In these tough times, you always wonder if the latest press release with a cheery start is merely softening the blow for the bad tidings to follow. The European Tour’s recent release bearing the headline “Ground-breaking joint venture creates new Legends Tour” could have been shaping that way, only in this instance the news stayed positive.
The venture in question has to do with the Legends taking the place of the European Tour’s old Staysure model.
“Hand on heart,” said Barry Lane, the former Ryder Cup player and an eight-time winner among the seniors, “we’re all thrilled at what’s happening. Our European senior schedule was chugging along okay. The European Tour did what it needed to do in the early stages but they weren’t giving it any of the necessary marketing it needed to move forward. Understandably, their main priority was the European Tour itself.
“The great thing about Ryan Howsam (the man behind the new operation) is that he sees the value in us. He doesn’t view us as a bunch of past players with bus passes but players with a future. As you can imagine, it is great for our morale. He wants to release our ‘untapped commercial appeal’ and thinks there’s money in it for all of us, including himself. He’s got TV deals in mind along with some great ideas for amateurs.”
It was Howsam who founded the mighty Staysure insurance empire which has in excess of five million clients and first became involved in sponsoring the professionals in 2017. On a personal basis, he was carried away with this senior scene and its pro-am format and, in a less than well-kept secret, he was soon discussing its latent potential with the players.
Though Howsam only acquired his major equity share in the tour this month, the negotiations between Staysure and the tour have been ongoing since 2018. Initially, the European Tour could have been reluctant to loosen its grip on something which someone else was so clearly viewing as a bit of a money-maker. At the same time, though, the tour did not want to risk his walking away from the project.
Then came the pandemic and, with the money concerns that came with it for the European Tour and so many other sporting bodies like it, it became altogether less proprietorial and were happy enough for the new deal to be signed and sealed. (No doubt Keith Pelley, the European Tour’s chief executive officer, would like it if another Ryan Howsam were to come along and see the same potential in the Challenge Tour, which has similarly been having a tough time of it.)
To spell out what is involved in what is being labelled “a joint venture,” the tour will be running the events on the ground whilst not having to worry about costs in that Howsam has underwritten the 19 tournaments on the schedule and will be looking for more. As yet, the size of the initial prize fund has not been mentioned, but whether it’s big or not-so-big, what matters to Lane and Co. is that they will be back playing after having had nothing in the way of a tournament since June, all because of COVID-19.
“The seniors tend to travel with their wives and the whole thing is more of a social scene than it ever was."
Amateurs loom large in Howsam’s plans. In the past the amateurs have been involved for two days out of the three. Now he wants them to play on all three days and to give them an amateur order of merit which can only appeal. On top of that, he has appointed a number of Legends ambassadors, including major champions and Ryder Cup captains alike with whom the amateurs will want to play whatever the price.
To give just a smattering of the ambassadorial names, they include Colin Montgomerie, Paul Lawrie, Tom Lehman, Ian Woosnam, Paul McGinley, Michael Campbell and Darren Clarke. (It goes without saying that they will not all be involved in all the tournaments if their present itineraries are anything to go by.)
As Lane says, the amateurs are getting to play with the professionals at the right time in the professionals’ lives.
“You mellow in your senior years, and here I’m talking about the senior players in the US as well as here,” he said. “You’re less grumpy than you were on the main tour for a start. You enjoy your golf more but the competitive juices are still flowing. Here, you only have to look at someone like Tom Kite, who still practises like mad in his (70s), to see the truth in that.
“The seniors tend to travel with their wives and the whole thing is more of a social scene than it ever was. There are 54 of us on the European senior circuit and, more often than not, we stay in the same hotels.”
On to the name of the new tour, the Legends. “We had several meetings on the subject,” continued Lane. “We couldn’t call ourselves the ‘Masters’ or the ‘Champions’ because those names were taken inside and outside America. So that’s when we arrived at Legends because, as Howsam says, there are legends on our tour.”
The name is one thing which Howsam might want to address when there already is a Legends Tour – the official senior tour of the LPGA which boasts players such as the great Nancy Lopez and Dame Laura Davies.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Davies, “to have two senior tours called the same thing. It can’t be allowed to happen.”
Jane Geddes, the former US Women’s Open champion who runs the Legends Tour in the US, said that it can happen because her seniors only hold the rights to the name in the States. “The Europeans didn’t ring to ask if it was all right with us because they didn’t have to.”
A polite enquiry would have been appreciated. However, since none was forthcoming, maybe Howsam could soothe ruffled feathers by sponsoring a tournament involving both sets of legends.
Now there’s a thought …
Top: Barry Lane at a 2019 Staysure Tour event in Madagascar