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European Tour Dilemma
The PGA of Great Britain was founded in 1901 at a time when golf was becoming something of a fad in England and even mediocre players were starting to realise that there was a living to be made out of the game. Since those embryonic days over a century ago, the PGA has grown and developed like a hydra, its tentacles touching every aspect of the game where a penny is to be made. There can be no doubting that it has served its members well over these 100 years, although what it has done for the game is arguable.

Today, the PGA is many things. It is at one and the same time a labour union, a qualifying authority and a corporate business. In 1972 when the tournament division established its own administrative headquarters at Wentworth, while the club professionals section was established at the De Vere Belfry, the latter part retained responsibility for the organisation of national events, including the Ryder Cup. With the establishment of the European Tour in 1985 as a completely separate entity, administration of the Ryder Cup became a joint venture as well as a major revenue earner. It should also be said that it brought about the long awaited return of the cup to this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Since 1985, the European Tour has grown to encompass tournaments outside Europe while accruing funds sufficient to make millionaires out of journeymen professional players. Barry Lane, this year's winner of the British Masters (what is that?) has amassed over £4 million during a 30-year career. It is 10 years since he won the Balearic Open and 252 starts since he last troubled the scorers. He did have a particularly rewarding week in 1995 when he was the first British golfer to win $1 million, taking what was then called the Andersen Consulting Matchplay Championship. Simple arithmetic shows that Lane has enjoyed an income equivalent to £130,000 a year to date, which cannot be considered bad for merely playing golf. The European Tour has served Lane, and others like him, well.

Where does all this money come from? Well, one only has to look at the naming and re-naming of events to find the answer. Corporate business interests sponsors golf for purposes of advertising and the prestige that it attracts - there is nothing charitable about it despite the well-worn cliche that 'something is being put back into the game'. Players do not dress with logo emblazoned baseball caps like Bronx teenagers because they have excruciating bad taste. They walk the fairways like mobile advertising billboards because they are paid handsomely to do so. And why not - everybody has to make a living.

But everything comes with a price and the current concern is that the going price may turn out to be fielding a weakened Ryder Cup team.

There is disquiet, there has always been disquiet, about the current system of eligibility for Ryder Cup selection. The latest ruling is that for a player to be eligible for a place in the European side he must have played in at least 11 European Tour events. Jesper Parnevik has already ruled himself out on this basis. No great loss, you may think on his current form, but what of others in years to come? Luke Donald has pledged himself to the US Tour and it is not unlikely that others of the boy's brigade, Casey, Poulter, Pyman and the like will follow Sergio Garcia and Bernhard Langer himself to a place in the sun.

It is not only the money on offer but also the quality of the tournament venues in the US that appeals. The Forest of Arden greens, hosting this year's British Masters, would have disgraced a municipal playing field. This is not an isolated incident on the European Tour. Few, and least of all Tiger Woods, will forget the state of the German Open greens last year. It is possibly significant that Woods has not putted well since his conflict with them. Also, players sponsored by club and ball manufacturers may be contractually required to expose themselves in the US.

In order to maintain the appearance of its indigenous players, the European Tour has made 11 appearances mandatory. This is understandable for if it is to continue to attract tournament sponsors it has to do something about guaranteeing the appearance of its star players at its tournaments for it is they, and not the journeymen making up the field, that attracts media attention and therefore sponsors.

Clearly, the European Tour directors find themselves between a rock and a hard place. In the past it has been the captain's wild cards that have generated excitement and stimulated discussion. Langer cannot welcome the restrictions placed upon him and those automatically qualifying for a team place from their order of merit rankings surely wish to see their chances raised by the inclusion of the best available. Golfers the world over would relish the prospect of Donald and Casey together again after all that their pairing achieved in the Walker Cup.

Whether or not you are of the view that the European Tour railroaded the Ryder Cup, you have to acknowledge that it has made a success of it. But the Cup is about matching the born-and-bred from both sides of the Atlantic and surely, despite the closed-shop mentality, everyone has the right to chose where they live and make their living. More important, everyone has the right to see the best matches made for the Ryder Cup. That was, after all, Sam Ryder's intention - money was of secondary import.




©    10 - MAY 2004



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