Those were the days: When the UK was the European Tour

Golf News

Long before the Race to Dubai, the UK was the European Tour. Neil Coles and Andrew Coltart reminisce with Mark Townsend...

What were the highlights on the schedule that you most looked forward to?

AC: I wanted to play well in the Scottish Open. The PGA had such a great history and I grew up watching the Benson & Hedges at Fulford and Peter Baker winning. You just wanted to play in them, there were big crowds and you felt like you were at a big event. At Woburn you had a lovely old course with some great memories.

NC: Mine were the big three: the PGA, the British Masters and the Open. Then the Match Play. The PGA moved around then, I won it at RSG but we also played at Saunton, Hillside, Ganton, Western Gailes and Royal Mid Surrey. The Benson & Hedges was always at Fulford and very established. The racing was there the week before. Another highlight was the Daks at Wentworth.

Are we missing a trick in not having more professional events on some of our great links?

NC: We had events at Hillside, Ashburnham, Hunstanton and Wallasey and these were great venues but today they need so much space.

AC: The problem is the logistics – setting up tented villages is tricky to expand onto local fields. Being a traditionalist I would love to see it. When you talk about the tourist industry, foreigners want to play links and we all head to the lush parklands.

What is it like to win in front of your own fans?

AC: We (Scotland) won the Dunhill Cup at St Andrews; Monty got a lot of plaudits at the Ryder Cup but back then he was non-existent. Sam Torrance was the captain and there was not a negative in sight and he loved playing for Scotland.
When Monty captained the side there was none of that. I had an eye for the Old Course at that time and I shot some good scores. I loved the head-to-head, which was like your amateur days, and Torrance and Monty were battling it out for the Money List.

NC: My favourite win was the PGA at Sandwich in 1976 where I had a play-off with Gary Player and Eamonn Darcy. Player went out at the 1st hole and Darcy and I halved the 16th in two and I parred 17 to his five. I had three chances in the Open, I was third at Birkdale, second at Troon and sixth at Carnoustie. The only one where I maybe could have won was at Birkdale in 1961 where I was leading or tied for the lead with nine holes to play and suddenly realised it and then had a run of fives. Arnold Palmer won, Dai Rees was second.

How much of a factor was the necessary travel? 

AC: You were travelling in Europe back then and you could get back home. Now it is very much a single man’s sport and you might now be away for six weeks at a time. It is all very well going places where there is money but there is a question mark over whether that is best for the future of the tour.

NC: I have never liked flying. I flew in the early days but not in the latter years. There were certain things in the States that I turned down and I was invited to the Masters over a period of years and only went once. I don’t fly now.

We would drive to Portugal and Spain and the events would follow on so we would play Portugal, La Manga, Madrid and the French Open on the way home.

You would also drive to Italy and play a few events and get the boat to Barcelona and Madrid so that was another good trip.
We should be able to hold one or two events in Britain for the youngsters and supporters to go and watch. You come to the game because you see the stars in the flesh. Are you glad you played when you did?

AC: I was lucky I played when I did, Tiger was coming through and there was a lot of money. The tour began to fragment when they introduced WGC events and that divided the tour and that has become even more the case.

I was lucky, I didn’t achieve as much as I wanted to but you had to be ridiculously good and you had to prepare so long away from home with the different climates, food and conditions.

NC: We had good fun, we travelled and practised with the same people, it was competitive but we enjoyed the trips. Obviously it was a shorter season so we had to play well through a six-month period whereas today it is a year-long thing. I worked in a shoe repair business, ladies’ dresses, engineering and finished up buying property.

How frustrating is it for you not to see more European Tour events in the UK?

AC: In these economic times it is tough but golf is still a very popular game for professional people and companies and there is still an obligation to provide these tournaments on home soil for the youngsters. We should be able to hold one or two events in Britain for the youngsters and supporters to go and watch. You come to the game because you see the stars in the flesh. There are certain tax obligations in place which put off some players from coming back to the country and the government could help with that.

You could see this coming – let’s have an event and have it for $1m and everyone was happy but you could see additional events clogging up the schedule and players coming through the Q Schools not getting into events.

NC: The amounts of money have got to such a point there aren’t many companies that can sponsor big events. It is almost impossible to sponsor some events and you hope things will turn around. It is no longer a European Tour, more of a world tour but you have to go where the money is. I played for 37 years and won £430,000 and that is one event now.

How true is the suggestion that  the British golf fan is the best in the world?

AC: The British crowds are exactly what you expect them to be. They love their golf and are very impressive. Elsewhere there are fans who want to be heard or don’t understand the etiquette of the game.

NC: The British fan is less rowdy but in the early days golf was a very elitist sport on the continent and they would just wander out in their fur coats and that was as far they would walk.

The British crowds loved Seve, Nicklaus and Palmer more than anyone and I loved playing with Nicklaus the most and then Palmer. Jack was so powerful and his mental attitude was incredible; you used to look at him and wonder what made him tick. 

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