European Tour prepares for ambitious tournament schedule in 2021
Race to Dubai champion Lee Westwood and DP World Tour Championship winner Matt Fitzpatrick pose with their hardware last week as the European Tour wrapped up the challenging 2020 season.
There are a few gaps, five tournaments and/or venues still need to be confirmed and the number of Rolex Series events has gone down to four, but the 2021 European Tour schedule, formally revealed on Tuesday, contains a minimum of 42 events in 24 countries. As many as 18 tournaments that were either postponed or canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic make welcome returns, although only eight events occupy the three months leading up to the Masters in early April.
The good news on the Rolex front is that the three of the four events now under that heading—the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open and the BMW PGA Championship—will each offer prize funds of $8 million, up by $1 million. But the biggest purse on the Old World circuit outside of the World Golf Championships and the majors will be the season finale. The DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, scheduled for Nov. 18-21, will still pay $3 million to the winner, but the total purse will go up to $9 million, another rise of $1 million.
Elsewhere on the 11-month schedule that kicks off in Abu Dhabi Jan. 21 (with Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas in the field), some details regarding price money are a little more vague. What is for certain is that new events during April in Tenerife and Gran Canaria, as well as the following Portugal Masters, will all offer €1.5 million purses. The British Masters hosted by former Masters champion Danny Willett is worth €2 million, up from €1.25 million. And both the Irish and Italian Opens prize funds have risen to €3 million.
One other promise has been made. The second (and so far unnamed) event on the seven-week summer U.K. Swing (one that clashes with the Olympics in Japan) will be co-sanctioned with the Ladies European Tour and the LPGA.
Still, while the world remains in the grip of the COVID-19 virus, many of the compromises made this year will be repeated in 2021. Significantly, travel between events has again been kept to a minimum. After the traditional group of tournaments in the Middle East at the start of the year, the schedule also includes the return of the “Iberian Swing” in April and the “UK (and Ireland) Swing” in July and August. The Open de España and the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters in Spain occupy the first two weeks of October, followed by the Trophée Hassan II in Morocco.
All in all then, European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley professed to be pleased with the end result.
“There is no question that the challenge of reshaping our 2020 season in many ways informed our approach to 2021,” Pelley said. “One of the key learnings was to group events together in terms of their geographical location to create a more travel friendly season for our members. That is reflected in numerous concentrations of event locations. And, with the incredible progress that has been made in recent months in terms of a vaccine, we look forward to hopefully welcoming the gradual return of the fans we’ve so dearly missed.”
Also absent from the overall schedule is much evidence of the recently announced strategic alliance between the European Tour and the PGA Tour. But that is understandable, given the lack of time available to institute significant modifications to the status quo. It’s expected that 2022 will surely see change though. It would come as no surprise, for example, to see the more lucrative events in Abu Dhabi, Scotland, Wentworth and Dubai co-sanctioned by both tours. On all of that, however, the current message is, “stay tuned.”