In announcing their schedule for next year, the European Tour could not provide a definite venue for the Madeira Island and Andalucia Opens in March; the Spanish, Italian, Irish and European Opens in May; the British Masters and Canal Plus tournaments in September; and the Seve Trophy in October.
Finding appropriate sponsors for some of these events is proving a formidable task for officials even though they are understandably buoyed by the advent of the inaugural Race to Dubai, culminating in the Dubai World Championship at the Jumeirah Golf Estates in the UAE next November when a prize fund of $10 million (€7.4m) will be on offer. That in turn has prompted the likes of Phil Mickelson to consider joining the European Tour.
The Tour hopes to stage 53 tournaments and visit 26 destinations, with five new events on the programme.
On the debit side, however, is the loss of the New Zealand Open, the BMW Asian Open (won this year by Darren Clarke) and, most significantly, the Volvo Masters, which takes place for the last time at Valderrama at the end of the month. And, that may not be all, with Tour CEO George O’Grady confirming yesterday that the Irish Open is one of those tournaments still without a sponsor.
The championship has been played at Adare Manor for the past two years without a title sponsor. Adare chief Tom Kane tried valiantly to maintain the event as a practical proposition but lost appreciable sums of money in 2007 and 2008. However, he has been relieved of his commitment for 2009 although the Irish Open could still be held at Adare next year should the ongoing search for a sponsor prove fruitful.
Whether such negotiations can be brought to a successful conclusion is very much open to doubt. It is virtually impossible to see a financial institution ploughing significant money into a sporting venture at this moment and it could even prove difficult to convince the drink companies of the value of such an involvement.
Murphys, of course, sponsored the Irish Open throughout the 1990s up to 2002 and while Guinness supported the European Open on a subsidiary basis when it was played at the
K Club, they were never tempted to go any further. The IT industry, however, could supply the solution.
And the Irish Open isn’t the only long established event under pressure. The aforementioned European Open moved to the London Club last July and has been earmarked for the same course, albeit in May rather than its hitherto “plum” date in July, in 2009. For now at any rate, the name of the venue or the sponsor has yet to be announced.
THE Spanish Open is in very much the same boat and few will be surprised if the Seve Trophy, which has been held bi-annually since 2000, falls by the wayside. For now, though, the Tour is striking a positive note given that the standard of golf being played by their members and the quality of the venues is of an ever improving standard.
“We are excited about the start of The Race to Dubai,” said George O’Grady yesterday. “It will bring a new dimension to the European Tour. The 2009 schedule confirms how the Tour has become ever-more global in its outlook with 26 destinations now featured and the Czech Golf Open returning for the first time in 12 years and the English Open after seven.”
However, behind closed doors at their Wentworth headquarters, O’Grady and his team are fully aware of the massive tasks that lie ahead and how sensitive will be the nature of the negotiations before all concerns about the tournaments in doubt can be removed.