, so if the other top players were like this, you can understand why they only come to a couple of UK events. I don't agree with them, but can understand it.

    Maybe it's been changed now, this situation was a few years ago.

    As a father to two young boys, I'd love to be able to take them to tournaments and watch the top players, so hopefully it will start to move in the right direction.

  • Comment number 2.

    Terry Matthews can't move the Wales Open to the previous week because that is the PGA Championship, so it's a futile comment to make.

    What amazes me is the difference between how sponsors either side of the 'Pond' treat their overall involvement in the events that they splash their cash on. For example, last week it was Saab and the Wales Open, this week it's BMW and the Italian Open. Neither of these events or sponsors are making any real effort to engage with the fans via social media such as Facebook or Twitter, whereas with FedEx at this week's St Judes Classic and last week's Memorial Trophy and Nationwide Insurance, they both make real efforts to push the sponsorship envelope and engage with fans who attend, and perhaps more importantly, those who don't attend.

    These examples are not isolated cases.

    It seems to me that European sponsors see golf more as a corporate hospitality exercise than a way in which they can engage with new audiences through a shared experience - namely pro golf.

    Maybe it's because Europe is one golf market divided by multiple languages, but on the whole, I think golf fans are poorly served by the administrators and sponsors in Europe.

  • Comment number 3.

    It's an interesting point regarding ranking points. I fully understand the desire to give points based on the field in question as that is the fairest reflection. However it does mean that players will then tend to cluster together more often, preferring to play in bigger tournaments rather than trying to pick up a win or two at more medium level events.

  • Comment number 4.

    Completely agree with Rankis the tax situation hurts British sport competitions. Basically the tax man says if you spend 1 week in the UK playing golf (or any other sport) then you have to pay tax on 1/52 of your worldwide golf related income, regardless of how much you earn from the tournament. Applies to athletics, boxing, tennis and all other sports. Exceptions granted for certain key events like Champions League final, Olympics, World Cup (if we'd won) but for the rest they have to suffer this system which is not repeated anywhere else in the world.
    Change that rule and we might have a chance of more top class sport in the UK.

  • Comment number 5.

    Weather. If I were a pro, I know where I'd prefer to play. Granted - it rains in other countries too - but at least it's warm.

  • Comment number 6.

    Rankis and Huggie hit it on the head. The tax laws are prohibitive. This is the same reason Usain Bolt is not running in Britain this summer. Nor did he run here last summer, as he would actually stand to lose money. 50% tax on the prize money won here is fair enough. But taking a portion of their worldwide income as well is just silliness. The fact that the government had to agree to a special tax arrangement with UEFA and the IOC before they would agree to giving us the Champions League final and Olympics, respectively, bear this out. Tennis is in the same boat as Golf, but at least the the Chief Exec of Wimbledon is trying to address the issue. So, we have a situation where Messi and the Barca boys get off scott free, Usain Bolt won't run here unless it's in an Olympics, Federer and Nadal get royally shafted (but they pretty much have to play Wimbledon and the WTF, so no choice really), and Golf is left scratching its head wondering why most top players of international renown only turn up to The Open. I mean, come on, it's obvious...

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm commenting from the continent, and the same applies here as it does for the UK.
    I believe, unforfunately, that a lack of prize money for many of our Tour's championships has driven away many of the big names. The European Tour must try and boost those 1m euro championships, often the equivalent of the winner's cheque on the PGA Tour. Sad to say but it comes down to cash.

  • Comment number 8.

    There is a very simple way of making tournaments such as the English or European Open more desirable to big ticket sponsors, make them available through free to air terrestrial channels. Audience figures languishing under 1million on satellite channels (this is an assumption, will quite happily be corrected if I'm wrong) must be a real turn off to main stream brands.

  • Comment number 9.

    I blogged on this a few months ago - when I saw the schedule and noted that AGAIN there was no British Masters golf at The Belfry - despite huge crowds from when I first went in 2001 to 2008 when it was last played.
    The line I had heard is that 'wealthy enough sponsors couldn't be found, and without sponsors there is no tournament.
    I was intrigued therefore at how many tournamants were being played in Spain & Portugal - 2 countires on the edge of 'bankruptcy', yet able to find big sponsors. The UK is home to some of the biggest and most profitable companies in the world, so I don't buy the lack of sponsors thing.

    I'm not even sure that I buy the higher tax rates 'excuse' either. It's almost laughable that the golfers who are supposedly complaining SHOULD be playing for the glory. They are all millionaires, and (unlike footballers) they can earn big bucks for 25+ years.

