by Pete Willett
This season’s European Tour featured 45 tournaments in 26 countries, starting in South Africa and ending in Dubai. Europe didn’t host an event until almost five months into the season. Not even half of the 45 tournaments actually took place on the continent. Of the top 10 in the Order of Merit, four of them played on European soil fewer than five times each.
Despite these statistics making a mockery of the tour’s title, they illustrate one of its strengths. It is a truly global event, and the diversity of venues makes for a much more interesting spectacle, as players traverse time zones, cultures and different playing conditions in their bid to amass the most points.
Next season will see the introduction of the Rolex Series – a bold step towards addressing the niggle of low participation from Europe’s leading players. The Irish Open, Scottish Open, BMW PGA Championship and Italian Open have all had a huge increase in their prize fund – something that should entice more of the top-ranked golfers back across the pond.
In addition to the Rolex Series, there are a number of other developments that suggest the progressive leadership of the Tour’s CEO, Keith Pelley, will help it to aspire to the scale of its PGA cousin: the suggestion of experimenting with conventional formats (night golf), a vibrant social media approach that doesn’t take itself too seriously (watch them ‘winning’ the #MannequinChallenge or Billy’s brilliant Little Interviews), and courting one of the game’s great talents by relaxing the rules of exemption for Patrick Reed (he is being given his card despite not playing the required number of tournaments this season).
Patrick’s combative style was epitomised by his three-and-a-half point haul for Team USA in this year’s Ryder Cup.
In slightly similar circumstances to Rory McIlroy in the previous year, he has been liberated from the minimum tournament requirement for the benefit of the average fan. Interesting characters stop us from changing the channel. And if these characters can be lured to nearby tournaments by increased winnings, they might even persuade us to attend a few more events.
But is it OK to embrace a more flexible approach to the rules in the interests of growing the game? Could bending slightly now lead to something snapping in the future?
In comparison with most other sports, golf seems incredibly noble. It polices itself admirably, it’s relatively free from genuine scandal, and it has started to rid itself of the racist and misogynistic undertones synonymous with its past.
So… on to Donald Trump.
Within the last year, when the Apprentice host was hollering about his anti-rape wall, golf’s governing bodies clearly distanced themselves from him. They relocated a WGC event from his Miami course, refused to comment on Major events that were scheduled to be hosted in Virginia and New Jersey, and released a number of statements condemning his views.
At the time it seemed an obvious stance. Unless your newsfeed was populated with the opinions of ‘cuck’ screaming frogs, or ex-Grand Wizards, there was a general consensus that Trump’s rhetoric was really unpleasant.
But that stance is in danger of being soiled now that Trump has followed through with his threat of victory. As president-elect, will it become impossible to resist the temptation to bend to his increased influence?
When the UAE gave the tour a much-needed injection of investment through a variety of tournaments, including the season finale, any dissenting voices protesting about slave-built infrastructure, or forced ‘adultery,’ have been ignored. The tour has benefitted from this ignorance. Wealth and success are effective tools for normalising attitudes that wouldn’t usually be endorsed.
Donald Trump has always been wealthy, and now no-one can dispute his success. Can the sport’s governing bodies maintain their distanced stance to the rhetoric that gave him the keys to the White House?
There are murmurings that he already wants to exert his influence to benefit his Turnberry course in relation to a dispute over a wind farm.
My crude opinion of the man convinces me that his love of golf, and his desire for reverence, will be a common thread in the foreseeable future. He has heavily invested in the sport, and now that he is to become one of the most powerful figures in the world, it may be an opportunity for him to bludgeon his way into the history books as one of the game’s great figureheads.
This is where I hope the PGA and R&A remain stoic. As a liberal ‘luvvie’ my hypocrisy knows no bounds. I’ll hastily defend any conspiratorial headline calling for the boycott of Nestle… or KFC… or Amazon…
But as much as I dislike alleged infant slaughter, poultry torture and tax evasion/avoision you can’t keep me away from Munchies, fried chicken, and next-day delivery.
But at least the conduct of these companies is disputable. What Donald Trump said isn’t. His message wasn’t globalist, it wasn’t inclusive, and it wasn’t progressive – three values the European Tour openly promote. No amount of post-victory softening should allow him to forget what he originally said.
I understand the need to be flexible on certain matters in order to grow the game, and the European Tour seems well equipped to rise to this challenge.
But I would also like them to be responsible for upholding my moral stance, because I lack both the ability and impetus to do that for myself.
First Donald came for the Mexicans, and I favourited a mocking meme – because it was the easiest way of registering disgust.
Then he came for the Muslims, and I blocked a brigade of ‘patriots’ – because I couldn’t be bothered to challenge their ‘Christian values’.
Then he came for the women, and I told a few jokes about the grabby plans of mini hands – because… what else could I do?
When he provides a world-class venue for a terrific golf tournament, I’ll probably watch every minute – because I want something good on while I eat a Zinger Tower burger and a pack of Rolos.
I’m confident that for the European Tour, the future looks bright. I just hope they have the strength to stop it from looking orange.
The views I express here are mine alone and do not reflect the views of my employer.