Golf Expert & Columnist
European Tour deserves credit for successful global schedule
Last Updated: 21/01/19 12:15pm
The Abu Dhabi Championship, as usual, set the highest standards of tournament golf for the year ahead.
Shane Lowry beating the strongest field in the world in a riveting final round made this classy $7m Rolex Series event easily worthy of its top billing in golf.
Lowry wins Abu Dhabi epic
Report and highlights from Shane Lowry's win at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
More than that, this tournament, together with other events in the Middle East, Far East, South Africa and Australia, underlined once again that the much-touted-but-never-tried 'World Tour' already exists in everything but name.
The concept of an elite global golf circuit has simmered on golf's back burner for 30 years but the game as a whole has never quite warmed to the idea of putting it in place officially.
However, the fact that the top five in the world are well represented in the Middle East just weeks before they'll be playing on the west coast of the USA confirms that the easy, almost seamless, meshing of intercontinental golf has happened anyway.
Okay, there was nothing seamless about Ian Poulter's trip from Hawaii to Abu Dhabi on commercial airlines but Ian knows better than anyone that tournament victories take care of private jet bills.
Just ask Greg Norman, winner of 91 events, who used to fly his own jet all over the world, even in the 80s and 90s.
As the New World's latter-day answer to Arnold Palmer, Norman not only followed 'The King' into the pilot's seat of his own plane but also into the world of entrepreneurial adventure.
It was hardly surprising then in 1994, that the world's most charismatic and richest golfer of the day was the one who finally addressed the topic which had been the elephant in the clubhouse for years, a World Tour.
His idea was for an elite circuit of events around the world featuring top players, competing for massive prize money at a time when Tiger Woods wasn't even a dollar sign in the Tour Commissioner's eye.
And yet, despite being the undisputed box-office star and darling of the PGA Tour, Norman was treated like a heretic, provoking the kind of vitriol more in keeping with a suggestion to propose Gordon Gekko as a member of the R&A.
'Norman Golfing for Greed' said the Washington Post in a headline over a story which said 'The World Golf Tour is an ugly idea, both crass and alien to golf'.
The 'Great White Shark' quickly became the corporate shark in some quarters, principally because he was in league with commercial giants perceived to be cashing in on the game's global popularity.
A bitter public argument developed between Norman and Tim Finchem, the then PGA Tour Commissioner, who immediately threatened to suspend any members signing up for the new deal.
And two years later, Norman was said to be 'livid' when he discovered that Finchem was at the heart of discussions between golf tours from around the world that would eventually lead to the World Golf Championships.
Strangely enough, at the height of all this tension, it was Norman who, in 1997, won the Andersen Consulting World Championship of Golf, an elite match play event which proved to be the forerunner to the WGCs we know today.
Those official World Golf Championships started in 1999 and were viewed by some as Finchem stealing Norman's idea of a World Tour, but this notion quickly became ludicrous when America claimed most of them as their own.
The International Federation of Golf Tours still boasts today that WGCs have been played on five continents, but the simple truth is that of 68 World Golf Championships, 52 have been played in the United States.
For me, the real credit for the 'world' circuit we have today goes to the European Tour.
It may have to play second fiddle to the PGA Tour in financial terms but the European international circuit, visiting 26 countries outside of the majors and WGCs, is the authentic trailblazer for golf.
In a sport which, on the golf course, promotes risk and reward, the European Tour has adopted that ethos on its commercial adventures around the world, through good times and bad.
Those ambitions have been threatened by economic downturns and political upheaval but they have never been thwarted.
Even now, chief executive Keith Pelley is following his predecessors George O'Grady and Ken Schofield, in trying to steer a steady course through the complicated waters of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Anyone who reads the front pages as well as the sports sections will understand the potential hazards - or penalty areas - that need to be avoided.
By negotiating successfully, the European Tour derives both diplomatic and financial kudos but the real winners are us, golf fans around the world who can turn on our televisions at all kinds of strange hours and watch live golf of the very highest quality.
In my first year of retirement, I'm already loving early-morning tee times on Sky with my former colleagues.
After a brilliant week in Abu Dhabi, it's on to Dubai and then to Saudi Arabia for the first time, all the while featuring the likes of Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Bryson DeChambeau, Tommy Fleetwood, and Lee Westwood.
Cheers and Happy New Year to the European World Tour.