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Now it’s Brussels...

March 30, 2016 by Stuart Barber

I see it was just over a year ago that I wrote of the horrors of the killings – no, murders, at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and now we have the brutal murders in Brussels. It has not been a good year for innocent people being slaughtered in the name of a false Islam.

So yet again, although my usual topic is to write about the world of golf, our thoughts turn to those who died or were injured in those bombings and their families who have to live with the aftermath.

I'm reminded of the comments from the then Captain of the French rugby XV, Thierry Dusautoir, “This odious act has urged me to bear witness to rise up and fight. I am no more than a rugby player, but what has engaged me since my earliest years, since I put down my suitcases in France from the Ivory Coast, is camaraderie, life together.

“The Charlie guys had their humour which wasn't always mine. In fact I have been shocked by some cartoons. But they made me think, made me react, perhaps question myself ….. But these terrorists have also made me think. They respect no one…. they only sow the seeds of death….As Captain of the French national rugby team I want to say that from this day on I will continue to defend difference in society and to fight for the right to live together … Je suis Charlie”.

Sentiments that are as true today as they were in January 2015.

So what of golf, Jason Day leads the World rankings, Rory McIlroy has not really had the best of preparations for The Masters and Jordan Spieth, unusually finds himself in much the same boat.

This week the PGA Tour are in Texas for the Houston Open and the European Tour has a blank week before the Masters on Thursday 7th April at Augusta.

Perhaps this is the moment to consider the rumblings emanating mainly from the USA for an amalgamation of both tours, I wonder what the Americans consider “an amalgamation” I guess it means “you lot join our Tour”

‘We are golf's global tour; we play in 26 countries in five continents of the world, including the US,' was the comment of European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley when both tours were playing for the World Tour event in China. Then in Dubai, this time with regards to the impression he made on those flag-bearing European golfers who ply their trade primarily in the United States. Comments which clearly made an impression on all who heard them, and included Tim Finchem and the R&A's Martin Slumbers.

The Canadian brings dynamism and energy to any environment, as witnessed by players, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose among them. They left Dubai breakfast meetings waxing lyrical about Pelley's plans. Let's just hope they support their tour by actions not just pious words and then carry on playing in America.

Pelley's enthusiasm is highly infectious. Professionally, he has entered the world of golf with the aim of questioning all that has gone before and all that may happen in the future. “We haven't done that in the past,” will never be an excuse against transition.

It is hardly a leap of faith to suggest the PGA Tour is not entirely sure how to handle, or respond to, fresh circumstances across the Atlantic. That much was evidenced again when Finchem recently raised the possibility of one all-encompassing brand to control professional golf in both the US and Europe.

Needless to say, Finchem – who is not even expected to remain in office for much longer – does not have aspirations of watering down his own organisation; this looked an attempt to suggest the European Tour should stand aside. If it was a deliberate jab towards Pelley, suffice to say it has not worked. A very different message comes from Wentworth where it is one of full steam ahead.

I read in the Guardian “From my perspective, we are and will always be a members' organisation,” said Pelley. “Every decision we make, everything we are involved in, we will always deal with the members first and foremost. If in fact there was a significant advantage to our members, to our players and this saw increased prize funds, increased playing opportunities, then I would imagine our members would want us to explore that. But I have not had a conversation with any of our members to date as such”.

“I have only been in this job seven months, I am still listening and learning and what I have learnt is that we have a diversity that is very much our strength. We are golf's global tour; we play in 26 countries in five continents of the world, including the United States. We have quite a bit of diversity right now and what we are currently trying to do is build our organisation and build our tour for our members. Obviously, Mr Finchem has been in the industry a lot longer than I have so he is probably better equipped to talk about it but every decision we make will always be with our members at the forefront.”

Pressed on whether or not a combined tour would automatically make commercial sense, as Finchem intimated, Pelley added: “I think golf is a little bit different to other sports, based on how many tours there are. We are obviously working with quite a few tours, we have sanctioned events with a number of organisations. Whether a consolidated tour is advantageous is something that would require significant exploration from all the tours and I'm not sure that is something that would happen overnight.

“Based on the fact you already have tours fully operational, I don't think it is as simple as saying just: ‘Let's all come together and it will be commercially viable.' You have to look at it from every member's perspective, that being the top-ranked player to the 200th. If there was a significant benefit to our members, it is something we would look at but it is not something we have explored to this point.”

He added: “I believe we are already a global tour, with the diversity, the number of countries, where our members play. For us, we are in the process of making our tour a viable alternative to the tour in the United States. To do that, we will have to be aggressive.

“I think the PGA Tour have a very well-run, sophisticated business. I think they have done a terrific job. My focus is not on necessarily what transpires in the US but how we can provide significant playing benefits and opportunities, increased prize purses, for our members. Doing such and increasing the golf experience for our members is critical as we try to have our players play more on our tour.”

Quoting from the Guardian - As Pelley will be acutely aware, talking the talk is one thing; delivering results is what will determine his European Tour legacy. For all he has breathed fresh life into an organisation which, being blunt, seemed guilty of laziness in the past, there will be onlookers who hope his grand plans are undermined by the harsh competition of this sponsorship world.

Pelley continued “Change is not going to happen overnight but it will happen,” he insisted. “This is kind of our transitional year. I believe our tour will look different in 2017 and 2018. In terms of coming together as a consolidated tour, I wouldn't begin to entertain that without the players at the forefront of every single discussion.

“We have already seen the Italian Open [purse] change, it will go to €7m next year. If this is a transitional year, 2017 will be different in terms of our prize purses, 2018 will grow upon that. I believe we have tremendous opportunity to show growth to our players.”

That means delving into markets not traditionally encountered by European golf. “We are in the midst of rebuilding our commercial value for our potential and current partners,” Pelley said. “Golf provides some opportunities that other sports don't. First and foremost, an ability to potentially play with guys in a pro-am. That doesn't happen elsewhere … you are not on the pitch, you are not on the court in other sports. Partners and players, bringing them together, is a critical strategy for us.” Talk of mergers, takeovers and the like is not.

‘We are golf's global tour; we play in 26 countries in five continents of the world, including the US concluded Pelley. So a breath of fresh air seems to pervade the European Tour HQ at Wentworth, the PGA Tour would be unwise to assume they can steam roller their European counterpart into a merger that would assume the Europeans taking a minor role.

Who knows, perhaps Keith Pelley has, behind the scenes, breathed fire into the Wentworth members and estate owners to take an aggressive attitude towards the Chinese owners. Their defiance, and threats to make the flagship Tour event, the BMW PGA Championship, possibly unworkable has apparently softened the harsh terms originally offered to members.

So exciting weeks to come as the 2016 golfing springs into life with the magic of Augusta and The Masters and many more to follow – watch this space!

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