European Tour swings back into life at the British Masters

European Tour swings back into life after 136-day hiatus and returns to its roots with the British Masters at Close House near Newcastle

  • The European tour have worked wonders putting on a tournament at all
  • Prize fund is barely a third of £3m on offer when event was staged here n 2017 
  • Lee Westwood is the only Englishmen in the world rankings to be playing event

Before lockdown, the European Tour always appeared one of those organisations removed from the real world, where its members enjoyed the exotic double jackpot of a dream job and still dreamier rewards.

One hundred and thirty-six days since the last event, the tour we find on its return at the Betfred British Masters at Close House near Newcastle on Wednesday is reflective of so many businesses, with a workforce filled with nervousness about the present and trepidation regarding what lies ahead.

Their fears are underlined by a prize fund that is barely a third of the £3million on offer when the event was last staged here in 2017, and an entry list comprised almost entirely of the undercard.

Lee Westwood with fiancee Helen Storey during a practice round at Close House on Tuesday

Three years ago, Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood headed up the cast. This time, just one of the top 10 Englishmen in the world rankings — tournament host Lee Westwood — has not decamped for the far richer pickings in America.

‘It’s the cascading effects of playing for a lot less money that I worry about,’ said Eddie Pepperell, who won this event two years ago. ‘There’s such a knock-on effect. I don’t pay my caddie, my coach or my physio as much. The deflationary aspect of it is, frankly, terrifying.’

Alongside the understandable fear, though, it would be wrong not to see the green shoots. Given the logistical nightmare of trying to put on an event featuring so many players from so many countries during a pandemic, the tour have worked wonders putting on a tournament at all, let alone a UK swing comprising six events in as many weeks.

You could fairly criticise the tour for forgetting its heartland these past few years as it pursued riches in far-flung continents but it knew where to go to get the show back on the road.

Keith Pelley, the tour’s chief executive, was so taken by the enthusiastic reception he got from venues that were not on the original schedule for 2020 that he has already pencilled in a UK swing of five events for next year. Fingers crossed that the fans will be back by then as well.

This, then, is the tour going back to its roots, when it moved around UK venues during the summer and there was a sense of pride among the locals when the circus came to town.

A lot of the players here might be unfamiliar, but, such is the strength of the game in this country, there are a lot of very good golfers that you have never heard of. Freed of any worries about retaining their tour cards, what a chance they have to make a name for themselves.

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