Tour plotting a course to Dubai

THE European Tour is set to make a dramatic announcement in Dubai next week which will radically alter their tournament schedule from 2009 onwards.

Although tour chief executive George O’Grady is keeping things under wraps until next Monday or Tuesday, the schedule, as we know it, will be replaced by a series of events stretching from the beginning to the end of 2009 and culminating with a grand final in Dubai in December.

The season-closing event is expected to carry a prize fund in excess of $10m (€7m) with massive “sweeteners” or bonuses on offer to ensure the presence of all leading players.

That’s the bones of the situation right now, but no doubt, Mr O’Grady will flesh them out in Dubai next Monday.

On the face of it — and even allowing for the weakness of the US dollar — it’s an attractive package and there are few nicer golfing locations than Dubai.

On the other hand, there are those who fear that ending the European season many thousands of miles away in the month of December is not the best way forward. And what of Volvo, the company that sponsored the tour for many years and has staged their climactic tournament every year since 1998 with an ever increasing prize fund? It will be very interesting to see what becomes of a hugely-important tournament that is contracted to remain at Valderrama until 2010.

It is difficult to see how the Volvo Masters could command its level of prestige unless it decided Europe’s top golfer for the year.

O’Grady admits that “we have taken a long, hard look at the scheduling of the European Tour. We’ve made huge progress, which we’re hoping to announce, regarding 2009. The Volvo Masters is a key component. These things are always under evaluation. Volvo have known for a long time that we don’t have an Order of Merit sponsor.

Volvo used to have that and it was always a condition that we had to find one. The difficulty of getting an order of merit sponsor is that they want the season-ending date. We’re working that out. We can expect another major press announcement by the Tour before the end of the year.”

And that will happen in the next week or so. But it will take a lot longer than that before we know the Tour’s plans for the upgrading of the Irish Open, a subject they brought up on the very day that Smurfit Kappa dropped their sponsorship of the European Open.

With Tom Kane at Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort and his many willing and generous sponsors well on top of the national championship situation, the Tour are clearly more concerned with the immediate future of the European Open, which has been happily ensconced at The K Club since 1995.

But that’s all changed now, and it remains to be seen what deal can be struck between Dr Michael Smurfit and the Tour for 2008. The K Club owner has stated that the tournament may have one more year at Straffan — but not over the Palmer or Ryder Cup courses, as O’Grady and all at Wentworth desire. It will be over the Smurfit layout or not all, says the good doctor.

“The European Open is on an edge,” admitted O’Grady. “We have a lot of interest in Britain. We have a very strong venue interest. We have a lot of potential partners and we have a sponsor ready to go as well. It’s a question of choosing what we think is the right option. The European Open is such a wonderful title.”

We could see the tournament in Ireland for one more year because staging it at a new venue in such a relatively short time as the first week of next July presents enormous difficulties for all concerned.

O’Grady pointed out: “Smurfit Kappa have severed their links with the tournament but Dr Michael Smurfit has made us welcome on the Smurfit course if we want. I think the long term future is probably outside Ireland, not definitely but probably.”

It remains to be seen what kind of deal will be forthcoming from Fáilte Ireland where the Irish Open is concerned. O’Grady is hopeful that a significant hike in the prize fund and perhaps a change of date will make a difference from 2009 onward.

It remains in mid-May for ‘08 and it’s a date Tom Kane is happy with, at least for now.

“The Irish Open has some good partners behind it,” O’Grady stressed. “One, it’s got us. We have never deserted the Irish Open. When it lost its sponsors, we kept it going. I think Ireland has been asked to do too much in the golfing sense and the Seve Trophy has shown that it was a bridge too far.”

Relations between Wentworth and Kane appear to be strong. All that remains is for the Adare supremo to see just what the Tour and Fáilte Ireland have in mind for May 15-18 and what date they might come up with in the revamped schedule for 2009.

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