By John Huggan
Photo by Luke Walker/Getty Images
Much fanfare surrounded Thursday’s announcement that the European Tour will resume its 2020 season with an initial six-tournament U.K. Swingstarting at the British Masters July 22-25. The tour’s chief executive, Keith Pelley, was understandably excited about the prospect of competitive play on the Old World circuit, fallow since the Qatar Masters in early March.
Still, while the likelihood is that the British Masters, English Open, English Championship, Celtic Classic, Wales Open and U.K. Championship will all take place through the end of August—all without spectators—a few hurdles remain to be cleared.
In a memo to the tour membership that has been seen by Golf Digest, David Park, a former Walker Cup player and the European Tour’s head of player relations, outlined a situation that he says “continues to evolve.” Perhaps most importantly—and although on-going discussions have been “positive”—Pelley’s request for a player exemption from the two-week quarantine currently in place for those entering the United Kingdom has not yet received official government approval. With such a broad-based international membership, that is a vital component for the European Tour.
Should that come to pass, other logistical issues remain. Full details of the tour’s Medical Health Strategy and required testing are still being finalized. Meanwhile, as “behind closed door” events, the tour has told players that no family or guests will be permitted onsite in this initial run of tournaments, and officials continue to evaluate access for key support staff (coaches, trainers, managers and manufacturers).
And while it will be a condition of entry into all six tournaments that players and caddies stay in “designated official hotels,” the creation of an all-inclusive “bubble” at three of those will be an issue if full fields of 144 golfers are to be accommodated. Assuming every player and caddie will each require a room, a minimum of 288 will be needed. Throw in support staff and that number will surely exceed 300.
Forest of Arden, host to the English Open, boasts only 214 rooms. Hanbury Manor, site of the English Championship, has only 149, plus 12 suites. The situation is happier at Celtic Manor, where the Celtic Classic and Wales Open will take place. The 2010 Ryder Cup site has well over 500 rooms in a variety of on-course premises, including 330 in the resort hotel alone. Equally, the Belfry has 319 bedrooms, enough to comfortably host every player and caddie at the U.K. Championship.
Significantly, however, players and caddies have been warned not to book “any other accommodation for the U.K. Swing.” Park points out that “this is an essential part of reducing the risks associated with the spread of COVID-19 and everyone’s safety. Also, this has been a key part of the discussions with the U.K. government to enable the events to take place. The European Tour is arranging for sufficient hotel rooms for all players and caddies at each of the events.”
Having said that, no promises are being made to the players that full fields of 144 will be achieved. As is the case for regular European Tour events, 2020 exemption categories will be used as the basis to fill the fields. But, although invitations to non-tour members are to be kept to a minimum, “a small number may be required to assist with commercial and sponsorship agreements we are working on with potential partners for each of the events.”
“Final field sizes will be determined by the number of people we are permitted to have onsite for a behind-closed-doors event by the local and national authorities,” Park said.