Prize money down as European Tour gets set to return

But chief executive Keith Pelley shoots down talk of bankruptcy as new schedule is revealed

Austria's Bernd Wiesberger celebrates winning last year's Scottish Open. This year's event will take place in October. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS
Austria's Bernd Wiesberger celebrates winning last year's Scottish Open. This year's event will take place in October. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS

Keith Pelley, the European Tour chief executive, shot down talk of the coronavirus leaving the circuit on the brink of bankruptcy as he unveiled a new six-event UK Swing behind closed doors to restart a season that still aims to deliver 24 more tournaments.

“I think some of you might want to ask the question, is the European Tour bankrupt or running out of money, and I would say, absolutely not,” said Pelley as he broke his silence in a media teleconference on matters relating to the circuit apart from the Ryder Cup.

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By his reckoning, 30 events, including majors and World Golf Championships, have been either postponed or cancelled on the 2020 schedule due to the Covid-19 pandemic, causing major headaches in the process.

Bernd Wiesberger, winner of the 2019 Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open, with Keith Pelley, CEO of the European Tour. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

“Of course, we’ve been affected like millions of businesses the world over,” added Pelley, less bullish than normal, though trying to be upbeat at the same time. “But we’ve worked hard and been extremely responsible in our financial approach to this 
global crisis.

“We’ve had a difficult time like everybody else. This is not an easy financial situation. But we have produced a strategy that has allowed us to do three things. It’s allowed us to navigate through this initial phase of the crisis and resurrect our 2020 schedule. It has helped us prepare for the short term in terms of 2021 and, of course, helped us create a platform to help plan for the long term from 2022 onwards.”

Pelley had previously warned players to expect a change in prize funds when the circuit starts up again as “tough measures” were implemented. Five of the six events in England and Wales in July and August will carry €1 million prize pots – a lot less than normal at that time of the year on the world’s second-biggest circuit – that are being stumped up by the tour.

“Given what we are facing, it’s no surprise that our prize fund levels will fall a little bit given the global crisis that is affecting the world,” observed Pelley. “Prize funds are directly linked to revenue, hence the reason prize funds had grown enormously in the past – 2018 and 2019 had the highest prize funds in the history of the European Tour – as did playing opportunities. But we will be able to climb again and, as we come through this situation and continue to shape the European Tour finances for the future under an incredibly strong commercial team, led by Guy Kinnings, we are confident that we will be able to grow the revenue and strengthen our 
overall prize funds once again.”

The circuit is scheduled to get back up and running with the Betfred British Masters, which will be hosted by Lee Westwood at Close House, near Newcastle, from 22-25 July – a week earlier than originally planned.

It will then be followed by the English Open at Forest of Arden, English Championship at Hanbury Manor, the Celtic Classic and Wales Open, both at Celtic Manor Resort, and then the UK Championship at The Belfry.

Asked if he was confident about the UK Government’s 14-day quarantine for visitors to the UK being lifted in time for the scheduled restart, Pelley said: “I’m certainly encouraged and I’m certainly optimistic. We wouldn’t be announcing these events without having had significant dialogue with the UK government. They know all about the announcements. They are working feverishly with us.”

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Pelley also revealed a charity initiative involving the tour’s leading players. “There is no question that we are back, and we are also back with a focus firmly on ‘Golf for Good’,” he said. “It’s a desire for all our tournaments to give back to the game in these unprecedented times, with £500,000 being distributed equally between charities local to the tournament venues and charities chosen by the leading ten players in a mini Order of Merit which will run across the six tournaments.

“I had a conversation with one of our key partners about two or three weeks ago, and I said, ‘listen, this might not be the biggest event that you have ever done in terms of crowds and hospitality, but it will be the most important event, and it should be the most emotional event’. We are looking at golf as a platform; as a platform to give back, and we are privileged to be able to play. We think that golf is something that we have trumpeted to the government is a perfect sport to come back with.”

The Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open has been rescheduled for 8-11 October at The Renaissance Club –a week before the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth – while two other Rolex Series events, the Nedbank Challenge and DP World Tour Championship, have been moved to December.

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