Last week the European Tour held its annual Christmas lunch for the media. A fine affair it was, too, at the Langham Hotel in London. All didn’t go according to plan – the Skype connection with Henrik Stenson, the shoo-in candidate to be Golfer of the Year, broke down after about a minute and didn’t manage to get reconnected – but the food was good, the wine flowed and the company was enjoyable.
The chief announcement from the Tour concerned the schedule for next season, notably the introduction of the Rolex Series: seven tournaments each with a minimum prize fund of $7 million. These are the BMW PGA Championship (May 25-28), the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation (July 6-9), the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open (July 13-16), the Italian Open (October 12-15), the Turkish Airlines Open (November 2-5), the Nedbank Golf Challenge (November 9-12) and the DP World Tour Championship (November 16-19), which will conclude the 2017 Race to Dubai.
At the other end of the season, towards the beginning, the Omega Dubai Desert Classic (February 2-5) will complete the three-tournament swing of the Middle East, after Abu Dhabi and Qatar, and there are hints that Tiger Woods, comparatively fresh from his non-calamitous return to competitive golf in the Bahamas earlier this month, might return to take on the Emirates golf course.
Keith Pelley, chief executive of the European Tour, said: “The 2017 season promises to be a very significant one for the European Tour, with the start of the Rolex Series and the inclusion of three returning events in Portugal, Sicily and Spain.” As ever there will be issues regarding the lure of the PGA Tour and its greater financial riches for the better European players, but that has been the case for a very long time now and Pelley has said there will be further announcements in due course as he seeks to shore up the Tour. For sure he seems determined not just to ‘muddle through’.
It’s not an easy proposition to get right. In a non-Ryder Cup year, such as the forthcoming one will be, the schedule has less of an allure and the general media coverage is less extensive. It was instructive – and understandable – that there was much comment among golf people on Twitter about how poor it was that Pete Cowen didn’t even get a mention on SPOTY for possibly being coach of the year given that Stenson and Danny Willett did pretty well in 2016. I’m as much an admirer of Andy Murray as the next guy but in the tributes suggesting he may be Britain’s greatest post-war athlete, Nick Faldo (six majors to Murray’s three) would routinely not get a mention. And Rory McIlroy has four major championships, and like Andy and his Grand Slams, he has his sights firmly set on winning more. But that is just the general press surrounding golf at the moment. Perhaps we need Tiger to get back to winning ways more than we thought? In Dubai, perhaps?
Anyhow, just like the pro tours, the blog is now taking a rest until the new year. Happy Christmas! See you in 2017.
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