For Rory McIlroy, the answer would be yes. He’s in a quandry about qualifying for the Ryder Cup every year and if there’s a World Tour there would probably be no more Ryder Cup, the third most watched sporting event after the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup.
It answers everything for Rory, who openly says “I’m in it for me”. He wants to play for the maximum prize fund and World Ranking points against the best players in the world. And it looks as though PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan and European Tour Chief Executive Keith Pelley are focussing on the top too, because where the top players go, the sponsors will supply the cash. It’s like an airline Chief Executive stating “we are a premium airline, that is our main product.If you want to travel cheaply don’t expect good service”.
Although we know that Monahan and Pelley have had “conceptual talks” about merger, there is resistance to the idea amongst European Tour members. There are strong feelings that the European Tour should never lose its independence. 75% of the players would have to vote in favour of merger.
The Times newspaper reported last month a more disturbing angle to the story, that there may be financial reasons behind the need for the conversation. The Times have analysed the European Tour’s accounts with surprising results. Apparently the tour had an operating loss of £9.5 million after tax with cash reserves of £9.6 million. And working capital of only £424,000 – in 2015, when Keith Pelley took over running the tour it had £15 million available. Although the 2018 Ryder Cup was the most profitable in history and its revenue will apparently bring the tour close to breaking even, there are huge financial obligations to be met. Keith Pelley’s remumeration package is four times higher than that of his predecessor George O’Grady and staffing costs were up by £2 million. The Tour has underwitten the £3 million cost of establishing the Golf Sixes event. The relaunch of the Tour website cost another £1 million. There have been a couple of costly legal actions. This is all cause for concern.
The question Does Golf Want Or Need a World Tour? first appeared in the press in the 1990s when Greg Norman made loud noises about it all, but had done a lot of thinking about it and came up with some ideas which, although well thought out, were never adopted.
Currently many European Tour events rank low in World Ranking points, prize money and quality of fields. But its outreach to the wider game is enormous, visiting 30 countries and generating interest in the sport locally where people can see golf played in person. And that was one of the reasons why professional golf was established, not just to make the top players very rich, although Rory McIlroy has said that he is interested in his own progress, not in growing the game.
I can see a merged tour killing the growth of the sport for people who play and it becoming just a spectator sport. And the new players honing their skills, or former top players, like Martin Kaymer, battling their way back, where will they have opportunities to play? I have always felt, for decades, that a merger in the mens game would not be in the best interests of the sport. Another thing it would be bland and monotonous, the diversity of the courses and cultures is the colour and attraction of golf outside the United States. And when there is something different, combined with a large purse, such as the new Saudi International, of course the top players will get up and travel. But a merger would be very detrimental to players at the middle and beginning levels on tour trying to make a living. It would make it all very pressurised and cut throat.
But there is something in golf which needs a World Tour now, and that is the women’s professional game. Let’s get that established first before tampering with the mens professional circuits. The Ladies European Tour has been in crisis for years and is surely at the point of no return, just like the Ladies Golf Union was at amateur level, and that had to merge with the men at the R&A. But the LET have been incredibly stubborn about maintaining their independence, “they’re in denial” one of their professionals told me. It is time for a merger there, with the LPGA, because the number of tournaments and purses in Europe make a playing career not financially viable any more unless a golfer is supported by a lot of sponsors, and why would the sponsors invest when there is little television coverage? Let’s get a global tour sorted out for the women first, that’s appropriate and needed. But as for merging the mens tours, I still have very strong doubts that its the right thing to do.