    No, what annoys me greatly - and I suspect that the European Tour is complicit in this - is how more and more tournaments are played in countries with zero golf heritage, and frankly small interest in the sport. We all know who they are.
    If professional golf is just about avoiding tax, and playing in the sunshine - maybe it's time to go the whole hog, and just play 50 tournamants in the Middle and far east, and then golf fans can just watch the Coverage on Sky in 3D ......just as if we're actually there (as I was at Wentworth - having driven 2.5 hours to be there....super day.....just wish there was more of them in Britian - you know, the HOME of Golf !

  • Comment number 10.

    It is a dreadful shame that there isn't more golf in England for fans to go and see, as part of the European Tour, like there used to be. It's ludicrous to suggest that the sponsors, the fans (and as a result the players, taxes or not) wouldn't be there for regular tour events that could be played at courses like Lytham, Birkdale, St. George's, the Belfry, Sunningdale or Walton Heath, like in the old days. The expansion of golf across Europe is a great thing, but for there to have been three tour events hosted by both France and Portugal and only one by England (as in 2010) does make you wonder if it's gone too far.

  • Comment number 11.

    At 17:42 6th Jun 2011, Breadman wrote:

    I'm not even sure that I buy the higher tax rates 'excuse' either. It's almost laughable that the golfers who are supposedly complaining SHOULD be playing for the glory. They are all millionaires, and (unlike footballers) they can earn big bucks for 25+ years.


    They didn't become millionaires by playing in events which could cost them money to play in. i.e. Prize money won is less than Tax on prize money + tax on worldwide income + travel & expenses. It's stupid no matter how much money you have. In fact the better you are, the more you stand to lose. It's these lucrative tournaments in far flung places with less greedy governments that allow golfers to happily come here and get bent over just for the "glory" of playing at the home of golf. If all European Tour events were held under the same rules as ours, you'd see a mass exodus to the PGA Tour.

    Rather than - as is typical in Britain - bemoaning anything mentioning millionaire sportsmen and taxes in the same sentence. How about we address the issue head on just as Tennis and Athletics are starting to do.

  • Comment number 12.

    I agree, there is certainly more scope for an additional big tournament here. In terms of attracting a good sponsor there is the additional need of ensuring the tournament is broadcast as part of the BBC's deal with the European Tour.

  • Comment number 13.

    Golf like all other sport now is totally controlled by money. Such a shame.

  • Comment number 14.

    Some fair points made but one is missing, which is that our favourite European pros are expected to play almost 52 weeks a year. We've recently seen this take a toll on Poulter, McDowell, McIlroy, Eddie Molinari, the list goes on. It's surely no coincidence that Westwood came back from an extended break with an inspiring Ryder Cup performance, then a fine HSBC and an imperious walk in the Nedbank park.
    And Luke Donald's best form of his career has come hot on the heels of a ten week winter break.
    The field at Celtic Manor was, let's face it, disappointing and the crowds were feeble compared to a day, for instance, at Phoenix, or the Travelers. But the best players were not playing in Columbus (Donald, McIlroy and Molinari excepted), it's hardly the date, it's the prize fund and the willingness of the British punters (not to mention the media) to support the events.
    So far, both are lacking.

  • Comment number 15.

    I agree with Breadman #9 regarding the European tours' determination to take the golf game to the masses no matter what. I also agree with the money point, I'm pretty sure that there is enough money going around during a tournament to make plenty of people happy.

    I used to love watching the big tournaments 10 or fifteen years ago that were played at courses such as the Belfry, Wentworth, etc, on a crisp Autumn morning at a time when, unfortunately, golf was still a sort of a 'closed shop' sport to the British public due to the expense of the equipment and joining a club. Now golf is easily accessible to most people and with the domination of Sky tv the Euro tour top brass have recognized the huge profits that can be made from being more 'open' to change.

    For me they are becoming a little like FIFA with their dream of world domination for the tour and the game with their move to most of the Middle East and Asia (those stalwarts of Europe)!! and if that means England having to take a back seat to give what the golfing world wants then that is what they will unfortunately do. Just another smack in the face for British sports fans.

  • Comment number 16.

    England, England, England. Catch a grip everyone, there are great golf courses across the United Kingdom - not just in England. Note to all - the success of BRITISH golf.

    I have an idea! Lets look at the worlds top 20 golf courses.
    Scotland - 3
    Northern Ireland - 2
    England - 1.

    Hmmm. Food for thought I think.

  • Comment number 17.

    I'm a bit surprised at the 'support' for the golfers / Eureopean Tour and their turning their backs on Britain because of Tax.
    Similar to the bankers, it's a case of "oh please don't tax us too much or will go and play elsewhere". I repeat my point ; would a decent European Player rather play in front of 25,000 at the Belfry, say and win £100k, or play in the SandDune 'Classic in front of 3,000 for £200k ?? These are guys are millionaires - a bit of extra tax here isn't going to force them into poverty.
    And when it come to how the game has developed over the past decade with it's move east-wards, I often wonder excatly how that came about - did Sponsors with 'oil money' to burn come knocking on the ET's door, OR did the ET call them and ask if they'd be interested. If it's the latter then IMO it's wrong - and the similarities with FIFA and selling the world cup to Quatar are well-made. It's about the soul of golf - and the more it moves from it's natural home the more tainted THE SPORT becomes.

