Like the idea of a Friends reunion show and an Anthony Kim comeback, the notion of a truly global golf tour has been floating around since before Greg Norman was taking shirtless selfies.
Now that the PGA Tour and the European Tour have announced what they are calling a strategic alliance, the idea of a global tour seems closer than it has been. It remains a long way off and we’re still in the “Are we there yet?” portion of a long trip. But, in golf terms, the ball is a little closer to the hole than it has ever been.
The essence of the announcement last Friday was more business-related than golf-centric, announcing PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan will become a member of the European Tour’s board of directors and the PGA Tour will be involved in global media rights, increasing the size-15 foothold of the PGA Tour while giving the European Tour a bodyguard of sorts.
The announcement may have effectively ended the Premier Golf League concept, which had been intriguing enough to some players that the European Tour had discussions with the Raine Group about potentially joining forces.
Instead, European Tour chief executive officer Keith Pelley and his board saw the PGA Tour as the best partnership choice while bullishly refuting continuing rumors that money problems threaten to undermine his organization.
While Pelley, Monahan and others sort out the details of exactly what this new alliance means to both sides, they acknowledge that prize money, playing opportunities and global scheduling will be part of their ongoing discussions.
That’s the part that interests golf fans, not to mention the players.
What would a global tour look like?
Don’t worry, the PGA Tour schedule isn’t about to be blown up. It’s the pendulum that ticks professional golf’s clock and that won’t change. It may get massaged down the road but those familiar pieces – the West Coast swing, the Florida swing – aren’t going anywhere.
The allure of a global tour is the idea that it would bring together the game’s best players more often and streamline the schedule to, at least theoretically, reduce the hopscotching between tours that some players have done, whether by choice or necessity.
Imagine the schedule starting in Hawaii for a couple of weeks then essentially following the PGA Tour schedule as it is through the U.S. Open in June. From there, the Tour could head to Europe for the Irish, Scottish and Open championships before turning back to the States for the late summer stretch run through the FedEx Cup playoffs.
After that, it’s back to Europe – perhaps turning the BMW Championship at Wentworth into a World Golf Championship event – and eventually into Asia and Australia, culminating perhaps in the Middle East where the Race to Dubai now punctuates the European Tour schedule. That doesn’t dramatically change the schedule some (mostly American-based) players choose now but if the two tours co-sanctioned those events, it could enhance what both tours now have.
The top players wouldn’t play all of those events but what might be a composite schedule down the road has its appeal.
The reality is there is an abundance of nice events on both tours that don’t draw many top players and some of them would be left out of a global schedule.
It’s a difficult puzzle to solve and with a new nine-year media rights deal going into effect next season, the PGA Tour already sits in a very good spot. But Monahan understands the benefit of working with the European Tour and other organizations, believing in the value of collaboration. The European Tour has its own assets to protect and enhance as well.
The reality is there is an abundance of nice events on both tours that don’t draw many top players and some of them would be left out of a global schedule. That doesn’t mean they would go away. They would still be there for players who want/need to play, but they wouldn’t have the elevated status of other events.
The WGC events were spawned from discussions about a world tour and while they have been successful in getting most of the top players to tee it up, they’ve struggled to distinguish themselves among most fans.
When fans tune in to watch the match-play event in Austin, Texas, in May, do they look at it like the Players Championship? Nope.
Still, the WGCs are a step toward something potentially bigger.
A global tour, if it happens, still seems a very long way away. Getting fans back at tournaments remains a goal with an uncertain finish line. Before either tour can go someplace new, they need to get back to where they were.
But businesses, at least in normal times, can’t stand still. The PGA Tour and the European Tour are taking a step forward together.
We shall see where it leads.
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