Industry News

For European seniors, there’s no aging in place

By Adam Schupak

BOCA RATON, Fla. – At the recent Allianz Championship, a veritable Senior Ryder Cup could have broken out at the Old Course at Broken Sound Golf Club. 

With 11 Europeans in the 80-man field, they were just a man shy of filling a full team roster. Such a squad would have included five winning European Ryder Cup captains: Bernhard Langer (2004), Ian Woosnam (2006), Colin Montgomerie (2010), Jose-Maria Olazabal (2012) and Paul McGinley (2014). 

Langer has been a dominant force on the PGA Tour Champions, winning the season-long money title in eight of the past nine years, but the rest of the stalwarts of past European Ryder Cup glory never spent much time on American soil during their prime. Woosnam, who will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame later this year, explained the recent surge in Europeans competing as seniors on this side of the Atlantic as a simple case of economics.

"If you want to play for decent money, the Champions Tour is the only option right now," he said.

This year, the 50-and-older set will compete in 26 events for $55.95 million. The European Senior Tour hasn't released the prize money for its 16 events, but if last year's purses are any indication – the MCB Tour Championship offered the largest sum, at 450,000 euros (about $478,000) – it will be a fraction of the largesse offered in the U.S. 

Woosnam lamented that when he turned 50 in 2008, there were 17 tournaments on the European schedule. A decade earlier, the tour consisted of 21 tournaments. By 2015, it had slipped to 12. It is why Welshman Phillip Price, who made his Champions debut at the Allianz, came over for PGA Tour Champions Qualifying School late last year and rejoiced over his co-medalist status. Frenchman Jean-Francois Remesy took an even longer road to the Allianz Championship, managing to Monday qualify for the season's first full-field event. 

In an effort to breathe new life into senior golf in Europe, new European Tour commissioner Keith Pelley in late 2015 re-positioned the senior circuit under the umbrella of its international policy department in a move aimed at developing a more cohesive strategy across Europe's three tours (the developmental Challenge Tour being the third). 

"It is a challenge," McGinley said of efforts to grow a European-based senior circuit that can match the prize money and events in America. "Europe isn't the hotbed for golf tournaments that America seems to be. We hope to get up to 20 events in the next few years." 

Pelley is on the right track, adding three events to the calendar this season. But he has a long way to go to achieve purse parity. American Paul Goydos offered an alternative potential solution. 

"Who knows where life is going, but it wouldn't surprise me if there was some kind of merging and we played 15 tournaments in the U.S., five in Europe and five in Asia," Goydos said. "The LPGA has done that quite successfully."

As for talk of the European Ryder Cup captains gathering for a meeting to plot how Thomas Bjorn's side might regain possession of the trophy in Paris in 2018, Langer said, "Maybe somewhere down the road."

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: Twitter: @adamschupak.