PGA Europro Tour: Barry Hearn interview

Craig Middleton spoke to Matchroom Sport Chairman Barry Hearn about the PGA Europro Tour and all things golf...

Thanks for talking to us Barry. Could you start by telling us a bit about your role within the PGA Europro Tour?

Well the PGA Europro Tour is part of Matchroom Sport which is my parent company, which I formed in 1982 and I’ve had fun for the last 34 years and the EuroPro Tour has been part of that journey. Despite my golf not being very good it’s one of the more pleasurable things I look at in my life.

Last season was a really successful year for the Europro Tour, how do you aim to improve that for the season ahead?

I think Dan Godding has done a tremendous job since he came in as Chief Executive of the Tour, being a former PGA club pro himself he has brought a lot more golf emphasis to the Tour which may sound peculiar but courses have been upgraded dramatically the last few years and at the same time the tournaments and prize money have also grown…not as much as I want but they’re beginning to become more respectable in terms of perception of where the tour is. What I look at with the PGA Europro Tour is what little else there is out there for the aspiring up and coming player, gain the experience to prepare him for the big boys. last season we didn’t have a Challenge Tour in England at all, I think there was one in Scotland and one in Ireland, this year they may be one Challenge Tour event in England I’m not sure, but it’s not enough. If we want to see a beautiful flower we have to fertilise the roots and that’s the situation for golf. 

The Europro Tour has really risen to be able to offer proper opportunity to people with talent who aspire to be the best and that’s one thing I’m very proud of, I think the Tour, with the support of the PGA has gone from strength to strength in the last few years and looks as if it’s going further and further forward.
I think the other side of it is the television exposure for the Tour is now global and that’s quite unusual for a developmental Tour. But the fact is there has been a lot of input into the technical quality of the TV programmes and broadcasters around the world have said it’s good golf viewing, so that’s another big step forward because we are probably in more countries than any other Golf Tour at the moment and that doesn’t look as if it’s going to slow down.

PGA Europro 2015: Sam Connor interview

How much preparation and hard work goes into running a successful Tour like this?

Well it’s a 52-week job, you know to actually put together sixteen Tour events, a Tour Championship, Q-School and all the commercial exploitation that is required. You know this is like any business, there’s a team of people that are all passionate about golf and passionate about expanding the Tour. But when you work for me it’s 24-hours a day I’m afraid! that’s the rules of Matchroom, it’s the end of your life as you know it, but if you’re passionate about what you do the idea is is that it’s not really work.
"If we want to see a beautiful flower we have to fertilise the roots and that’s the situation for golf." What would you say makes the Europro Tour unique and why should people go and watch?

I think what I like about it is the opportunity it creates and the availability without barriers, in other words with anybody who considers themselves to be a top pro or has the potential to be a top pro, there are no barriers to entry. It costs money but it’s not expensive. You get the opportunity to find out about yourself, not just about golf and there are lots of golfers on the Tour who will never make it, but they should still have the opportunity to make it, that’s our job to give them that opportunity. But what they do from there comes down to the ability and dedication that they have. You know nobody wants to waste their life, you need to be able to look in the mirror and say I gave it my best shot and I wasn’t good enough and life moves on in another direction, that’s fine, but at least you’ve had the opportunity to test yourself and not look over your shoulder and said ‘I should have done it, I should have given it a go.

Looking ahead to the 2016 season, is there anyone in particular to watch out for?

Yes loads of them! that’s the trouble for me, I’m an 18 handicap golfer and quite frankly these days if I play to 18 then I shall run naked around a clubhouse of your choice, my golf is poor but it doesn’t stop me loving the game and appreciating the level of talent that is out there. But when I look at all of these players, they all look fantastic to me and the difference is the consistency week in, week out, the fact that they don’t miss from 6 foot and they don’t miss fairways.
But if they are going to come through they are really going to have nerves of steel to compete in their chosen profession if they want to get to the top and not many people get to the top, but as I say the important thing is having the opportunity. They all look like great golfers, they’ve all got potential, and potential is a dangerous word because there’s no definition. It’s something you can only realise after you’ve succeeded. So that’s our job, lets see what they’ve got. I wouldn’t like to put the curse of Barry Hearn on anyone by picking them out and saying he’s a top player because he’s then bound to miss the cut for his first ten events!

Who would you say is the Tours biggest success story since its inception?

There’s so many of them, when we look at the European Tour now you see a whole list of people who have graduated from the EuroPro Tour and gone on to win on the European Tour and become members of the Ryder Cup team, I think we’ve had a few of them also. Jamie Donaldson played on the Tour, Nicolas Colsaerts played on the Tour, so I think that’s inspiring for the 550/600 members that will be this year the cream of Europe and I think if I was them as a young man I’d look at them and think why can’t that be me?

We saw 650,000 people through the gates at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last week and we’ve also seen the impact you’ve had on darts and snooker over the past few years.. If you could, what would you do to try and get those sorts of figures in this country for golf?

Numbers like that are so staggering and I watched it on TV of course as most golf fans would. You can’t force people to play a sport, especially in America where people don’t necessarily play so much but watch alot. You have to make the customer experience something special. They did a lot of things at the Waste Management you know the 16th hole and the noise which is quite clever in terms of making the event unique. 
I think similar to darts when you look at the job we done on that where a handful of people used to go and watch, now it’s watched by hundreds of thousands. It’s all about customer experience, golfers could play brilliant golf with no one there, so if they’re playing brilliant golf half of the job is done. From there you need to make sure it’s affordable, markeatble and then you have to create an arena that is conducive to people finding it entertaining. Sport has to be entertainment, we can’t stick our nose up in the air and say ‘my dear boy this is golf’..

Those days have gone, we need to move into a younger, more flexible medium and make sure we give more value for the buck. I think America leads the way on popularising sports like that and also having the facilities and course management to make sure it can be organised in a safe and economic fashion. The idea of 650,000 people turning up at The Open is a staggering number, so there’s  a lot of work to it but if you look at the success stories in sport in terms of the participation and growth, you look at  UFC in America WWE and Golf it’s held back isn’t it, so much of it is history without bringing it forward to the 21st century and the demands of todays customer. The players are there waiting to be superstars, they will respond, you have to set the environment and make sure that it’s marketed so the perception is that ‘that’s going to be a fun day out’ not just ‘I’m a scratch golfer I want to watch really good golf’… It has to be wider to the more causal fan. 

2016 Europro schedule

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