Tour chiefs plan calendar reshuffle

Nine of Europe’s 2004 Ryder Cup heroes contest the Quinn Direct British Masters at The Belfry this week.

Nine of Europe’s 2004 Ryder Cup heroes contest the Quinn Direct British Masters at The Belfry this week.

But making sure the best players can continue playing in the best tournaments is the challenge currently facing tour boss George O’Grady as he plans for 2007 and beyond.

The shake-up in the US tour schedule for next season, when they controversially stage all the World Golf Championship events, move the Players Championship from March to May and introduce a new series of big-money events in August and September, has knock-on effects around the globe.

The growth of the European Tour has been a success since it was launched in 1972, with a total prize fund of just £250,000.

Last year 47 tournaments were played in 23 countries for nearly £74m (€108m), with 124 players earning at least £100,000 (€146,155).

But to keep sponsors happy – and to entice them into investing more of their money – O’Grady and his team know they have to react to developments across the Atlantic.

If the British Masters, celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, kept the same date next season it would clash with the Players Championship, generally regarded as the sport’s unofficial fifth major.

That will not happen.

“The final details are being ironed out, but it will come in another key part of the year for us,” O’Grady told PA Sport. The second half of September is the expected new date.

While many big weeks should be unaffected – the run-up to the Open championship and the flagship BMW Championship at Wentworth at the end of May, for instance – finding a slot for every event fearful of losing its big names is a real puzzle.

O’Grady admitted: “There is no easy solution to some of these challenges, but we are getting our strongest tournaments into what we consider the key dates and drawing out the unique features of each.

“I have, of course, been speaking to the players and there has been a very positive feedback. They want the European Tour to continue strongly and if we can get the right run of tournaments they want to support them.”

The US tour hierarchy cannot be blamed for wanting to make their own product as appealing as possible.

And the changes are being made in a bid to boost television ratings against other sports.

But by staging the vast majority of World Golf Championships as well, commissioner Tim Finchem has been accused of going against the stated aim of developing the sport worldwide.

Finchem argues that “the American marketplace is best suited” to generate the resources necessary, but his stance has not gone down too well elsewhere.

Asked if the relationship with the US tour was now strained, O’Grady preferred to call it “business-like”.

“Tim Finchem has revealed his thinking, but I don’t think everybody else sees it the same and that has been conveyed to him,” O’Grady confirmed.

While the talking and the planning goes on, this year’s circuit arrives on British soil for the first time.

The only three members of the 2004 Ryder Cup side not in attendance are Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald and Thomas Levet, who compete at the Byron Nelson Championship in Texas.

The other nine are back at the scene of the 2002 victory and looking to improve their positions in the race for places in September’s side.

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