ANDY Stubbs, its managing director, believes a new pro-am format used for the £250,000 Prostate Cancer UK Scottish Senior Open is the way forward for the European Senior Tour as he bids to give the likes of Paul Broadhurst, the winner at Archerfield Links on his over-50s debut, a lot more playing opportunities over the next few years.
A decade ago, the circuit boasted 23 tournaments, the majority of which were in Europe itself but also included events in Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, Egypt and Bahrain, where the end-of-season Tour Championship was held. In Mauritius, it still has a glamorous venue for that event, but, in total, the 2015 schedule consists of just 12 events.
Factor in two of those being US-based majors and it would be an understatement to say there’s precious little for the rank-and-file players to get excited about at the moment as they enter the twilight of their careers on the main European Tour.
“This is as tough as it’s been,” admitted Stubbs, who has been involved with the Senior Tour for more than 20 years. “We’ve had a couple of recessions but never before have we had Europe in such a financial mess. The regular Tour has been the same. Seven events in Spain to one. We had two in Spain and now we have none.
“There’s been many things that have affected us. We used to be supported by tourist boards, finance services companies, banks, insurance services, real estate developments etc, but they have gone in the last five years. A real hindrance has been the bribery act, corporate governance kind of thing of what companies can and cannot do.
“We were supported a lot by financial companies. They are under more and more scrutiny, so it’s not as easy for them to justify spending lots of money on golf. We’ve been in a cycle, but the good news is we are seeing the end of it.”
As was the case with events in both Germany and Jersey earlier this year, the one in which Broadhurst made a winning Senior Tour debut – he beat Austrian-based Scot Gordon Manson at the second extra hole in a play-off after forcing that by holing a 20-foot downhill birdie putt at the last – was played as a pro-am for the first two days.
Acknowledging that he envisaged seeing more tournaments adopt the same format on the circuit over the next few seasons, Stubbs added: “I think these pros are better at entertaining the amateurs and this is the best group of golfers you can get for this. They are good at entertaining the mature golfer, the decision maker, the corporate animal. Businessmen love playing golf and these boys are good value. We will be reducing fields next year to 54 pros and 54 ams. We won’t see a massive transition next year as in all events, but we will see a drift.”
Staging the long-running event for the first time, Stubbs hailed Archerfield Links as a “terrific” venue. “They are good at events and corporate activities – the service levels are great,” observed the well-travelled Englishman.
Tom Younger, chief executive at the East Lothian venue, said he had been “delighted” with the success of the tournament and described Broadhurst as a “good friend to Archerfield” through DJ Russell, who designed the two courses.
He added: “Working with the Tour, we hope to build this event into something very special and this has been a super start. I think the format worked very well with excellent feedback from all the players which gives us a great platform to build from. It is also important to mention the support we had from both Event Scotland and East Lothian Council which helped immensely.”
While a wedding ruled out such a possibility on this occasion, a Sunday finish is likely next year, when Stubbs is hoping Colin Montgomerie, a three-times Senior major winner since he turned 50, will be in the field.
“Colin, bless him, had this event pencilled in,” he revealed. “His success in the US Senior PGA meant he got into the US PGA at Whistling Straits. He would never turn that down and, as I understand it, that would have been his holiday week and he would’ve played here and then Woburn next week (in the Travis Perkins Masters). As it was, he was on holiday this week during the Scottish Senior Open.”
Set to be joined in the over-50s ranks next February by fellow Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal, Miguel Angel Jimenez is another player that Stubbs believes can help raise the Senior Tour’s profile a bit more once he starts winding down on the main circuit. “Miguel was very frank when we sat down with him at the US Senior Open,” he said. “He still wants to play at the highest level, the WGCs, the majors etc. He’s incredible. But, when he starts coming out of regular tour commitments then we’ll try and do a partnership with him and Jose Maria Olazabal and go from there.”
The tenth player to win first time out on the circuit, Broadhurst birdied the 18th three times in a row to deny St Andrews-born Manson his second triumph of the season. “I was due a play-off win as my record was two victories in 12,” said the Englishman as he celebrated claiming a £38,000 top prize.