European Tour vs. PGA Tour: Game On?

The European Tour announced its 2009 schedule this past weekend at Turnberry resort. The schedule is the first to be released since the announcement of the formation of the Race to Dubai and the Dubai World Championship.

The Race to Dubai is what was formerly known as the European Tour Order of Merit. At the end of the Race to Dubai season — early November — the top 60 players on the Race to Dubai money list will then qualify for the culminating event known as the Dubai World Championship. The Dubai World Championship will have a $10 million purse. On top of that, the Race to Dubai will have a $10 million bonus pool that is awarded at the end of the Dubai World Championship for the top 15 players in the Race to Dubai money list. In effect, the winning putt at the Dubai World Championship could be worth approximately $3.7 million.

The allure of $3.7 million for one tournament is enough to draw the attention of the best players in the world. Many are rumored to be considering accepting full membership on the European Tour in 2009, including Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh.

After actions by the European Tour Players' Committee in the last 10 days, these top stars will simply have to play in 12 European Tour events next season. Since the four majors and three World Golf Championship events (six of seven staged in America, ironically enough) are on the schedule for the best in the world, many will simply have to play five more events — including two staged in Europe — to likely qualify for the Dubai World Championship.

In addition to the potential payoff at the Dubai World Championship, European Tour events sponsors have the luxury of offering lucrative appearance fees to players before they even play the event. For a man like Mickelson, who commands $1 million as an appearance fee, he stands to gain millions of dollars for making more appearances at mediocre European Tour events instead of mediocre PGA Tour events.

Of course, the potential for more appearances on the European Tour by perennial PGA Tour players has the Euro Tour brass and Euro golf media claiming a changing of the guard in golf is eminent. As Lee Corso says, "Not so fast, my friends." (I suppose John McCain says that too.)

What does the Race to Dubai really get the European Tour? At a macro level, it turns out to be not much. The best players in the world only have to play five more events on the European Tour schedule to qualify for the Race to Dubai. Two of those events have to be staged in Europe.

That means that it is almost assured that three of the five events of choice for the Euro Tour invaders will not be played in Europe proper. Those events are likely to be the HSBC Champions tournament in China, and the Dubai Double of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship and the Dubai Desert Classic. In 2009, the Abu Dhabi Championship will not be on that list because the HSBC Champions will actually be played twice before the Dubai World Championship. Therefore, next season, the HSBC Champions and Dubai Desert Classic will be stacked. Other events are not likely to see better fields.

The Abu Dhabi event may not see better fields even after 2009, though. It is possible that three Europe-based events will see stronger fields as a result of the Race to Dubai.

One will certainly be the BMW PGA Championship. The European equivalent of the Players Championship, it is an event that already carries both prestige and a large purse (approximately $8 million, depending on the exchange rate). Euro invaders will certainly be interested.

The Barclays Scottish Open is the tune up for the Open Championship. The quality of field for the Scottish Open has improved significantly in recent years as players in the Open have opted to take a two week trip, play a great course in Loch Lomond, and get some free money to play in Europe. Invaders will opt for convenience and flood the Scottish Open to get another European event off of their list.

Other Europe-based events that may potentially grow as a result of the Race to Dubai are the new Volvo World Match Play Championship and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

But, what does that all get the European Tour on the whole? Most of the events that have been discussed in this piece are already considered top priority events for players. These events will simply see better fields than in the past. Existing events that are used to having only occasional appearances from top draws will continue to face the same issues.

Meanwhile, not much hurt will come to the PGA Tour as a result of this. The only event or series of events that will likely suffer because of the Race to Dubai is the Colonial or part of the new Texas Swing — cast alongside the BMW PGA Championship. Even in that case, Phil Mickelson will not be able to play in the BMW PGA Championship because of a sponsorship deal with Crowne Plaza that has brought us some pretty funny commercials.

What's more is that the European Tour is taking a big gamble by accepting so much money from Leisurecorp, the Dubai-based and Emirate-run real estate company. With a pending global economic slowdown, precipitous drop in oil prices, and decreasing global demand for real estate, the Emirate money may dry up sooner than later. In effect, the Race to Dubai may not be any more certain of an investment than the fact that almost two-thirds of the PGA Tour schedule has ties to the financial services industry. At least the PGA Tour's tournament lottery is sponsored by a relatively bulletproof company — FedEx.

In the end, the Race to Dubai may not mean much to change the status of the European Tour as the second best Tour in the world of professional golf. It may help several European events grow, but will ultimately mean very little to the European Tour as a whole. George O'Grady may be thrilled for what he has accomplished, but there is good reason for his excitement to be tepid and his willingness to challenge the PGA Tour for dominance to be weak.

Comments and Conversation

October 8, 2008


tut, tut young man….you really must get your facts right! The Scottish Open does not - and never has - paid appearance money.

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