European Tour needs to continue radical and bold approach

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Keith Pelley, Chief Executive of The European Tour, plays a shot as he watched by members of the Golf Foundation's Street Golf
Keith Pelley, chief executive of The European Tour, has tried lots of radical approaches to attract younger fans

A radical and bold approach is needed if the European Tour is to fight off challenges that threaten its chances of fulfilling its increasingly promising potential.

The most thrilling climax to a Race to Dubai season has just been completed, producing two youthful and charismatic champions with superstar potential.

Tommy Fleetwood, aged 26, is an engaging personality who, within the last eighteen months, dramatically turned around a faltering career to become Europe's top dog on the money list.

Three years younger, Spain's Jon Rahm, emphasised his class with victory in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship. Both are players capable of generating serious interest in the game.

But sadly from the European Tour's point of view, both will also set sights on the PGA Tour in the United States. Rahm is already based in the US and Fleetwood, fresh from edging out Justin Rose to the Race title, says he wants to play more across the Atlantic Ocean.

Race to Dubai: Tommy Fleetwood says win caps off 'best year of my life'

Such are the facts of life on the men's professional circuit.

The US schedule remains an irresistible lure despite prize fund inflation in Europe. In 2016 the tour's 100th ranked player banked 275,000 Euros, this year the reward was 389,000.

Sheffield's Matt Fitzpatrick, 23, the champion in Dubai 12 months ago, is now preparing to move to Florida and join a long established exodus.

Nevertheless, the European Tour does possess a boldness and energy to suggest it can further develop despite the relentless dominance of its American rivals.

Two years into his stewardship, the brash Keith Pelley has instilled a fresher and more business orientated outlook. He knows not enough sports fans are consuming professional golf and is striving to arrest the decline.

Under the 53-year-old Canadian chief executive's leadership, the Tour has found ways, via a string of inspired social media films, to bring golfers' personalities to the general public.

It's ironic to think the process began a year ago with a "mannequin challenge" because it is one area where the Tour and its producers have not stood still.

European Tour join in the Mannequin Challenge in Dubai

Recent offerings include pro's trying to drive onto a two-yard wide fairway, spoof golf lessons,external-linka world record attempt to play the fastest holeexternal-link and Eduardo Molinari spending all day trying to hit a hole in one.

Going forward, Pelley is promising more of the same. "We are a content entertainment company where our players are performers and golf is the platform," he said.

"We believe that creating innovative, entertaining content to showcase our players in a completely different light is undeniably the way forward."

It will be fascinating to see how his philosophy impacts forthcoming television negotiations because Pelley wants the widest possible audience for his players.

He is not afraid of being innovative in searching for reach. Last week's Hero Challenge - a knockabout curtain raiser to the main event in Dubai - was live streamed on Twitter.

Pelley has employed Stu Nicol from the PGA Tour as a new head of broadcasting and Michael Cole has been hired as head of technology.

"If you think about the way the world is going, people want to watch what they want when they want, how they want," Pelley said.

"We are making technology a very important part of the growth of the European Tour."

George Coetzee and Dylan Frittelli of South Africa react as they make their attempt on the Guinness World Record for the fastest hole of golf at the Turkish Airlines Open
On Halloween this year, teams attempted to break the world record for the fastest hole of golf under floodlights.

Growth is the buzzword. And if golf wants to move with the times it might also think about how relevant single-sex organisations are in a modern sporting environment.

Perhaps this is why the European Tour recently offered its assistance to the struggling Ladies European Tour.

"We tried to get involved," Pelley told BBC Sport. "We actually presented to the LET board along with Mike Whan from the LPGA a couple of months ago.

"We had a three-way partnership with ourselves, the LPGA and the R&A.

"It's very important for the LET to flourish. They have decided at this particular time to try to rebuild the LET on their own.

"But we have said to them we are here whenever you need us."

Given the rapid growth of women's sport and golf's constant struggle to shed its debilitating elitist and sexist image, a merging of the two European Tours makes a lot of sense.

Not to create a schedule of mixed tournaments but to pool resources, marketing opportunities and present the kind of enlightened image that serves so well the likes of cricket and tennis.

If they are genuinely seeking to maintain relevance and grow for golf it should happen. And if it does, we will know that there is indeed a genuinely progressive golfing agenda.

Opportunities abound for the European Tour and being bold and radical is their only option.


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