European Tour adopts cluster approach with UK return to action

(Photo by Luke Walker/Getty Images)

Golf’s European Tour is to adopt a model of hosting tournaments in one regional ‘cluster’ as it makes its return to action following the Covid-19 shutdown.

Revealing its ‘UK Swing’ to be held over six successive weeks, the European Tour today (Thursday) announced a return to action on July 22 with the Betfred British Masters at Close House near Newcastle.

The Tour will then head to the Marriott Forest of Arden on the outskirts of Birmingham for the English Open, followed by the English Championship at Marriott Hanbury Manor in Hertfordshire.

Celtic Manor Resort, the venue for the 2010 Ryder Cup, will stage the Celtic Classic and Wales Open back-to-back on August 13-16 and August 20-23, respectively.

The UK Swing will conclude with a visit to another Ryder Cup venue as the Belfry stages the UK Championship from August 27-30.

The Tour has been suspended since March 8 because of the global spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Commenting on the plans, European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said: “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…

“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.”

The European Tour said that all tournaments would be “subject to stringent safety and testing protocols set out in the Tour’s comprehensive Health Strategy which will continue to evolve, aligned with international Government guidance and health guidelines”.

Rescheduled dates have also been announced for four tournaments that form part of the top-tier Rolex Series, while dates for subsequent European Tour events from September to November will be announced in due course.

The four Rolex Series events affected are the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open, which moves to October 8-11, the BMW PGA Championship, switched to October 15-18, the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City, which will take place from December 3-6, and the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, to be held from December 10-13.

In mid-April, Pelley warned players that they would have to reduce their expectations in terms of prize money, player lounges and courtesy cars because of the constrained commercial environment.

Existing travel restrictions, however, make it unlikely that Europe-based players will forsake the European Tour for the more lucrative PGA Tour in the US. The latter has announced it plans to return to spectator-free action on June 11 but the Tour estimates around 25 regular competitors are based outside the US.

In comments recently reported by the Golf Channel, English golfer Lee Westwood said he would be unlikely to compete in the first two PGA Tour events after the lockdown because of the current travel guidelines.

He said: “Right now I won’t be playing them, not with having to leave here two weeks before, quarantine, then play the two tournaments, then come back here and quarantine again. It’s six weeks for two tournaments, and to me that’s just not worth it.”