Dubai: Despite the ongoing Eurozone crisis, European golf is enjoying its most successful era to date. The continent’s leading tour has stolen the limelight from its American counterpart, the PGA Tour, with back-to-back Ryder Cup wins and the dominance of its players in the world rankings and US money-list.
European Tour CEO George O’Grady spoke to Gulf News about how he intends to continue this growth, with the emphasis not on trying to match the Americans for money and razzmatazz, but instead undercut them with greater talent and youth development.
Is European golf on an unprecedented high?
If you look at the strength and depth of players and the new, young talent we have coming through, we’ve never been better. It’s the fourth staging of the Race to Dubai and each one has been won by the World No 1 at the time. I was asked when the Race to Dubai was launched if we were trying to attract Tiger Woods. I said we’d make him welcome but we weren’t deliberately trying. We were trying to develop our own Tiger Woods. Even then I said Martin Kaymer or Rory McIlroy could be the German or Irish Tiger Woods.
Are you still trying to entice Tiger?
Not specifically. But it’s quite do-able for Tiger to join the European Tour. We know Tiger very well, he likes playing outside of the US. We would much rather look out for players who are genuine European Tour players, but if he wants to come to us, great, we’d make him welcome. But I’m running it for European Tour members and trying to get others to come through.
Are you worried about losing players to the US?
It’s a great compliment that they’re so good that the PGA is trying to recruit them. At the moment they have a greater length of season and big prize money, with languid, easy travel. All those who have taken up a PGA tour card will still keep their European Tour card and play at least the minimum. We’ll continue to raise the bar back here. We’re struggling with the Eurozone crisis now and we’re going to have to address that. But we have good partnerships in the rest of the world and they’ll be a coming together to keep all sides getting opportunities to come forward and develop new talent.
Is the European Tour becoming more worldwide as a result?
We’re effectively a worldwide tour anyway. We’re part of the World Golf Championships, part of the Majors in the US, the world golf market is largely dominated by America and their networks. We have very strong TV partners throughout the world and we’re developing great young players of all nationalities, ultimately that will be our strength.
Are you disappointed Ross Fisher skipped Dubai to go to PGA Q-School?
He must make a choice on what’s right for him. I think there are masses of ways of getting into the PGA Tour on levels we put down without having to go through Q-School. Ross Fisher, in my mind, is far too good to have to go to Q-School. There are other ways to get access and to pass off this week is an individual decision, but I just find it surprising.
Will you change the format to stop the race ending before Dubai? We’re going to tweak it a bit at the end of the year. We’ll add very strong tournaments in the final run-up, but it’s not going to be like the US Playoffs where you restart. It will maintain the principle of the Race to Dubai. There will be three very large tournaments at the end of the year. They will be limited field events and they have a long year to try and get into those events. But the money-list element will stay the same.
What’s the future of the DP World Tour Championship?
We’re contracted for two more years. We’re delighted with Dubai. It’s the ideal place to finish the year, central to where the modern European Tour plays and players like coming here. The hotels work well. There’s vibrancy to Dubai, we had a record crowd on Friday [19,496]. We’ve more people on our side and there is a greater acknowledgement that we’re doing a good job to market Dubai around the world. We’d be delighted to stay, we have offers to go elsewhere, but this is its home and, if we still want to, which I believe we all do, we can see it forward.