It’s the first truly momentous decision that will be taken under the leadership of new CEO Keith Pelley, the 51-year old Canadian who began his tenure on August 3 and immediately found himself under pressure from his opposite number on the PGA Tour, Tim Finchem.
The American decided to schedule the 2016 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational opposite the 100th staging of the Open de France without consultation with anyone else, such as the International Golf Federation.
Pelley was left with no choice other than to protect France and the European Tour by refusing to co-sanction Akron next year, effectively meaning Shane Lowry cannot earn any Ryder Cup qualifying points if he decides to defend his title.
It was the only possible decision available to the Pelley, whose biggest achievement, we are told, is helping “orchestrate the largest sports rights deal in Canadian history,” with the acquisition of a $5.2 billion National Hockey League rights deal for 12 years.
He’s a television man, having come to the European Tour as President of Rogers Media, “a media conglomerate in Canada,” boasting 51 radio stations, 56 publications, 12 national TV stations plus 42 local stations and 300 digital properties as well as the Toronto Blue Jays, “Canada’s only Major League Baseball team.”
Getting up to bat in the major leagues with “Fastball” Finchem and his yankees is not going to be an easy task and while he has already received plaudits from the star European players, such as Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, implementing his ideas will be no pushover.
“He is a very impressive guy,” Paul McGinley said after a recent meeting. “He has some big ideas, strong ideas. He has a vision. Let’s see where he goes. We have some great players in Europe.” Taking advantage not just of the best players and facilities Europe and the world outside the US has to offer is Pelley’s goal and that includes Ireland, where the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is now a major event on the schedule (or the TV schedule, to be more precise).
With €4million prize fund, it now ranks highly for all players and the event’s resurrection and McIlroy importance to the tour, could well help Irish golf take many more giant steps forward as the tour expands it television imprint with the potential launch of its own version of the Golf Channel.
The European Tour’s proposed takeover of the Asian Tour is going to take time to develop and while that is going on, Pelley’s task to set out the roadmap for the next decade and beyond.
With the Ryder Cup, the expansion of the schedule worldwide and the growth of the European Tour just part of his remit, he’s got a tough task ahead.
Nations like Turkey, who hosted last week’s Turkish Airlines Open to the tune of $7m and will investment tens of millions in the tour as it prepares to bid for the 2026 Ryder Cup, are the future for Pelley.
Given McIlroy’s importance to the tour and the return of the Open to Irish shores from 2019, Ireland will remain an important factor. It is notable that JP McManus is upgrading the course at Adare Manor with input from Pádraig Harrington and investing up to €30m in the hotel with a view to attracting the Ryder Cup back to Ireland in 2026.
“I’d be very, very surprised if JP wasn’t interested [in the Ryder Cup],” David MacLaren, the European Tour’s Director of Property and Venue Development said in Turkey last week.
“He hasn’t spoken to me but our new Chief Executive has just met JP, though not specifically to talk about that.
“Some of what happens with 2026 revolves around whether this [bidding] process is in place the next time around or whether Keith Pelley thinks the better bet would be to identify the country, the venue or the individual.
“That wouldn’t be to ‘give’ them the Ryder Cup because I think we have achieved an awful lot of success and benefits from having a proper process because Federations are our partners. But it if it wasn’t a person like JP, there will be other people like JP in other parts of the world.
“One assumes we will have the same process then but the only point I am making is that we have a brand new Chief Executive who is over all parts of the business.”
The future of the European Tour’s Final Series is the big question on the table for Pelley right now with speculation that the Final Series will look much different next year. Golfweek reported on Monday that the Playoffs will be reduced from from four events to three in 2016 with this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions and next week’s BMW Masters getting the axe. While BMW are believed to be dropping their sponsorship, the HSBC event is a World Golf Championship event governed by WGC qualification restrictions and out of sync with the tour’s qualifying processes.
The entry requirement problem came home to roost on Sunday, when Victor Dubuisson won the Turkish Airlines Open. He leapt back into the world’s Top 50 but was denied a spot in Shanghai this week because he wasn’t inside the Top 50 at last week’s deadline.
“I discovered half an hour ago that I was not playing next week,” Dubuisson said. “When I holed my putt, I was under the presumption to play next week. But the rules have changed and when you win a big event like this one, go back to top 50 in the world, top 10 in the Race to Dubai, it’s not normal that I cannot play next week.”
Ireland could have a record presence at the final stage of the European Tour Qualifying School later this month.
With Peter Lawrie, Ruaidhri McGee, Damien McGrane and Kevin Phelan all exempt into the final stage at PGA Catalunya Resort from November 14-19 where the leading 25 and ties after six rounds win Category 15 membership for 2016, it remains to be seen how many of this week’s 12 second stage Irish hopefuls survive the cull.
A 16-man presence would seem unlikely considering a 50% success rate at second stage is the norm. Four of September’s Walker Cup winners are among the 12 Irishmen, who tee it up at four Spanish venues from Friday.
The Island’s Gavin Moynihan joins Derry’s Mick McGeady and Moyola Park’s Chris Selfridge at El Saler in Valencia while Naas’ Hack Hume tees it up as an amateur at Panoramica Golf and Sport Resort in Castellón with international team mate Colm Campbell Jnr from Warrenpoint, 2007 Walker Cup player Jonny Caldwell and Headfort’s Brian Casey, Open championship hero Paul Dunne and his Walker Cup foursomes partner Gary Hurley tee it up at Lumine Golf and Beach Club in Tarragona alongside former Walker Cup winner and British Amateur champion Alan Dunbar.
Banbridge’s Richard Kilpatrick and Headfort’s La Cala based Rory McNamara take their chances at Las Colinas Country Club in Alicante hoping to make it to the Catalunya Resort the weekend after next where the leading 25 and ties after six rounds win Category 15 membership for 2016.
McGee has a chance to win his full card via the Challenge Tour Grand final in Oman this week — he reckons he needs a top three finish in Muscat to avoid a trip to Q-School.
Phelan is already guaranteed a better category in 2016 despite finishing outside the Top 110 in the Race to Dubai.
A freak waterpark injury hasn’t dented Michael Hoey’s ambitions for 2016 or his scent for victory. The Belfast man has won five times on the European Tour, making him one of the most successful Irish tour players of all time.
And having failed to qualify for the remainder of the European Tour’s Final Series this year, he’s taking time out to correct the issues that have held him back — starting with his sinuses.
Hoey hobbled his way to a 60th place finish in the Turkish Airlines Open on Sunday having injured his feet in an awkward splash down at a waterpark near his hotel earlier in the week.
“It was a freak thing,” said Hoey as he limped through Istanbul’s main airport yesterday. “It was actually agony all four days. I was on pain killers and even though I was down the bottom, I actually felt I played quite well.”
The former Walker Cup winner knows he has the game to be contending at the top of the Race to Dubai and he’s taking steps to make sure 2016 is a big year. “It was a very disappointing year,” he said.
“I had a lot of cold and sinus problems during the season with all the travel and I have been blocked up a lot. It really affected my concentration but I feel that with my putting actually improving a lot, I really think I can do something next year.
“So I am having an operation on my sinuses when I get home so that I will be ready to go on January again. I feel I should be doing better. It is not down to lack of technique. It’s poor focus so that’s where I need to improve.”