Is There a Need for a Truly Global Golf Tour?
To the avid golf fan, times are as exciting as ever. For the neutral, the game no longer stands out. No one is dominating the game, on either side of the pond. On the PGA Tour, no one won more than twice this season. On the European Tour, only Thomas Bjorn has, sensationally, achieved that feat. Gone are the days, like the 2009 season, when Tiger Woods entered 16 tournaments and came away victorious on six occasions. Those days could well return, but we can’t cater for an eventuality that may or may not happen. The reality is that Woods is the only current golfer capable of facilitating extraordinary levels of viewership, and without his dominance, solutions must be found to carry on promoting the game and to account for its global spread. Is a global tour – comprised, by quota, of the best players on respective regional tours – the answer?
Firstly, we must assess the relative strength of golf around the world, starting with the European Tour. With the Race to Dubai still in full flight, the end of season prospects look good. Luke Donald will be returning to the Tour, the Volvo Masters at the stunning Valderrama is almost upon us, and the intrusion into the Middle East look a very shrewd economic move. This season has seen a resurgent Thomas Bjorn and Darren Clarke; wins for Westwood and Donald; a South African invasion, and multiple first time victors. Tom Lewis’ recent success at the Portugal Masters has led to widespread elevation of his name and status. The European Tour looks relatively strong. The combination of experienced revivals, young, first time winners, lucrative sponsorship and diversification mean that the tour is well placed.
The PGA Tour finds itself in a very interesting position. Viewing figures are down, it is struggling to market itself, and the Fed-Ex cup is still a problem point. Having said that, those that exercise some lateral thinking will realise that it isn’t all doom and gloom. There are a number of big hitting, exceptionally talented youngsters, and the Tour has been boosted by the news that Rory McIlroy will become a full time member next year. With an exciting new schedule released last week, and the commencement of Ryder Cup points, 2012 is set to be an exciting year in the States. There also came groundbreaking news last week with regards to golf in South America. Tim Finchem, PGA Tour Commissioner, said last week: “This expansion into Latin America, when combined with what the Nationwide Tour has been able to accomplish in the region in recent years, is part of the natural progression for golf which continues to grow globally.” The idea has gained great support from players such as Jhonattan Vegas, the first Venezuelan to win on the PGA Tour and an inspiration to many in the region. He said of the plans: “It’s going to be a great thing for Latin America.”
The Japan golf tour has, and is continuing to produce, some great players, such as teenage sensation Ryo Ishikawa. The Asian Golf Tour currently boasts some relatively big names at the top end of its money list, such as Thongchai Jaidee and Jeev Milkha Singh. With players such as K.J. Choi playing an active role in promoting golf in Asia, and its recognition as a potential hotbed for future talent, prospects look good. The PGA Tour of Australia has been a stepping stone for many current PGA Tour players, and the Sunshine Tour of South Africa deserves tremendous credit for developing such a high quantity of quality golfers. In reality, these tours are never going to be anything other than feeder tours for the truly ambitious and determined, and should be recognised as such, but they have an important role to fulfill. There are many views as to the “natural progression for golf”, but could this progression involve a global tour, with qualification accounting for the strengths of various regional, feeder tours? Logistics aside, let us consider a potential model for a new tour.
The new, global tour would have room for 150 full time members, and some spaces for other entrants, based on location. The PGA Tour would provide sixty members, and the European Tour would also provide sixty; the Sunshine Tour would provide 10, as would the Asian Tour; the Japan Golf Tour and PGA Tour of Australasia would provide four a piece, leaving two spaces from the PGA Tour of Latin America. There would be a direct proportion between the location of various events and membership. For example, 40% of the tournaments would be held in Europe, and 40% in the United States of America. Based on location, qualifying events would be held for members of the corresponding Tour. Out of the sixty, for example, that qualified from the PGA Tour (they would only play the global tour), the top 40 would regain their card, and the bottom 20 would be replaced by the top 20 on the PGA Tour money list. Leaving aside, for the time being, the many, many, prospective issues, could this idea become a reality at some stage in the future? And, more importantly, should it?
There would be many positives. Having all the best players from across the globe competing week in, week out, would be a marketing and publicity godsend. Many emerging golf fans in previously unused areas of the world would be exposed to the best players on the planet. It could also have an economic impact, in terms of sponsorship and tourism. Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? It may be, in theory, but it is a simply unworkable concept. Think about the longevity of various sponsorship contracts. Think about the enormous upheaval and severe logistical difficulties. More importantly, it would render majors entirely redundant. Do we want to see the best players in the world competing in the same field week in, week out, or be treated to a select few events throughout the year? There is a reason that World Cup’s in other sports are held every four years. Wholesale changes are simply not required. The game of golf is very well poised in every part of the world, and a global tour would undo so much of the good work that so many undertake to advance its credentials. Perhaps reevaluation is required in a decade or so, but in ten years, I have no doubt that golf will be as exciting as it has ever been. If regional tour directors continue their fine work in nurturing and producing talent, and new continents fully embrace the game, the days of Woods and a one man show will be long forgotten. That is, of course, unless Woods regains his best form, in which case, combined with a wide array of new talent, golf will be more popular than it has ever been.