Keith Pelley, Chief Executive of the European Tour, has announced the re-start of tournaments by unveiling the first part, a six week UK swing which begins with the Betfred British Masters at Close House on July 22.
This is followed by the return of the English Open at the Forest of Arden GC – the first playing in 18 years. The following week the English Championship will be contested at Hanbury Manor.
A two week stay at Celtic Manor, Wales for the Celtic Classic and the Wales Open to be played on different championship courses. Finally, in the last week in August the UK Championship will be held at The Belfry. At the moment the plan is no spectators, to be held behind closed doors.
24 tournaments are being aimed for between July and the end of the year. The Aberdeen Standard Investment Scottish Open will be played at the Renaissance Club 8-11 October and the Tour’s flagship event the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth is moved back to October 15-18 . Two further Rolex events The Nedbank Challenge at Sun City in South Africa will take place December 3-6 and the DP World Championship at Jumeriah Estates Dubai December 10-13 will finish off the season.
Keith Pelley said: “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. Of course, we’ve been affected like millions of businesses the world over, but we’ve worked hard and been extremely responsible in our financial approach to this global crisis.
We have consistently said that safety is our absolute priority and that is why today we are announcing our resumption in two months’ time supported by a comprehensive health strategy which has been led by our medical team.
“Without question we have had to think differently about the remainder of our 2020 season which is reflected in today’s announcement. As golf’s global Tour, diversity is ordinarily one of our biggest strengths, but in this instance it has become one of our biggest challenges.
“Initially, therefore, based on the expert guidance we received, playing in clusters, in one territory, is the best option in terms of testing, travel and accommodation.
“I would therefore like to take this opportunity to thank Betfred, Close House, Marriott, The Forest of Arden, Hanbury Manor, The Celtic Manor Resort and The Belfry for sharing our vision for this ‘UK Swing’ and we look forward to returning to tournament play in July with this innovative stretch of six events.
“As well as getting golf going again for our players, our broadcasters, our stakeholders and our millions of fans around the world, these new events will also enable us to give back during these unprecedented times, building on some of the community support already given by our players over the past few months.
“I also want to pay tribute to Rolex, BMW, Aberdeen Standard Investments, the Scottish Government, Nedbank, Sun International and DP World, for their continued commitment to the European Tour which allowed us to move four hugely important tournaments on the European Tour into new dates later in the year.
“Not only did they show flexibility, they also showed understanding of the current global situation and we are truly fortunate to have them as partners of the European Tour.”
While the intention remains to crown a new Race to Dubai Champion on Sunday December 13, as part of the changes to the end of the 2020 season caused by the impact of COVID-19, the European Tour’s Tournament Committee recently agreed that all Members’ 2020 Categories, and their ranking within that category, will be retained in 2021 with related playing rights being protected to the absolute maximum possible in the 2021 season.
That decision was passed unanimously by the Committee, as was the fact that there will no longer be a ‘Minimum Tournament Regulation’ for the 2020 season.
Pelley added: “We recognise that when we resume playing golf, each player’s circumstances will be different. We therefore do not want to put anyone in a position whereby they feel they have no choice other than to play in certain events in order to protect their livelihood.
“Similarly, the feeling was that it was not fair to disadvantage any member who might want to play in an event but who might not be able to due to ongoing travel restrictions. Therefore, in consultation with our Tournament Committee, it was agreed preserving their exempt status for 2021 was the fairest solution in these unprecedented times.
“As a consequence, there will be no Qualifying School this year and no formal graduation from the Challenge Tour, although the Tournament Committee has agreed to reward exceptional performance on both the European Tour and the Challenge Tour in 2020, precise details of which we will announce in due course.”
This all looks positive with the rigorous health protocols put in place. The look of the UK swing is quite nostalgic. It looks like the schedule from the early 1980s when the Tour had long stays in the UK for such glorious tournaments in the North of England such as the Benson and Hedges International at Fulford near York, the Care Care Plan at Moortown. Leeds and the Laurence Batley Invitational at Bingley St Ives. Further south The Oxfordshire held a big tournament the week after The Open, and we would visit East Sussex National and go down to St Mellion in Cornwall. That all seemed like an almost quaint distant memory until today. But why two events on the same course? While Celtic Manor has held a Ryder Cup, is it superior to the links at Royal Porthcawl or St Pierre which adjoins England and Wales? Seems like a missed opportunity to showcase either of these fine Welsh courses. It is a real shame that British fans who would have loved seeing this six week swing in person cannot attend in person, but even behind closed doors it will be an uplifting lap of honour to start the 24 tournament season.