Want to improve the European Tour? The answer lies in football
Football is really popular. You don’t need me to tell you that. People like to say that it is the tribal nature of the sport that keeps us hooked. Red vs. Blue, United vs. City – you’ve heard it all before.
Golf is fond of telling itself that it is the replication of this visceral sport that makes the Ryder Cup popular beyond oak-panelled club houses. I think we are missing the point.
Here is what I would do with the European Tour.
The football season runs for nine months. It is a war of attrition, a grim battle through the minefield of Christmas, form, injury, scandal, sales, purchases and punditry. Every year it gives us a worthy winner.
What it is also gives us is a set of results every single weekend, compacted into 90 minutes of action-packed drama. It provides us with regular, meaningful, and sometimes unexpected results that all add up to a winner where luck, chance and inconsistency are balanced out. At the end of season we are engaged fully with the race for the title, the tussle for Champions League spots, and the battle to avoid relegation. In the best seasons many eventualities are still to be decided going into the final weekend.
Golf gives us the opposite.
It serves up Test-match length four-day events that take too long to get a winner and that provide very little in the way of the context when it comes to providing us with a Champion Golfer. So we end up with contrived end-of-season showdowns such as the Tour Championship.
It is the league season and the regular head-to-head that football gives us that golf should be trying to emulate, not the tribalism that may or may not exist and that golf has demonstrated it can’t do with assorted World Cup formats.
So how about this as a suggestion for a calendar? Let’s say that including the Challenge Tour there are around 200 touring professionals in Europe. To make the maths work we will round that down to 192. That gives us eight divisions of 24 golfers.
In each of those eight divisions, every player plays each other in a round robin format. There are two 18-hole matches per weekend, meaning the entire league season will take 12 weeks. And they can be played at regular tour venues that are actually in Europe.
Each division will have a sponsor, or set of sponsors, providing prize money that increases as you move up the divisions, and each year the bottom 4 golfers in each division will be relegated and the top four promoted. It will lead to brutal career-changing drama as the league season reaches its denouement with almost all players affected by the final week’s results in some way.
The top four players from the highest division will qualify for the Golf Champions League, a 72-hole stroke play event for the top four players from all of the world’s tours that moves venue around the various territories, a World Cup of Golf that would actually work.
We retain the best 72-hole strokeplay tournaments – the Scottish, Irish and French Opens, BMW PGA Championship, Dunhill Links, British Masters, European Masters and Made in Denmark – which will all be reduced to 54 holes from Friday to Sunday and all played at the height of summer to allow for late evening tee off times and better TV ratings. These are stand-alone events that don’t influence the overall league standings, they are just prestigious in their own right.
Add the four majors and that gives us 12 weeks of strokeplay and takes us to 24 weeks golf in total.
The other thing that football does well is offer us a cup competition so let’s do the same in golf.
Any golfer with a handicap of scratch or better can enter and play in the preliminary rounds, until we get to the first round proper when the professional ranks enter the draw. When 256 golfers go into a hat at the start of the year and play straight knock out on a midweek afternoon starting in May and ending in August. Seven weeks of 18-hole shoot outs, where a rank outsider even an amateur could draw Rory McIlroy or Sergio Garcia.
The early rounds will be played at neutral venue to allow for TV coverage but once we get to the last 16 players will be drawn home or away. Imagine getting drawn against Beef away. He might be top of the league but can he do it on a rainy Tuesday in Middlesex?
So a 12-week, 36-hole matchplay league season, 12 strokeplay events, and an 18-hole matchplay cup played alongside the league season. We can get it all done between April and September and in the winter players can either have a rest of go and play on an overseas tour.
How would you like to pay me, Mr Pelley?