Golf's 2020protour has a new title sponsor and offers alternative after demise of EuroPro Tour
The iTS Tour powered by 2020protour launches its fourth full season at Worksop Golf Club on February 27.
The brainchild of former European Tour player Chris Hanson and caddie Adam Walker, the 2020protour was a hugely successful way back into competitive golf for both male and female golfers starved of action during the first lockdown in the summer of 2020.
It was revolutionary at the time because it allowed women to compete against men for the same prize fund, with female golfers playing off shorter tees.
But where they made a success out of being opportunistic during Covid, Hanson hopes they are showing similarly prudent business acumen this year in the wake of the collapse of the EuroPro Tour, the main feeder circuit for the Challenge Tour, European golf’s second division.
"With the EuroPro Tour finishing we’ve crept a little further south, we’ve got four or five tournaments in the Midlands and one in Oxford,” said Hanson of the 21-tournament schedule which had already been announced before Huddersfield company IT Retail Systems came on board as title sponsor.
"There’s just such a bigger golfing market down there, I reckon there must be three times as many full-time golfers than there are up north.
"With what’s happened with the EuroPro Tour it was the right time to entice a few southern players to come and play a few more events up here.
"In theory there’s another 150 golfers floating around with nowhere to play, even though I know it’s not as simple as that.”
As a professional who made it all the way up to the European Tour for a couple of years before dropping back down again, Huddersfield’s Hanson knows how hard it is to make a living as a competing pro.
It is why ‘putting the players first’ has been a long-established policy of the tour.
"Our mantra has always been that we’re trying to keep entry fees and expenses as low as possible and have always paid back the full prize fund, so the return is really good compared to other tours,” said Hanson.
"We’re always going to be a one-day tour for the reason of low expenses. As soon as you go to a two- or three-day tournament your expenses are much higher. Yes you’re playing for more money but there’s only a small percentage of people playing for the top prizes.
"Maybe it’s me as a tight Yorkshireman but I’m always looking for some value in the rest of the prize fund. It’s a very difficult job to make a living out of.
"There’s a lot of good players out there and the depth is getting stronger and stronger each year.
"There’s probably a hundred new pros every year and no more places to play.
"If more play our tour then they play for more money, so it’s in their interests to play.”
Long-term the tour’s ambition is to create a pathway to either the Challenge Tour or the Asian Tour. The Clutch Tour, with big money behind it, has positioned itself in the space vacated by the EuroPro and now offers cards on the Challenge Tour for its top two players at the end of the season.
The one-day nature of the 2020protour might ultimately cap their ability to do that, but a bigger player pool to draw from and a new title sponsor on board suggests the arrow continues to point upwards.
“A title sponsor is something we’ve always strived for and in iTS we came across someone who has committed to supporting us this year,” added Hanson. "It allows us to not so much take risks, but do a little bit more stuff that we’d like to do, take the tour up a level and try and guarantee a few prize funds.
"If we didn’t try and do something this year with this opportunity, then there would never be a better time to try it. So we’re trying to seize the moment.”
Female amateurs and pros can still enter events, but the feedback from multiple women who have played 2020protour events tells them their bold strategy is not as appealing as it once was.
"It’s a really tough one,” admitted Hanson. "A lot of the ladies are happy to compete just against women. The opportunities have been put to them to play golf on our tour on massively shorter tees for decent money, but it hasn't worked.
"Whether that’s our fault or not, we’re not sure. We’ve spoken to quite a few ladies and they’re being honest with us, they just don’t want to do it.
"We still get a handful playing now and again. First year we were 10 per cent nearly every year. We’ve just had a mixed opinion.”