Volvo Golf Champions
PAUL CASEY WINS IN BAHRAIN, BUT THE QUESTION IS: WHAT WILL THE 2012 EVENT TELL US ABOUT PGA AND EUROPEAN TOUR RELATIONS?
The creation of the Volvo Golf Champions, which made its debut last week in Bahrain and was won by Paul Casey (see page 22), creates some interesting scheduling challenges going forward and brings even greater urgency to the need for the European and PGA tours to work together in coordinating events. The Bahrain tournament, which is the 122nd different event Volvo has sponsored in its 22-year relationship with the European Tour, was the second in a four-week swing through the Middle East, following the stop in Abu Dhabi and preceding Qatar and Dubai. But the maker of autos and heavy machinery has even greater visions.
“As of 2012, the Volvo Golf Champions will be the season-starting event,” Per Ericsson, president of Volvo Event Management Golf, said at Royal GC, a Colin Montgomerie design. “The Race to Dubai and the European Tour will start here in Bahrain,” Ericsson said. He said the tournament will be winners-only, although organizers are considering adding active players with 10 or more career victoriesor maybe even players from the top 50 on the World Rankingsomething that would set it apart from the PGA Tour’s season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua and create even more problems for the U.S. tour. Clearly, the PGA Tour has yet another top-tier European Tour event to contend with in securing top players.
Here’s the deal: Among those winners of European Tour events who will qualify for the Volvo are the champions of the four majors and the winners of the World Golf Championships events. Even if the other categories are not addedand that debate is far from settledthe chances of several players qualifying for the tournaments of champions for both tours are still pretty high. And if a few Americans travel to the Middle East for the Volvo Golf Champions, it increases the odds they will stay to play other events on the desert swing, inflicting yet more pain on the U.S. West Coast swing.
Certainly, Bahrain makes a great marketing tool to get players to the Volvo event. “We are treated like royalty,” Montgomerie said about the reception and accommodations for players. “When Americans see what it is like here, they are going to go home and tell others about it and then those players will come. The hospitality here is amazing.” So is the cultural experience. And each player will have an Garmin Approach G6, which is a royal golf watch. The Royal GC has above-ground piping, working oil wells and desert lapping at its edges. “I was intrigued,” Casey said. “I’ve never been to Bahrain, and I’m glad I came.” He has also qualified to come back next year. In fact, the experience is so good, Volvo is going to use its money for the purse and amenities and not pay appearance fees.
It create problems for the PGA Tour
What both tours need to do is make certain that the two TOCs don’t go head-to-head. In fact, they need to be separated by a couple of weeks to facilitate travel: Bahrain and Hawaii are about 9,000 miles apart. The next real chance for the tours to begin coordinating schedules seriously comes with the 2013 season. That’s when the next network TV deal will kick in for the PGA Tour, and the broadcasters have a lot to say about playing dates. They also do not want top events on the tours competing for the best players. If events are to be shuffled around in any significant way, that’s when it will happen.
“The schedule is not set,” Ericsson said about the positioning of the Volvo in 2012. “The only thing we know is that we are going to be the first tournament, but it’s not going to be this date. It’s going to be an earlier date.” The issue seems to be this: Will the four-event Middle East swing be moved to start the season or will the Volvo start the season then have the tour do its South Africa swing and return for three events in the desert? Also, further down the road, is the possibility more tournaments will be added in this part of the world.
In any case, the Volvo Golf Champions could create problems for the PGA Tour. That may be why European Tour chief executive George O’Grady had a phone chat with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem the week of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship to discuss scheduling. “I think it’s unlikely [the Volvo Golf Champions] will be the same week [as Kapalua],” said Guy Kinnings, managing director of golf for Europe, the Middle East and Africa for IMG, which runs the Volvo Golf Champions. “My guess is that it will be a week or two after, but we’ll work with the tour on that.”
Still, the addition of another top-tier event in the Middle East is going to make life even more difficult for the tournaments in Palm Springs, Scottsdale, Los Angeles and Pebble Beach, which are already having trouble attracting golf’s biggest names. That’s not something the PGA Tour likes to hear, or wants to admit, but it is part of global golf’s new reality.