Coronavirus Outbreak: Indian Open stays on course in 2020 calendar; European Tour comes up with modest schedule

Though Keith Pelley, CEO of the European Tour, did not reveal any dates – he released dates only for the initial UK swing of six events and four Rolex events - the Hero Indian Open could come onto the calendar sometime in late October-early November.

V Krishnaswamy May 29, 2020 17:27:11 IST
Coronavirus Outbreak: Indian Open stays on course in 2020 calendar; European Tour comes up with modest schedule

The Hero Indian Open, the longest running international sporting event in India, will stay on the European Tour schedule as it moves to the latter half of the season rather than the first half.

Though Keith Pelley, CEO of the European Tour, did not reveal any dates – he released dates only for the initial UK swing of six events and four Rolex events - the Hero Indian Open could come onto the calendar sometime in late October-early November.

Coronavirus Outbreak Indian Open stays on course in 2020 calendar European Tour comes up with modest schedule

Anirban Lahiri won the 2015 edition of Hero Indian Open. File image

That is not a date unfamiliar to the Indian Open. From 2005, when the current sponsors took over the event, to 2013, it was held in the latter half in October-November. In 2010, it was held as late as December first week.

It was in 2015, when the tournament became co-sanctioned with the European Tour, that it reverted to the first half, or rather the first quarter of the year, which is the period it was held till 2004.
There was no edition in 2014, because of the transition from October-November to March-April, but it was back on the calendar in March 2015 when Anirban Lahiri won the title.

Now the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the event being shifted to the latter half of the season. But this could be a one-off shift and we may well have another edition in March 2021, which would be a bonanza for Indian golf. But that is still some time away.

What was most heartening is that at a time when many sponsors are dithering, Hero seems to have been in touch with the European Tour, as Pelley in his Thursday teleconference, said, “I am in constant dialogue with Pawan Munjal, and he is committed to the Hero Indian Open, and we have a date tentatively in our schedule and when we can confirm that emphatically, we will release that as soon as possible.”

At a teleconference from England, Keith Pelley, the European Tour’s Chief Executive, said, “I am in constant dialogue with Pawan Munjal, and he is committed to the Hero Indian Open, and we have a date tentatively in our schedule and when we can confirm that emphatically, we will release that as soon as possible.”

While the bit about Hero Indian Open was good news for both Indian and Asian Tour, of which the event is a strong fixture, what came out clearly was that the European Tour has had to dip deep into their coffers to put together a meaningful schedule.

The six-leg UK Swing has no less than five new events, all to be funded by the Tour’s own development fund.

The ‘UK Swing’ begins with the British Masters, an event that has seen difficult times in the past. It had a strong presence from the time it was established in 1946 and barring one year, it ran uninterrupted till 2008. From being one of the prized events on the Tour, it faced sponsorship problems, when Dunlop ended their sponsorship in 1982, leading to the 1984 edition not being held. It was revived in 1985 and continued with changing sponsors till it stopped in 2008.

For five years it was not held and came back only in 2015. Thereafter it once again became a ‘marquee’ event with the help of Sky Sports and a host, which is usually a well-known European Tour star. It is Lee Westwood this year and in the past, hosts have included Luke Donald, Justin Rose, and Tommy Fleetwood.

But the five events scheduled after the British Masters indicate the Tour’s keenness to bolster the schedule even if it means purses of just a million euros each. Those sums in pre-COVID times would have placed those events to a lower level – for which winners earn only a one-year exemption.

Yet, it was a smart move to have those events at former Ryder Cup venues to elicit greater response from fans, TV, and so on.

The Betfred British Masters will be played at Close House, near Newcastle as the first tournament in the ‘UK Swing’ and will be hosted by Westwood. It will be a Saturday finish (22-25 July) and will be followed by the English Open (30 July - 2 Aug) at the Marriott Forest of Arden, and the English Championship (6-9) at Marriott Hanbury Manor.

The Celtic Manor Resort in Newport will host back-to-back European Tour tournaments – the Celtic Classic (13-16 Aug) and the Wales Open (20-23 Aug) and UK Swing will conclude with the UK Championship (27-30 Aug) at The Belfry. Celtic Manor and Belfry, as former Ryder Cup venues, hold a lot of charm and attraction for golfers, fans and TV.

The tricky part for the European Tour will be the issue of ‘quarantine’. A two-week ‘isolation’ followed by six events may seem alright to a certain number of European Tour players, who do not make it to the PGA Championships, now set for 6-9 August.

But if the quarantine rules on arrival into UK are not lifted, many of the top Europeans will need to choose between a Major and four ‘smaller’ European events.

There is also a question of a 14-day ‘quarantine’ possibility on arrival in US for the PGA Championship. In that case, the top Europeans will need to skip the British Masters and the next event – besides the English Championship, being held on the same dates as the Major.

Even as the Tour grapples with new dates, smaller purses and many other problems related with COVID-19, they have set in motion the 'Golf for Good' initiative with charitable contributions of 50,000 euros to each of the five venues (Celtic Manor hosts two events) and 250,000 euros for the leading 10 players from a money list of the UK Swing.

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