As golf’s 2017 European Tour season begins this week in Australia and South Africa, Michael Stoneman looks at how new formats, new venues, new branding and increased prize money should make this the best Race to Dubai ever
Golf fans have barely had a chance to catch their breath since the 2016 European Tour wrapped up in thrilling fashion at the DP World Tour Championship two weeks ago, but the new season is already about to tee off with tournaments in Australia and South Africa taking place this week.
The double-header sees the Australian PGA Championship and South Africa’s Alfred Dunhill Championship signal the start of the 2017 Race to Dubai – the European Tour’s season-long points race that takes in more than 40 tournaments across all five continents, culminating in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai each November.
Former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel will be defending his Alfred Dunhill Championship title at Leopard Creek Country Club – on the southern edge of Kruger National Park – while the Australian PGA Championship at RACV Royal Pines Resort, on Queensland’s Gold Coast, is headlined by another former Masters champion in hometown hero Adam Scott, as well as Englishman Ian Poulter, who is a 12-time winner on the European Tour.
“Australia is a fantastic place to play golf and I always receive such strong support from the fans,” explained Poulter, who won the JBWere Masters in Australia in 2011.
“To be playing a European Tour event down here is an opportunity I jumped at. It’s a great chance to come back to a country I have previously performed well in and kick-start my 2017 season.”
And that 2017 European Tour season is already looking like one of the most intriguing ever, with new formats, new venues, new branding and increased prize money sure to raise interest levels in the Race to Dubai.
The new Race to Dubai brand, featuring the official Dubai logo, was unveiled at Jumeirah Golf Estates ahead of November’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship, when the European Tour also announced the creation of the Rolex Series – a new alliance of seven leading tournaments around the world, all offering minimum prize funds of US$7 million, including the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai which features a prize fund of US$8 million.
The 2017 Rolex Series will begin in May with the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club in England and will be followed by two tournaments in July: the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Portstewart; and the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Dundonald.
The fourth tournament will be the Italian Open in October while the final three Rolex Series events will be in November, comprising the Turkish Airlines Open; the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa; and the DP World Tour Championship.
“We believe that the success and the growth of a high-profile series like the Rolex Series will elevate our tour, its brand, and all other events,” said Keith Pelley, Chief Executive of the European Tour, at November’s announcement. “We need a stronger content offering to enable us to reach larger audiences across multiple platforms, and that's what the Rolex Series is about.”
The 2017 European Tour’s “stronger content offering” will also include new tournament formats, such as the as the inaugural World Super 6 Perth, which will be held in Western Australia in February. Featuring 54 holes of stroke play before the final 24 players battle it out over a dramatic final day six-hole shoot-out, the event is a world-first in professional golf.
“We are thrilled to participate in this because, at the European Tour, we believe that golf needs to look at new and innovative formats,” explained Pelley.
The 2017 European Tour schedule also includes the first World Golf Championships (WGC) event to be staged in Mexico, and the traditional ‘desert swing’, which starts with the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship from 19-22 January, followed by the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters and culminating with the Omega Dubai Desert Classic from 2-5 February.