Is the European Tour at the bottom of golf's food chain?
When Keith Pelley insists shifting the BMW PGA Championship to September is an opportunity to move the European Tour’s flagship event to a “more favourable date”, I’m not sure who he is trying to convince – us or himself.
The chief of European golf is today engulfed in a world of problems, heading an organisation that increasingly looks like it is at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to scheduling.
What have we learned from the PGA Championship’s move from August to May in 2019? That the European Tour sits behind the PGA Tour, USGA, PGA, R&A, Ryder Cup, even the Olympic Games, when it comes to setting the tournament calendar.
The greenkeeping team at Wentworth might be jumping for joy – it’s really hard to get a course in peak condition for championship play in May – but it feels like golf in Europe has been on the receiving end of a barrage of blows from our cousins across the pond.
Pelley didn’t really have a lot of choice. Wentworth’s position in the golfing year is now untenable.
But to dress this move up as a positive, as a “new chapter for the event”, feels disingenuous.
Wentworth’s slot at the end of May is supremely important in the context of the European Tour season.
If the year kicks off with a bang in the Desert Swing, then there is a yawning chasm for a good three months until we all arrive for the summer season at Virginia Water.
Like it or not, Wentworth is when golf in Europe wakes up from hibernation.
Compare that with the new-look American schedule. They’ve got their own tinkering to do, as the Florida swing will need some work, but any golf fan can only look at their calendar and drool with anticipation.
The Players, Masters, PGA Championship and the US Open from March to June. Squeeze in a couple of World Golf Championship events as well, alongside some very high profile and money-laden PGA Tour tournaments, and it’s a compelling proposition.
How can the Tshwane Open compete with that?
With many of Europe’s top exponents already shunning the continent during these early spring months, Pelley will be hoping the big bucks of the Rolex Series can entice them back for the summer.
Ah, the Rolex Series.
You have to admit, having Wentworth kicking that off with fireworks of publicity was fairly handy.
The Open de France, Irish Open and Scottish Open are all fine tournaments – and add a real sheen of quality to Pelley’s new venture – but they don’t attract the same reels of newsprint that a week in Surrey provides.
Wentworth now sits in a really odd position within that Rolex narrative. It doesn’t have the prestige of launching the series and neither does it command the finality of the playoffs.
It’s just kind of there.
There has been a lot of hard work undertaken in the last few years, both by the club and the Tour, to entice more American stars to fly over and play the BMW.
Is that going to happen in that September spot? The answer, I fear, is no.
American golf is relentless from the end of the Open – all building towards the FedEx climax at East Lake.
Unless their Tour Championship spot is sewn up well in advance, many of those towards the head of the rankings are playing four weeks in a row.
Atlanta is very much seen as end of term, where the bags then go in the cupboard for a couple of months and the Fall Series helps some of the PGA Tour’s lesser lights grab some of the limelight.
Are any of those stars really going to get on another plane for a week in autumnal England? I think not.
When you look at where that leaves the tour and its schedule, we have the Desert Swing in the Middle East in January and February. Your next chance of attracting a top-class field is after the US Open in mid-June in the run-up to the Open.
After that, it will be September, leading up to the DP World Championship, which is currently in late November. You have to think that may well move now too.
The next question is how it will affect the Ryder Cup.
The PGA Tour season is expected to contract to finish by the beginning of September – out of the way before the NFL begins. It seems reasonable to expect Samuel Ryder’s legacy to shift a couple of weeks forward too.
Wentworth becomes a difficult nail in the wheel in that scenario. Do you finish qualification at the Open? Do you wait to try to accommodate the BMW?
And presuming the team is wrapped up by then, what happens when the BMW winner doesn’t make the European side? Do you leave a wild card hanging – just in case?
Look what happened when Billy Horschel won the FedEx and didn’t make the US team at Gleneagles. The whole American qualification system altered as a result.
Whichever way you look at it, what was once a nice ordered schedule for team selection is about to become a bit of a bun fight.
For those who love the sport, the PGA Championship’s move will see us glued to our armchairs avidly following a frenetic few of months of excitement.
But it feels like terrible news for European golf.
And with the PGA Tour starting to show sustained interest in some of the Asian heartlands, Pelley could soon find himself under assault from all sides.