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Dunhill Links Championship in danger

The sponsors of the inaugural Dunhill Links Championship won last week by Scot Paul Lawie confirmed the shock news yesterday that they were "reviewing their options" - but refused to comment any further.

"All we are saying is that Dunhill is considering its position and no further comment will be made at this stage," a tight-lipped spokesman told the BBC.

Dunhill had been approached for comment after serious doubts were cast earlier in the day over the future of the Dunhill Links Championship when it was noticed that the £3.5m ($5m) tournament, the richest ever staged in Britain, had been omitted from the 2002 tour schedule announced today.

Keith Waters, the European PGA tour's director of international policy admitted that "It was a huge shock" when Dunhill advised tour organizers of their decision."

The inauguarl tournament was certainly not without its teething problems.

Miserable weather for most of the first four days as well as logistics problems associated with having to cater for more than 300 professionals and amateurs playing over three courses had created havoc with the tournament schedule, forcing it to go into an extra day on Monday.

A good number of the amateurs were also highly displeased when 39 of them had their handicaps summarily cut on the strength of one two good scores in practice rounds.

And to make matters worse, the extremely knowlegable golfing locals showed very little enthusiasm for the format, and support for the tournament was poor in spite of the fact that it featured virtually all of Europe's best golfers as well as a host of celebrities of the stage and sport such as Michael Douglas, Hugh Grant and Nigel Mansell.

A five-year contract had been signed to stage the event at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns in eastern Scotland and it was believed that plans to move the tournament forward three weeks next season to October 3-6 would go a long way towards increasing its popularity.

The weather then could be expected to be much more favourable and the new date would fall just a week after the Ryder Cup at The Belfry outside Birmingham.

This would have been an ideal slot in that most of the best golfers from both sides of the Atlantic would have already been in Britain and would have be more inclined to play in the tournament.

But even this move on the part of the tour organizers has not been enough to ease the reservations of the sponsors, it seems - or at least not yet. The schedule released today has a yawning gap where the words 'Dunhill Links Championship' should have been written.

Also missing from the 2002 schedule are three 'overseas' tournaments; the Argentina Open, the Sao Paulo Brazilian Open and the Moroccan Open.

The European tour first incorporated South America two years ago, but Waters said that a combination of things had made it difficult to return next year.

"Brazil is not looking certain and to go for just one event would be difficult and expensive for all concerned," he said.

The Dubai Desert Classic and Qatar Masters in the Middle East are confidently expected to go ahead, however.

"We have consulted government and airline officials and they said there is no reason not to travel," Waters said, adding: "But the players are all individuals and it's their choice.

The Dubai tournament this year featured Tiger Woods - he finished second to Thomas Bjorn - but the world number one is extremely unlikely to play again next year in the present political climate.

Nearby Qatar, meanwhile, have announced a doubling in prize money to around one million pounds (1.5 million dollars), while returning to the schedule is the Canaries Open after a seven-year gap.

Overall The European tour in 2002 will comprise a minimum of 44 Order of Merit tournaments with no fewer than 11 countries playing host.

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