No fanfare as European Tour goes to Saudi Arabia
Pádraig Harrington diplomatic when asked about new addition to 2019 schedule
The European Tour is in Turkey this week for the Turkish Airlines Open. The schedule for the 2019 season has been revealed, with the Saudi International a new addition. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty
The release of the European Tour’s schedule for the 2019 season - although it actually starts next month in Hong Kong - was interesting mainly for how quietly it was done. No fanfare of trumpets, or anything like that.
In fairness, highlighting that one of those new tournaments on an ever-expanding international schedule would be the Saudi International - coming as the third leg of a desert swing that takes in established tournaments in Abu Dhabi and Dubai - probably merited a softly, softly approach.
The European Tour is in Turkey this week for the Turkish Airlines Open, part of the megabucks Final Series run-in to the Race to Dubai, and Pádraig Harrington was put on the spot when asked about the tour’s decision (flagged earlier this year, confirmed this week) that Saudi Arabia would indeed be a tour stop on the new schedule.
“The questions comes when you go to something like this, (is) are you helping by going? Or, by not going, are you pushing them away and making society poorer and weaker and less open by shutting them out?”, he replied, which wasn’t a bad response given that he was taken on the hop by the question. He’s a golfer, not a politician.
Only time will tell of the merits or demerits of the decision to include Saudi Arabia on the schedule, but the European Tour is a business and its players are its stake-holders . . . and, when the tour was established in 1972, it is fair to say that none of its founding fathers could ever have envisaged the global nature that it has grown into.
Back in those days, the European Tour’s first season took in 20 tournaments: eight of them were held in England, four were staged in Scotland, two in Spain and one each in Ireland, France, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands and Italy.
How times have changed since then. Many of those original tournaments are no longer around - the Piccadilly Medal, the John Player, the Martini International, the Penfold Bournemouth etc - and the European Tour now has more tournaments in Arab countries than it does in Britain. Saudi Arabia has been added to a list in the Middle East that includes Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Qatar and Oman. It is what it is, a business.
Harrington is right in saying “it is not a black or white question or answer” in whether the tour’s move into Saudi Arabia will help or not in influencing society there. “Let’s hope we are,” he added.
That the British Masters - which next year will be hosted by Tommy Fleetwood - is included in the schedule without a title sponsor highlights the difficulty of securing the support of the corporate world. In its way, the absence of a sponsor for a tournament that has been successfully revived with the help of players acting as hosts in recent years also explains why the tour is continuing to move into fresh golfing territories like Saudi Arabia and, indeed, Kenya which will also be a new tour stop having graduated from the Challenge Tour.