Keith Pelley hails 'start of new era in France' for European Tour

Keith Pelley has hailed the addition of the French Open to the 2021 schedule as the “start of a new era in France for the European Tour”.

Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium celebrates after winning the 2019 Amundi Open de France at Golf National. Picture: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images.

The event, which is Continental Europe’s oldest national Open, having first been played in 1906, will be held at Le Golf National, near Paris, on 6-9 May.

Former Scottish Open champion Gregory Havret will be the tournament’s first host as a concept introduced for the British Masters in recent years is replicated across the English Channel.

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The French Open, won by a posse of Scots, including Bernard Gallacher, Sandy Lyle, Sam Torrance and Colin Montgomerie, was a $7 million Rolex Series event two years running in the build up to the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National.

It then lost that status, as well as a summer slot, in 2019 before last year’s scheduled event was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The tournament was a notable absentee when the 2021 schedule was announced in December, but it has been resuscitated through “multiple conversations” between Pelley, the circuit’s chief executive, and Pascal Grizot, president of the French Golf Federation.

Today’s announcement comes at a time when Scottish-based Victor Perez sits 35th in the world rankings, with four of his compatriots - Antoine Rozner (93rd), Mike Lorenzo-Vera (120th), Romain Langasque (129th) and Benjamin Hebert (137th) - also in the top 150.

“This is the start of a new era in France for the European Tour,” said Pelley in a video conference. “It is all about rebuilding the French Open and, though there is no title sponsor, we do have a strong cast of French players.”

Havret recorded two of his three European Tour triumphs on Scottish soil, beating Phil Mickelson in a play-off in the 2007 Scottish Open at Loch Lomond before adding the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles the following year.

But, having first attended his home Open with his father when it was held at Chantilly, the 44-year-old admitted it was a special honour to take on the role of the inaugural French Open host.

“I’m very touched,” he said. “This sign of respect is fabulous for me and it is a breath of fresh air to have the tournament back.”

Sharing Pelley’s excitement for the tournament, Grizot, who was heavily involved in the 2018 Ryder Cup, said: “Last year was impossible to play the French Open (due to the coronavirus), but two years in a row would have been too much and it was important to send a signal with this announcement.”

The plan at the moment is for the event to be played behind closed doors as the European Tour continues to abide rules and regulations in place in different countries.

The Oman Open, which had been due to take place in early March, was postponed at the end of last week following an announcement by the Omani government that “all gatherings, international functions and sporting events are to be stopped in the country with immediate effect".

Under a health strategy led by Dr Andrew Murray, the European Tour has spent just under £5 million and carried out more than 20,000 PCR tests since coming out of lockdown last summer, with just seven positive results being recorded.

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