After P.g.a. Schedule Shift, European Tour Jumps Into Fall
Now that the PGA Tour has altered its schedule and will finish its season before football fills weekends in the United States, its European counterpart is more than happy to claim the late summer and fall.
The result was a huge shift in the 2019 European Tour schedule announced last week, with five of its high-profile events moving from the spring and summer to September and October, which officials hope sets up a more momentous finish.
That cluster includes the tour’s flagship BMW P.G.A. Championship, another Rolex Series event in the Italian Open and longstanding stops in Scotland, France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands.
“Fantastically strong European events,” said Keith Pelley, the European Tour’s chief executive who reconstructed the schedule after the PGA Tour did its own overhaul.
The PGA Tour’s new schedule, which was completed in July, moved the P.G.A. Championship into May and created a shorter FedExCup playoff to be held exclusively in August. That allowed the crowning of a season champion to move out of the shadow of the N.F.L. and college football.
The European Tour announced last spring that the BMW P.G.A. Championship, a May staple at the Wentworth Club near London, would move to September. At the time, no one had a sense of what other changes might follow.
Now, a dozen events, almost all on European soil, have been shifted at least five weeks off their 2018 dates. To make room for the marquee events moving to September, the British Masters and Denmark Open were relocated to May. Others went into August, opposite the FedExCup playoffs.
“I think it’ll be good for us that play both tours,” said Rafa Cabrera-Bello of Spain. “We won’t have to give up so much later in the year to be able to play in Europe when the bigger events are coming.”
The European Tour will still have a strong presence in other parts of the year, most notably in what’s called the “desert swing” in January through Abu Dhabi and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and a new event in Saudi Arabia. Also in July will be the Irish Open and Scottish Open, which attract many pros for British Open tuneups.
Though the French Open will no longer be played before the British Open — and lost its Rolex Series status as a premier event — the BMW International in Germany and Andalucia Valderrama Masters in Spain give players four solid European stops between the United States Open and the British Open.
But what really stands out is what happens after August. That’s where many of the tour’s most established events have landed: a nine-week stretch with the BMW P.G.A. Championship as its centerpiece, followed by the popular Alfred Dunhill Links with Scotland’s revered St. Andrews as its hub.
The Spanish, Italian and French Opens come next, capped by the Portugal Masters before leaving European soil for a big four-week finish — a World Golf Championships event in China and the Rolex Series’s Turkish Airlines Open, Nedbank Challenge in South Africa and DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
Five of the eight Rolex Series events, all with a minimum purse of $7 million, now will be contested after the FedExCup playoffs in the United States.
Danny Willett, a Masters champion, told reporters last week in Turkey that the PGA Tour’s earlier finish “kind of opens up the last three months for the European Tour.”
Though the PGA Tour will still play fall events with established stops in Houston and West Virginia joining that segment, those will be early-season tournaments in the schedule with lower marquee value.
The European schedule also managed to resuscitate the British Masters, thought to have played its final edition last month but now set for a May date with Tommy Fleetwood serving as host in his hometown Southport, England. Hillside Golf Club will be the venue.
“To actually be on the list of the names that have hosted is very special for me,” Fleetwood said, noting that the 2008 British Masters was where he got his first taste of European Tour competition at age 17.
In recent years, the British Masters has named some of the Commonwealth’s top players to take a turn as host. Justin Rose, the world No. 1, held the honor this year, preceded by such stars as Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Ian Poulter.
“It’s nice to have your name on the tournament,” Fleetwood said, “and the tournament is a very historic event.”
The schedule also puts the Spanish Open — which dates from 1912 but was not played last year amid sponsorship issues — on more solid footing as part of the September/October cluster. All told, it was a significant overhaul that took place in mere months after the PGA Tour’s locked in its major changes.
There’s also new flexibility in August to accommodate golf’s inclusion in the Olympic Games; the 2020 men’s event in Tokyo will be played from July 30 to Aug. 2. Two years ago, the sport’s return to the Olympic program in Rio de Janeiro required a huge PGA Tour reconfiguration.
But although the PGA Tour’s major changes had been discussed for at least two years, Pelley and his aides had to race the clock.
“We know the challenges with the ever-changing global calendar,” Pelley said. “We’ve studied it, as you can imagine, forensically. When the move happened with the P.G.A. Championship, that certainly changed things.”
Perhaps the most troublesome piece of the new lineup is the French Open’s losing Rolex Series status. The event, first played in 1906, held a premium spot alongside the Irish and Scottish Opens in the prelude to the British Open.
The French Open also took on added significance as this year’s Ryder Cup approached — the first to be held on continental Europe since Valderrama in 1997 and just the second over all — as Le Golf National also would host the Ryder Cup and allowed golfers to get an early look at the course.
But even as the heroics of Rose, Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari returned the cup to European hands, the French Open lost its sponsorship with the China-based HNA Group and no one has fully taken that baton.
“We had a very good partner in HNA, and we were disappointed to lose them,” Pelley said. “We have talked to a couple of other partners, but it has not been feasible to turn it around that quickly.”
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship was elevated to Rolex Series status, more than doubling its payout from $3 million to the required $7 million. Pelley also left the door ajar for the French Open to return to the Rolex roster, noting the series always was envisioned as “eight to 10” events.
Pelley noted, too, that he sought to balance the schedule with a Rolex Series event in the spring, but was met with resistance from players.
“We looked at two or three weeks where we could put a Rolex Series event in there,” he said. “I sat down with every top member, and they said, ‘I wouldn’t do that; I wouldn’t do that; it’s tough for us to come back.’”
Given essentially a blank slate in the fall, the European Tour opted to stake out its territory there. Rather than the path of least resistance, it appears to be the path of greatest opportunity.