PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It was a beautiful fall Sunday afternoon as the Europeans celebrated one of their biggest Ryder Cup victories in the event’s modern era.
The 17½-10½ drubbing of Uncle Sam’s boys was the result of a combination of factors, but one big key was the host course. Le Golf National performed just as the Europeans had hoped, frustrating the Americans at every turn.
The home-field result hardly was a surprise, because the venue in Paris’ southwestern suburbs had been added to the French Open rotation in 1991 and has been a favorite of European Tour players. But, like a day-old baguette, the French Open has been tossed aside and its future is in doubt.
The 2019 European Tour schedule has slotted the sponsorless French Open in October from its traditional date in June, and the purse has been reduced from $7 million to something less than $2 million.
No longer part of the tour’s premier eight-tournament Rolex Series, the French Open has become a bastard stepchild, according to Pascal Grizot, the vice president of the French Golf Federation who recently was named honorary president of the PGA of Europe.
Grizot said that the federation has “concerns” with this year’s demotion.
“It’s because the Tour took this decision without saying anything to the sponsors,” he said after his second round at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. “Yes, we have HNA [as a sponsor], but we have other sponsors,” he said, noting Rolex, Lacoste and BMW. “They heard by press that the date has changed and that the prize fund was not anymore 7 million [dollars] but 1.6 [million dollars]. Even with the 7 million prize fund, it was already difficult to get a decent field. With 1.6, the French Open is dead.”
Grizot, the point person for the Ryder Cup in France in September, has not taken the demotion of the 113-year-old event well. Grizot has approached Keith Pelley, the European Tour’s chief executive officer, and raised concerns about the tour’s finances and management.
Pelley disputes Grizot’s allegations.
“I have nothing but great things to say,” Pelley said last week of Grizot. “His comments, I was quite surprised, taken aback, and they were, as I said yesterday, they were uneducated.”
Pelley said that tour finances run on a four-year cycle, with home Ryder Cup years generating much of the tour’s revenue and being spread across the other three seasons. Essentially, from 2015 to the 2017, the European Tour ran at a deficit before the boost from the 2018 Ryder Cup, which made the tour whole. Now, the process starts all over again.
Pelley conceded that the Tour could have handled the notification of the French Golf Federation and its secondary sponsors better, but the timing and a fluid schedule resulted in poor communications.
“The aspirational goal is for it [French Open] to come in with a title partner and for us to build it in the next couple years,” Pelley said. “The date [Oct. 17-20] is an interesting one and, as I said, if the date doesn't work, we'll juggle. You're constantly juggling dates.”
Thomas Bjorn, who captained the Europeans to their seventh victory in the past nine Ryder Cups, sees a troubling trend with recent Ryder Cup venues. The Belfry, Gleneagles, K Club and Celtic Manor have their spots on the European Tour schedule after having hosted the biennial matches.
Though the French Open has not met the same fate, Bjorn is concerned about its future.
“It's a shame, because I know how much these players love that golf course and love that event,” he said. “It was sitting in such a great place in the schedule for our players, just before you go into that British-Irish swing leading into the Open Championship. The golf course doesn't really fit an October date, either. It's best when it's firm, and it's in the summer.”
Grizot and Pelley are not speaking because of the French Open’s demotion, yet the European Tour chief credits Grizot for much of the recent Ryder Cup success. Yet, that all seems to be ancient history now.
If the tour can find a title sponsor, the French Open would get a bigger purse and likely a better date, perhaps as soon as 2020. Otherwise, the tournament could meet a similar fate as the other Ryder Cup venues that have played host to tour events.
But will the French Open regain the prominence that it held before the Ryder Cup?
Grizot is not interested in salvaging a French Open that is under European Tour control, leaving Pelley and the tour to find an answer.
“I have many friends to try to help us for the French Open, but how can I involve them when I don't know which date will be played?” Grizot said. “[Or] which players will perform? It's exactly, if you were buying a ticket for a concert and I tell you, ‘My friend, come to the concert, pay 200 euros to attend the concert,’ and you will ask me who is the performer and I will say, ‘Oh, you will see onsite.’ That's exactly what is happening now with the French Open and with the European Tour.”
Instead, Grizot and the federation are pursuing a different tact by questioning the financial management of the tour.
“He doesn't want to speak with me anymore, so I don't care,” Grizot said. “It's not a problem; it's not a game. It's business,” Grizot said. “They have a board. We will ask questions to the board. The French Golf Federation will send a letter to the board and to the chairman, and we will see if they answer to [our] questions.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli