Exclusive: British Masters to herald European Tour’s return with five-week 'summer festival of UK golf'

James Corrigan
The Telegraph
Chief executive of the European Tour, Keith Pelley - PA
Chief executive of the European Tour, Keith Pelley - PA

If Great Britain feared that this year’s summer of sport would represent a veritable desert, then the European Tour has some positive news.

The circuit is set to announce that it will feature at least five tournaments back-to-back in England and Wales, the most in succession in almost 40 years.

The Tour has so far seen 21 of its tournaments either cancelled or postponed because of the pandemic, leading to a radical overhaul of the schedule that Keith Pelley, the chief executive, is expected to unveil next week.

With two-week quarantine regulations in place in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, Pelley and his staff have sought to play stretches of events in single countries, starting in England. And in an attempt to form a health-and-safety “bubble”, the Tour is staging these one-off €1 million tournaments at British courses with hotels on site. Unfortunately for fans, this five-week festival of golf will take place behind closed doors.

The hastily-assembled “British swing” will begin with the £2 million Betfred British Masters, at Close House in Newcastle, moving forward a week to July 23-26. The Tour will then immediately move on to the Forest of Arden near Birmingham, before shifting to Hanbury Manor in Hertfordshire. It will finish with two tournaments at Celtic Manor, the Gwent course that staged the 2010 Ryder Cup.

Northern Ireland's <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/pga/players/8016/" data-ylk="slk:Rory McIlroy">Rory McIlroy</a> - AFP
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy - AFP

There might even be another event in the build-up to the British Masters, though it is understood that will take place over two days. It will be an intense run that will appear live in full on Sky Sports.

The four “emergency” tournaments will each offer prize funds down on what players have become used to. Yet considering the Tour must partly fund the purses itself, it is an impressive feat to present such opportunities for members who were concerned for the rest of 2020, having witnessed their circuit lock down at the beginning of March and then read a succession of downbeat emails from Pelley and the board.

The US PGA Championship is due to take place the same week as Hanbury Manor, but the majority on the European Tour will not qualify for the season’s first major and others may skip the San Francisco opportunity because of travel restrictions.

In all, there could be as many as 22 Tour events before the end of the year, featuring multi-event stops in countries such as Portugal and Austria. The UK may stage an autumn swing as well, taking in the BMW Championship at Wentworth, the Scottish Open at the Renaissance and perhaps the Dunhill Links at St Andrews.

The 18th hole at St Andrews - REUTERS
The 18th hole at St Andrews - REUTERS

Those will be big-money events in comparison, but are plainly dependent on where the world finds itself in the pandemic. In the near-term, the grateful pros will appear on British fairways in the sort of streak everyone believed was long ago consigned to the history books.

One has to go back to 1980 when the Tour boasted more than five UK events in a row. There is more good news for armchair golf fans in the UK, who will be able to watch Sunday evening’s exhibition match between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, despite Sky Sports not agreeing a deal.

CNN International, the US network that is on free-to-air TV, is stepping in to screen the Florida charity fundraiser worth $10million that pitches Woods and former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning against Mickelson and Tampa Bay Buccaneers playmaker Tom Brady.

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