Nick Westby: Global tour giving English golf talent little chance to impress

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Imagine this for a travel itinerary – South Africa, Abu Dhabi, Arizona, Florida, Malaysia, Morrocco.

Sounds like the weekend getaways of a lottery winner when, in reality, it is the stops on the first six months of golf’s 2013 European Tour.

That’s right, the European Tour, which in the first half of its season is taking in tournaments on four different continents, but, as yet, not its own.

Europe’s premier circuit has already sold its end-of-season naming rights to the Middle East with the fifth Race to Dubai, as the season is now known, beginning next month. And with so many tournaments held outside the region, it can hardly lay claim to being the continent’s elite tier.

There are always going to be tournaments played outside of Europe. Golf is a year-round sport, and unless you are chopping up fairways in the Canary Islands on a weekly basis, there is no way the best players in the world could play regularly in the northern hemisphere winter.

Such an acceptance has always been a given but what was a brief sojourn to sunnier climes around the turn of the year, has become the norm for the continent’s elite.

In the current season that finishes later this month in Dubai – after final stops in Singapore and Hong Kong – only 21 of the 45 tournaments either sanctioned solely or in conjunction with another tour, were played in Europe.

And the number played in England at the birthplace of the Tour this year? Two, with one of those being the Open.

Ten years ago, of the 47 tournaments played, including the three majors in America, 32 were played in Europe and seven of those were held in England.

Another 10 years back in time and of the 42 competitions during the year, 37 were contested in mainland Europe.

In 2012 – Britain’s majestic year of sport – there were just seven tournaments in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is the same number as were held in the Far East, while there were four in South Africa and the same again in the Middle East.

Contrast that with the top of the world rankings, where England has three players in the top five – Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose – compared to the paucity of players the other regions, save for South Africa, can boast. It is a staggering disparity between players and tournaments, and one that begs the question, can England keep producing so many high-ranking players if they do not have big tournaments to play in on their own doorstep?

Each week, fields at golf tournaments are swelled by professional players from the host nation who would not normally play were the event held elsewhere.

It may only be a handful of players, but say it is only 10 that are regularly getting the chance to play in South African events, is it any wonder that the likes of Jbe Kruger, Branden Grace and George Coetzee are becoming recognised names after such a short period of time on tour?

Where is the next generation of top-level English players? Where will the new Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, pictured, Luke Donald and Justin Rose get the chance to flex their muscle if their one and only chance to impress is at the BMW PGA Championship in May?

Pete Cowen is one of the most renowned coaches in professional golf.

He started out with a relatively modest stable of British golfers at his base in Rotherham in the 1990s and has seen that grow to take in some of the biggest names in the sport.

Currently in his stable of around 15 players are major winners Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen.

In the ‘olden’ days, Cowen rarely got his passport stamped as he joined his players on the driving ranges of Europe’s best courses.

Now, he can be in Dubai one day, Johannesburg the next, such is the worldwide nature of the the elite golfing circuit. Cowen goes through passports like Tiger Woods goes through...

For Cowen, the problem stems from the global recession. Earlier this autumn, two tournaments scheduled for mainland Europe were cancelled due to sponsors pulling out, something that would never have happened five or 10 years ago.

“The recession doesn’t seem to be affecting golf, only in Europe,” said Cowen. “It’s a sad indictment that there are more tournaments in Asia nowadays than there are in mainland Europe.

“The PGA Tour in America doesn’t seem to have that problem. Sponsor after sponsor still keeps throwing money at it.

“And, unfortunately, all the top European players are heading off to play in America.

“The players Europe are producing are brilliant players.

“But it’s a catch-22 situation. The top European tournaments cannot attract the big names so the sponsors dwindle and the players head to Asia where there’s more money on offer.

“In Britain, we see the top players only three times, with a tournament in England, one in Scotland and then the Open. Then there’s one tournament in Wales and one in Ireland.

“Unfortunately, it’s a sign of the times.”

Indeed it is, and there appears little chance of the tide being stemmed. It is not only golf that is waking up to this reality. Of the 20 grands prix in Formula 1 this season, only eight were staged in the sport’s heartland.

Premier League football clubs go anywhere but Europe in-pre-season such are the market places and money on offer in the Far East, the Middle East and America.

The European Tour is golf’s worldwide tour in all but name.

For the players who are becoming staggeringly wealthy off the vast riches on offer, good luck to them.

Make hay while the sun shines fellas. I know I would.

For the emerging young players trying to force their way onto the scene, good luck to you, your chances are getting slimmer all the time.

And another thing...

Sticking with golf, congratulations to Danny Willett, my winner of the inaugural Yorkshire Post professional golfer of the year award.

As ever with these things, it is done before the season’s actually finished and is worth about as much as the paper it is written on.

But that should not detract from the fact that the 24-year-old from Rotherham enjoyed a breakthrough win this summer at the BMW International Open.

It was a long time coming but has filled the young man with confidence.

Simon Dyson would have won this, ahem, prestigious award, had it been devised last year, but with the birth of his child and more trans-Atlantic flights than Richard Branson this year, he has failed to generate momentum.

Richard Finch is hanging on to a place in the top 60 and a spot in the Dubai World Championship by his fingernails. He is 57th and hoping to cement that in Hong Kong this week. Danny Denison has had a chastening first year on tour and is bound for qualifying school.

Honourable mentions go to Rebecca Hudson, who is 20th on the Ladies European Tour and Jodi Ewart, who had five top-20 finishes in her rookie season on the LPGA Tour.