The European Tour released the 2006 schedule yesterday and it is similar to what we have seen in the past.
Still, there are four new tournaments, two events upgraded, two new courses and two significant date changes among the highlights. A new team contest between Europe and Asia The Royal Trophy at the Amata Spring Country Club, Bangkok, Thailand starts the New Year from January 7-8 2006, although a number of leading players like Padraig Harrington (in the middle of a nine-week break) and Paul McGinley (who will be recovering from knee surgery at the time) are unlikely to take part.
Two weeks later, The European Tour visits its 36th destination in its 34-year history when the Abu Dhabi Golf Club plays host to the inaugural Abu Dhabi Golf Championship from January 19-22.
Completing the quartet of new tournaments is the BA-CA Golf Open presented by Telekom Austria, which graduates to The European Tour after having been a fixture on the European Challenge Tour since 1997. The tournament is at the Fontana Golf Club in Vienna, Austria, from June 8-11.
Like their Austrian counterpart, the Madeira Island Open and The Cadillac Russian Open both had an association with the Challenge Tour in 2005 in the form of dual ranking events with The European Tour but in 2006 they will be elevated to fully fledged European Tour events.
Two established events will feature new venues in 2006. The first is the Volvo China Open from April 13-16, which will take place at the Honghua Golf Club in Beijing, while the WGC American Express Championship returns to Europe for a fifth time when it is played at The Grove, Hertfordshire, England, from September 28-October 1.
Late in September, the season builds to a crescendo. For four weeks, the attention of the world will focus on Britain and Ireland, beginning with the HSBC World Match Play Championship at Wentworth from September 14-17, followed by the Ryder Cup. The following week the focus switches to the WGC-American Express Championship while this outstanding stretch closes with the Dunhill Links Championship at St Anderews from October 5-8.
There will be general approval for the schedule apart from the decision to stage the HSBC Match Play Championship the week before the Ryder Cup.
This involves the players in 36-hole matches for four days with the fear that the finalists, should they be members of either team, will be tired going into Ryder Cup action.