British Masters Faces Uncertain Future
IT HAS become established as one of the biggest and best tournaments on the European Tour schedule, but the future of the British Masters is in serious doubt as the search for a new sponsor continues - so far, without success.
The £3m event is supported by Sky Sports but the four-year deal with the broadcaster comes to an end this year. The tournament only returned to the European Tour in 2015 after a six-year absence, with four of Britain’s top players acting as its hosts. Ian Poulter was the first to perform the role at his home club of Woburn and was followed by Luke Donald (The Grove), Lee Westwood (Close House) and Justin Rose (Walton Heath) - won by Eddie Pepperell.
Rose was one of four members of Europe’s victorious Ryder Cup team playing this week, with Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari and Thorbjorn Olesen playing in the same group for the first two rounds.
European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said: “I’m disappointed we’ve been unable to find a title sponsor for next year given all the event has going for it.”
It is understood the tournament could take a break next year and return in 2020, with the 2019 schedule complicated by the US PGA Championship moving to May and the BMW PGA Championship consequently switching from May to September.
Rose fears it could disappear for good unless Pelley and his team can secure a headline sponsor for a tournament first staged in 1946 and which has been won by the likes of Greg Norman, Lee Trevino, Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo.
“It would be a shame,” said Rose, whose own win at Woburn was the only professional victory his father Ken got to witness before his death. “It’s one that’s close to my heart obviously having won it in 2002 with my dad around. “Dare I say there are so many events on the European Tour that maybe shouldn’t be there, these are the ones that should be there.
“There’s an argument there’s too many tournaments, I get that, but it’s a shame that these ones with history and ones that get support... the (fans) really do come out in force in the UK and support these events and these are the types of atmospheres that the players really enjoy playing in front of.
“I’d urge anyone in the powers that be to make it happen, but I get the demands and challenges involved as well. I know the challenge Keith (Pelley) faces week in, week out. It’s tough. I don’t know if we should be focusing on slightly condensing things, quality over quantity for sure.”
The British Masters is one of 49 events on this year’s European Tour schedule, eight of them designated Rolex Series events with prize funds of at least $7m. At a time of so much uncertainty over Brexit, it is remarkable that the tour has been able to find so many sponsors.
However, many events have much smaller purses, a fact illustrated by Matt Wallace winning three of them but failing to qualify for the Ryder Cup. Thorbjorn Olesen’s sole victory in 2018 crucially came in the Italian Open, a Rolex Series event. And it was good enough to secure his place in Europe’s Ryder Cup side.
“There’s such a discrepancy between the big events and the small events here that it does create issues for guys at the top and bottom end of the Order of Merit,” Rose added. “To try and find some happy medium in the middle would be a good goal for the Tour.”
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