EVEN nearly 3,000 miles away on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, it was the talk of the golfing steamie. And rightly so. What Paul Lawrie has done, by pulling together all the components to allow a new European Tour event to be on its way to Murcar Links next season could be a trend-setter for the circuit.
At a time when long-time sponsors – the likes of Volvo, for instance – are either cutting back or withdrawing altogether from supporting golf tournaments at the highest level, the onus is starting to fall more on players themselves to give something back to the sport.
Admittedly, it’s easier for some more than others. Major winners, for example, because, in most cases, they should have done pretty well for themselves out of the game financially. Lawrie himself is the first to admit the sport has made him comfortable in life, though, at the same time, he’s certainly not flashy and that’s what a lot of people like about him.
Even then, there are only a few – the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and now Rory McIlroy – who have coined it in sufficiently to be in a position to contemplate self-financing events on the main Tours, but there are plenty that could take a leaf out of Lawrie’s book and work closely with their own personal sponsors to try and boost the tournament scene.
The Paul Lawrie Saltire Energy Match Play is the result of the 1999 Open champion coming up with a great idea, getting one of his backers – a company, incidentally, that currently has its name emblazoned on the Aberdeen FC’s shirts – on board and showing real ambition by changing from the original idea of it being a Challenge Tour event to one on the main Tour.
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Is it a first in Europe? No. Thomas Bjorn has personally supported tournaments in Denmark. Marcel Siem likewise in Germany and Markus Brier in Austria. More recently, Miguel Angel Jimenez played an active role in the Andalucia Open as its tournament host and admitted to this correspondent at the weekend: “It is very important that players promote events and give something back.”
Certainly in recent years, this is the first time that a European Tour event has carried a player’s name and well done to Mike Loggie, the chief executive of Saltire Energy, for insisting that should be the case. Its right and proper due to Lawrie’s involvement and also his desire for it to tick every box.
The golf centre on the outskirts of Aberdeen that carries Lawrie’s name has been transformed since he bought it. Every good idea he’s come across as a global golfer has been put into practice there along with many of his own. We can expect exactly the same with this new event, one that his fellow professionals certainly appreciate as an addition to the schedule.
“Aberdeen is probably one of the few places that you could raise sponsorship in but, at the same time, Paul has done well to bring it together,” admitted Richie Ramsay, the Granite City’s other current European Tour player.
“We need more guys like him,” added Chris Doak, also speaking at the Turkish Airlines Open, as he joined in the praise being showered on Lawrie.
Who, then, can we expect to see at Murcar Links next summer? At £800,000, the prize fund puts the event on par with the likes of the Africa Open, Czech Masters and the Lyoness Open in Austria on this season’s schedule. Therefore, don’t expect to see the likes of McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose or Rickie Fowler back in the Granite City, where they all teed up in this year’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
The new event is taking place the week before the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, which, of course, leads into the US PGA Championship, so that will also have an influence on how the 64-man field shapes up. It is surely not asking too much, however, that a lot of players – the leading Scots in particular – make an effort to ensure that this tournament gets off to the best possible start, especially as it has been guaranteed for three years.
“He might not get some of the boys heading out to the WGC, but I still think he’ll get a seriously good field,” predicted Ramsay.
This year, McIlroy became a partner with the European Tour in the Irish Open in conjunction with a cancer research charity for kids,, putting in £1 million of his own money.
Well done to him and let’s see more of that from our top golfers. But the game also needs them to play an active role in ensuring the tournament scene gives the next generation the same chance they had themselves to earn a decent crust from the game.
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