Golf: European Tour gets Emirates investment boost

George O'Grady, left, shakes hands on the European Tour's new sponsorship deal. Picture: Getty
George O'Grady, left, shakes hands on the European Tour's new sponsorship deal. Picture: Getty
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SHEEPISH since being hung out to dry by some sections of the media over a slip of the tongue during the Sergio Garcia racism controversy at this year’s BMW PGA Championship, George O’Grady was positively bullish yesterday as he delivered an end-of-year European Tour summary.

“We are in a financially strong position – so much stronger than we were a few years ago,” declared the Tour’s chief executive at a lunch in London, where the coffers were boosted by an increased investment in the circuit by airline company Emirates.

Earlier this year, it was rumoured that the European Tour was being lined up for a buyout by its American equivalent, the PGA Tour. More recently, O’Grady and his team at Wentworth came under fire over the fine details of the inaugural Final Series.

But, with the Emirates announcement coming on the back of the Race to Dubai being extended to 2017 and Rolex signing up for another ten years, the Irishman is predicting a rosier 2014 and beyond.

“This is a hugely significant announcement, as was the one with DP World and Jumeirah Estates,” said O’Grady at the Lancaster Gate Hotel, where he was joined by his predecessor, Ken Schofield, and soon-to-retire chairman Neil Coles.

“It is the strength of the confidence in the relationship with Emirates more than the money – it’s worth the world,” he replied to being asked to put a figure on an extension by which Emirates will support ten more European Tour events, including the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.

It means the airline will now be partners of 24 events globally, 19 of which are on the 2014 European Tour schedule, the new additions also including the flagship BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Another reason for O’Grady’s buoyant mood is a ten-year television deal with NBC and the Golf Channel to broadcast European events in America, last year’s Scottish Open, which was won by Phil Mickelson at Castle Stuart, providing the perfect platform for that ground-breaking venture.

“We have been well aware of the less than positive publicitiy recently, espeically surrounding the Final Series,” admitted the Tour supremo.

“But we accept that and face the future with an enormous amount of confidence.”

A feature of Emirates supporting events is the presence of flight attendants on some of the tees on host courses. Asked if he’d have a more difficult job getting volunteers for that role next July, when Royal Aberdeen stages the Scottish Open for the first time, than some of the tournaments in sunnier climes, company executive Nigel Hopkins quipped: “Don’t worry, we’ll provide them wirh coats and umbrellas.”

At the same lunch, the end-of-season accolades continued for Henrik Stenson as the Swede was named as the 2013 Race to Dubai European Tour Golfer of the Year after a remarkable season.

Sparked by finishing third behind Mickelson in Inverness, the 37-year-old completed an unprecedented transatlantic double by capturing the DP World Tour Championship and the Race to Dubai on the European Tour following his success in the Tour Championship and FedExCup on the PGA Tour.

“You can call it a dream season, year of my life, whatever you want,” said Stenson, who had already been named as the Association of Golf Writers’ Player of the Year. “It has been an unbelievable year and I am delighted to win this award, especially as I am the first Swede to do so.

“You look at the past winners of this award and most of the greats of European golf are on there, which just adds to the prestige of winning it.

“To win the FedExCup and the American Tour Championship in some style and then follow that by taking the Race to Dubai was very special.”

O’Grady hailed Stenson as a “deserved winner”, adding: “Henrik’s unprecedented success was the result of the most tremendous consistency and hard work, and to finish it all off in such style at the DP World Tour Championship to secure The Race to Dubai was quite remarkable.”