WHILE confident that Gleneagles will remain on the schedule after it hosts next year’s Ryder Cup, European Tour, chief executive George O’Grady reckons it will require some “thinking out of the box” for any future tournaments at the Perthshire venue.
Due to the logistics of staging Europe’s clash against the Americans in September, the Johnnie Walker Championship, held on the PGA Centenary Championship under various guises since 1999, was dropped from the 2014 calendar.
There is nothing to suggest Gleneagles won’t be welcoming the European Tour back the following year and many more thereafter, but it remains to be seen what the event will be, with O’Grady aware that the Ryder Cup is a hard act to follow.
“I think all of that is still under discussion,” he said in reply to being asked if the Johnnie Walker Championship, won this year in a play-off by Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, was definitely returning in 2015.
“Gleneagles certainly want to remain as a venue on the European Tour. Gleneagles acknowledge that golf is good for Gleneagles. It’s a matter of getting the right event for Gleneagles and we continue to discuss it with [resort owners] Diageo.
“We’re looking at lots of different alternatives, either exactly what was there before or whether we can come up with a new way forward and what’s available. We haven’t crystalised it yet. At the moment, it’s just sitting around the table brainstorming.
“Personally, I’d like to think there will be something. Gleneagles is a great venue and I think the Ryder Cup will be a catalyst. But anything after the Ryder Cup is after the Lord Mayor’s Show slightly, so we have to think outside the box. Maybe they will consider waiting a year, if it was right for them. But, at the moment, it is a very positive, genial discussion, and we are just trying to find out what is right.”
In addition to the Ryder Cup, the European Tour caravan will roll into Royal Aberdeen for the first time next year when it stages the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open. It is set to host a star-studded field, with defending champion Phil Mickelson likely to be joined by Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell.
As with this year’s event at Castle Stuart, it will again be beamed into homes in America through a ten-year broadcasting deal with NBC and the Golf Channel, one that O’Grady is delighted with. “A lot of people don’t quite understand what a big deal this is,” he said. “We don’t even have two TV companies competing in Britain. We have Sky, which is a great commitment, and BBC do The Open, but that’s it.
“NBC specifically trail the Scottish Open in all their other coverage and Castle Stuart looked so scenically beautiful on TV cameras. And, of course, we struck it fractionally lucky with Phil Mickelson winning the tournament and winning it the way he did. First, we thought he had lost it then he won at the first extra hole [in a play-off against South African Branden Grace] with that great pitch.
“Henrik Stenson, of course, began his great run by finishing third there. For a regular European Tournament to be on network television on America, and get great viewing figures as well, has shown other sponsors what we can do. It would have been great even without Mickelson, but the way he won it was the icing on the cake.”
While Scotland staging such tournaments is often taken for granted, it is down to the drive of both First Minister Alex Salmond and Martin Gilbert, Aberdeen Asset Management’s chief executive, that the Scottish Open’s future has been secured for the next four years.
Johann Rupert, the South African businessman, also deserves enormous credit for his role in the Dunhill Links Championship, which will be held at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns for the 14th year running the week after the Ryder Cup.
“The Scottish Open is immensely powerful for the European Tour,” admitted O’Grady. “I’ve praised the First Minister before for taking the leadership on this with Aberdeen Asset, a great Scottish company, which needs visibility in America for their business. As for the future of the Dunhill Links, I have agreed this with Johann Rupert. I’m not too certain what we have contracted, but his handshake is his bond and I think the last time I saw him at the Presidents Cup he is continuing, and I think quite a lengthy continuation.”
At the moment, the BMW PGA Championship, the Tour’s flagship event at Wentworth, is the only English stop on the 2014 schedule but talks are ongoing about the Volvo Match Play Championship finding a new home there, with The London Club believed to be in the frame. “We’ve done some work to try and bring it back to England and hopefully that will happen,” said O’Grady.