    One final point - my own golfing hero is Lee Westwood (he lives 10 miles from me, and is a Forest fan like me). HE continues to live in Nottinghamshire (not Wentworth !!), and after a brief dalliance with the US Tour is a firm supporter of the European Tour, and living in the UK. This guy will be paying A LOT more tax doing the above than if he went to live in America. Yet - amazingly - he has managed to amass a personal fortune of over £20m (NET!) - and he'll probably double that in the next 10 years. As no less a business man than Alan Sugar once said - once you get past £10m, it ceases to matter whether you're worth £15m or £150m, your lifestyle is the same.

    If all that the golfers and the ET is interested in is playing in low tax countries to further feather their nests, then it is a poor show.

  • Comment number 18.

    Did the European Tour not have to extend to the far east and Africa in order to grow and build a tour that could compete the the PGA Tour? Let's face it, it's really a ROW Tour, rather than European. Has it worked? I think so, look at the African and Asian players coming through.

    If the tour had stayed in Europe with more events in Britain, would it be the tour it is today? I doubt it.

  • Comment number 19.

    But any marketeer or businessman would say 'go where the customers are'. By and large that is in Western Europe.
    I don't give two hoots that 'the tour' is bigger than it was 10 years ago. What I care about is seeing - by which I mean attendind - ET tournaments which don't involve me travelling 2.5 hours !!
    It's not even the cost. I was more than happy to pay £30 to see the PGA last month. I would've paid £40 - golf offers far better value for money than football.

    The market for more golf tounaments is HERE in the UK - much less so in France, and Portugal even. It is spread to thinly IMO.

  • Comment number 20.

    But then you could also argue that the market is in the UK because there are so few tournaments currently? If there were say 6 or so like Spain, attendences may not be so great? Plus, I believe the market in Asia is huge.

  • Comment number 21.

    Breadman is making good points, but don't overlook the barrier the tax aspect throws up.

    Remember the story from last year where the US Ryder Cup Team were advised that if they wore golf shoes which were supplied to them as part of an endorsement deal and not part of the US Team outfit, they would have to pay UK tax on a percentage of the income they got from that endorsement deal.

    I'm pretty sure Tiger went ahead, wore his Nike shoes and paid the tax bill rumoured to be £50k, but not sure many of the others did. Can you imagine them paying out in tax to play in the Wales Open? No chance.

    I understand why this tax law is there and it does make sense, in industry, but surley there can be a distinction for professional sport which by staging premium events, boosts the economic activity in the area and stimulates revenue.

    Pity, as I just want to show my boys some world class sports in real life, not Sky 3D ;)

  • Comment number 22.

    The British golf season occurs from April-September when all 4 majors are contested along with many other big events including WGC events. The PGA at Wentworth is one of these big events and rightly attracts a strong field but the likes of the Wales Open and the Johnnie Walker at Gleneagles have to fit in at awkward times in the golfing Calendar, often before or after the big events or even majors.

    It is very common for the top players to tailor their schedules to fit around the majors. It is also common for the top players to play the same events for world rankings (as said in an earlier post). Players can't play every week of the summer and will always prioritise the bigger events, regardless of location. So I see this mainly as a scheduling problem, arising as a result of the number of big events in the US.

    Also, I think it is unfair to accuse the European Tour of replacing British tournaments with those in Asia and Africa. These happen in the winter when our courses are not fit for competition.

  • Comment number 23.

    There is one major reason why we do not have more big tournaments in england. SKY!! They are killing the game in this country because of their dominance. Because of that sponsors just will not go there because they will not get coverage. In the US , NO tournament is the exclusive preserve of satellite or cable. EVERY tournament has to be shared between broadcasters.While european tour events remain exclusively on satellite pay tv , the number of sponsors will continue to decline.

  • Comment number 24.

    the "world matchplay" championship surely has to be rescheduled to wentworth in october. it was a wonderful event, and when you see the crowds for the PGA championship, the "tour" can bank on a successful tournament, unlike the sadly somewhat comical event held in spain at finca cortesin; there is hardly a spectator there, and those that do go are expected to be mountain goats, given the terrain. please, let´s push for the matchplay to be brought back to wentworth, even if IMG do provide all the players!

  • Comment number 25.

    Personally I think its because the quality of golf courses over here is near that of mainland Europe and Ireland. Besides maybe a handful of courses are of the highest standard but that's it. Plus the weather is pants.


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