Why rank-and-file European Tour members need to know more about new PGA Tour deal

Short on detail, big on vision. In just six words, one of my golf-writing colleagues, Alistair Tait, perfectly summed up the European Tour’s new “strategic alliance” with the PGA Tour in the headline for one of his excellent blogs over the weekend.
European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley is delighted with the circuit's new strategic alliance with the PGA Tour. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty ImagesEuropean Tour chief executive Keith Pelley is delighted with the circuit's new strategic alliance with the PGA Tour. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley is delighted with the circuit's new strategic alliance with the PGA Tour. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Announced on Friday, having apparently been in the pipeline for four-and-a-half years but pushed through in a hectic 72 hours, the partnership will include collaboration on matters like media, playing opportunities, scheduling and prize funds.

It’s not a merger at this stage, but is being widely viewed as the first step towards one and Keith Pelley, the European Tour’s chief executive, can expect to be bombarded with questions from his membership until the fine detail of what is going to come out of this is forthcoming.

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Purely from a monetary point of view, the new partnership has to be seen as a positive for the European circuit. The sum paid by the PGA Tour for a stake in European Tour Productions, the tour’s in-house TV company, has not been revealed, but the one whispered in my ear over the weekend was, let’s say, very meaty indeed.

And let’s give credit where credit is due for that. The European Tour was involved in a joint-partnership with IMG with European Tour Productions before a shrewd decision was taken in 2017 to become 100 per cent owners of a company that distributes and produces content globally to 150 countries with a reach of 500 million plus.

Both in terms of the world feed and social media content, it has made the sports and business industries sit up and take notice over the past few years and, having carefully weighed up a number of offers, a decision has now been taken to sell a stake in that company to the PGA Tour.

That could just as easily have been the Raine Group, a private equity firm that has fronted the Premier Golf League, because, make no mistake, that proposed breakaway circuit has definitely been a big factor in, using Pelley’s words, the European Tour and PGA Tour suddenly going from “competitors to partners”.

The prospect of the game’s top players being lured away by the promise of bumper pay days in a Formula One-style team set up for the Premier Golf League was given short shrift by both Pelley and the PGA Tour commissioner, Jay Monahan. It then appeared to be dead in the water when the likes of Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahn all publicly rejected the proposed new global circuit.

But the Raine Group, with its huge pile of Saudi Arabian money, hasn’t gone away. It had presented “a very compelling offer to take the European Tour to another level but in a different direction” and that, essentially, is why the PGA Tour decided to step with an alternative proposal.

In effect, Monahan is trying to close doors on the Premier Golf League and he can now ensure that proposal is given no encouragement whatsoever through his newly-granted seat on the European Tour board.

So, what can we expect to see come out of this new link up between the game’s two major tours? Only time will then and we probably won’t see any major changes to the schedule straight away. But, 25 years after the exact same idea by Greg Norman was shot down, this is surely the catalyst for a world tour.

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That wouldn’t be too difficult to set up, in fact, because the European Tour’s Rolex Series event, including the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open, already have an elevated status that would could slot nicely alongside some of the main events on the PGA Tour, as well, of course, as the four majors and the World Golf Championships.

The top players on both sides of the Atlantic have nothing whatsoever to worry about, but can the same be said for the rank and file members on the European Tour and the next generation of stars on the Challenge Tour?

It has already been suggested that co-sanctioned events between the European Tour and PGA Tour are in the pipeline, and that’s certainly not going to be music to the ears of the players already finding it tough to secure top tour starts after either graduating from the Challenge Tour or coming through the Qualifying School.

“It’s going to be a great ride,” said Pelley at the end of a hastily-arranged teleconference on Friday afternoon. It certainly will be for some, but, for a lot of others, that remains to be seen and neither the European Tour or Ryder Cup should be diluted in any way as those details are ironed out.

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