If Scottish golf needed a boost in a week when the Saltire is absent among the 60 players competing in the DP World Tour Championship, boy has it got one. Prize-money for next year’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, which will be played at Dundonald Links in Ayrshire, has reached the same dizzy heights as the skyscrapers that are such a feature of the Dubai landscape.
Scrap the increase of £250,000 that was already in the pipeline through the partnership involving Aberdeen Asset Management, the Scottish Government and the European Tour. It would have taken the purse up to £3.5 million. Instead, it is rising to a whopping £5.6m or, for official purposes, $7m. It’s all down to the new Rolex Series. Comprising a minimum of seven events, it will boast a minimum prize pot of $50m. Six events will be worth $7m; the other $8m.
Where is the increased revenue for the Scottish Open coming from, I hear you ask? Well, it’s not from either the title sponsor or the Scottish Government. As one of the circuit’s “real jewels”, it is being subsidised by the European Tour and Rolex. The Irish Open and BMW PGA Championship are getting big cash injections, too. The four other events in this new showcase collection – the Italian Open, Turkish Airlines Open, Nedbank Golf Challenge and the DP World Tour Championship – already had either $7m or $8m prize funds in place for next year.
Keith Pelley, the European Tour’s chief executive, was positively purring as he unveiled the inaugural Rolex Series at a press conference at Jumeirah Golf Estates, venue for this week’s 2016 season-ending event. He believes the big-money tournaments will help stop Europe’s top players having their heads turned by the PGA Tour. At the same time, he is hoping to attract more leading Americans. Next year’s Irish Open at Portstewart is being held the week before the Scottish Open. The Canadian sees both those events attracting stellar fields as players find themselves with two weeks, not just one, to prepare for the Open Championship, in this instance at Royal Birkdale.
“I believe it’s a game-changer for us,” said Pelley. “The critical component for us with the Rolex Series is that we wanted a season-long narrative and we also wanted something that could tie all our seasons together. Look at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, preluded now by the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open leading into the Open Championship. That is a perfect opportunity for us to be the dominant player in golf at that particular time.”
The dominant player in five out of the last six Open Championships warmed up in the Scottish Open the week before. This year, the four leading players at Royal Troon – Henrik Stenson, Phil Mickelson, JB Holmes and Steve Stricker – all teed up at Castle Stuart. “We looked at the events that we thought at this particular time had the best chance to grow significantly,” replied Pelley when asked about those being subsidised. “We believe we have something special with the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and Rory McIlroy’s involvement. And we believe that right behind the Open Championship, the Scottish Open is a real jewel in our schedule. We thought that those were the best opportunities for us to create the best field and create the most magical content.”
It seems certain that the French Open and, possibly, the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship will be added to the Rolex Series in the coming weeks. “We expect to have eight or nine events in 2017, with a goal of ten by 2018,” said Pelley. “We believe this is a transformational day for the European Tour, but it is in the infancy stages and will grow significantly. We need a product that can grow over time that provides a strong financial offering for our younger players so they don’t have to go to the United States.”
McIlroy, the tournament host, said he was “excited” about the Irish Open both being part of the Rolex Series and also moving to the slot before the Scottish Open. But how many of the game’s top players will play in both those events in preparation for the Claret Jug joust? “You’re not going to get everyone [doing that], but I think it will be great,” said the world No 2. “It gives both tournaments an opportunity to get some of the best players in the world there and that should be celebrated.”
Golf’s man of the moment, Alex Noren, said he will almost certainly be competing at Portstewart, Dundonald Links and Royal Birkdale. “I love links golf, so I think I’ll play all those three,” said the current Scottish Open champion. “It was huge for me to win [at Castle Stuart] as it gave me so much confidence. The Scottish Open has always been a big purse, and now it’s fantastic that it will be worth $7 million.”
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