Ewen Murray salutes European Tour for bringing golf back to iconic venues
"The European Tour, no doubt with immense consideration and understanding, has come up with what I believe is the perfect plan as we ease forward"
Last Updated: 01/06/20 10:56am
After the European Tour announced the UK Swing will restart the season in July, Ewen Murray welcomes the return of a number of classic courses with great history and memories.
Throughout the doom and gloom and negative vibes during this diﬃcult time in business, life and sport, some light has appeared at the end of the tunnel with news from Wentworth that the European Tour is preparing to tiptoe forward and embrace the beginning of a new dawn.
I say "new", but perhaps many will think we're taking a trip back to yesteryear with the announcement that golf will start back from Covid-19 with a "UK Swing".
I feel sorry for the countries that have seen their events cancelled this season, the countries and sponsors who have supported the European Tour since its inception some 50 years ago. Knowing the strong bond they have enjoyed with the Tour, they will return when we get back to some kind of normality.
In the 70s and 80s, Britain was the hub of the European Tour, with events at Fulford in York, St Mellion in Cornwall, Woburn, Moor Park, Walton Heath, Sunningdale and Ganton. Great venues, ﬁne courses, and supported by wonderful fans who had the game of golf at heart.
With the restrictions in place throughout the world for the likes of travel, quarantine, and social gatherings, the Tour, no doubt with immense consideration and understanding, has come up with what I believe is the perfect plan as we ease forward.
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The PGA Tour gets underway in less than a fortnight in Texas. With the majority of players living in America, their return, although far from straightforward, is understandable and has a better than average chance of successfully setting the ball rolling once again.
Our European Tour, with its diversity, is a little more complicated.
Assuming the quarantine period is lifted in the near future, Lee Westwood and Close House in England's north east, will open the UK Swing. The British Masters and the events that follow in England and Wales will be played without spectators.
The prize funds are not what the players have enjoyed over the last few years, but these purses will be the norm for the foreseeable future. The reason to rejoice is the fact European Tour golf is heading out of darkness.
The chief executive, Keith Pelley, breezed into Wentworth a few years ago with a wave of enthusiasm, promising huge advances. There would be a signiﬁcant change in prize funds, a much-improved spectator experience and a large hike in hours of television broadcasts. Keith duly delivered.
The Rolex Series was introduced, eight events with a total purse of just under $60m. The dressing of tournaments was enhanced producing an atmosphere we hadn't witnessed before on Tour. Players' and family lounges were luxurious as were the players' courtesy car services and state of the art ranges.
All of this came crashing down in March this year, but it's with that same enthusiasm and expertise that Pelley will rebuild and shape the future and his UK Swing is the ideal way to re-enforce the foundations. I see it as going back to basics, never a bad tactic in times of trouble.
All of the British venues have hotels on site, all are superb tournament courses of which two have successfully hosted the Ryder Cup, one on more than one occasion. Forest Of Arden was one of the favourite venues for players and the coveted English Open was claimed there by the likes of Colin Montgomerie and Darren Clarke, the latter has also won at Hanbury Manor along with Lee Westwood.
It's 40 years ago since Irishman Des Smyth tasted victory in Newcastle, Mark James won the Welsh Golf Classic at Wenvoe Castle in 1979, and following year Sandy Lyle was victorious at Royal Porthcawl.
Celtic Manor boasts some ﬁne winners in more recent times. McGinley, Poulter and Miguel Angel Jimenez. Graeme McDowell took the title there during a year in which he became a major champion and starred in the 2010 Ryder Cup.
I applaud all who have made their venues available to allow European golf to begin the journey back. Their courses will look stunningly beautiful across our Sky Sports screens.
Many of our top players will play in the USA when restrictions are eased and if the planned majors and FedExCup play-oﬀs go ahead, their schedule will include these. That leaves a glorious opportunity for Europe's ﬂedgling golfers to climb the ladder. We have many excellent young talents emerging across Europe and it will be fascinating to see who makes their mark.
Keith Pelley was asked if the Tour is in ﬁnancial trouble, but he insisted the coffers were well stocked. I think we're all aware, every company or organisation, large or small has been severely aﬀected by Covid-19 and no one is coming back with a bang. It will be small steps on the road to recovery.
This is why I believe Pelley has made the correct decision and these events are being propped up ﬁnancially by the Tour. Each UK event will carry a total purse of one million euros, which means the winner's cheque will be around £150,000. It will also mean ﬁnishing halfway down the ﬁeld will probably only cover expenses.
With the big money up front, competition will be increased, and by the time this Swing is completed at the end of August, I've no doubt we will have seen many changes from this present time, hopefully for the better.
Scotland takes centre stage in October with the return of the Rolex Series. The impressive Renaissance Club in East Lothian will host the Scottish Open for the second year running. The following week it's back to European Tour headquarters for the BMW PGA Championship.
With the PGA Tour season over and a new one just beginning, there's every chance, with the easing of quarantine and the availability and more choice of travel, these two events should boast high-quality ﬁelds. October in Scotland can be a good golﬁng month with the odd wildness thrown in, but what about Wentworth in late autumn?
Remember the days of the World Match Play? The tree leaves ageing giving the course that lovely golden hue, the low sun portraying shafts of sunlight across the playing surface and the shadows lengthening as the day grows older. I'm an optimist as life is more enjoyable that way.
I'll leave you with these Wentworth images and I'll add, what if spectators are allowed? The roar of 30,000 fans reverberating around these old trees that frame the West Course. Scenes of days of yore, the beginning of our golﬁng future. We can dream and we will.