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The European Tour - A first hand view of the remarkable progress of the Tour

Stuart Barber Founding director and publisher of
21st November 2012

After 16 years as a partner in a firm of East Kent solicitors I entered the world of golf - forming a sports consultancy with Colin Cowdrey whom I had known for many years, and Brian Huggett to promote golf and cricket to sponsors.

We amalgamated with the George Simms Agency based in Bride Lane in those days the heartland of the newspaper industry. George was the official Press Officer for the R & A and also acted for a number of sponsors of the new Tour Division of the PGA.

So I was lucky to witness the explosion in the popularity of golf that came about in the mid to late 1970's. George had employed Ken Schofield who had left his job as the youngest bank manager in Scotland to enter the golfing world.

John Jacobs in 2012
Shortly before we moved to Bride Lane, Ken was appointed by John Jacobs to become the Tournament Secretary of the players division of the PGA, based at the Oval cricket ground. George O'Grady current Executive Director of the European Tour, and Tony Grey were already in place as Senior Executives with Arthur Crawley- Bovey as Tournament Director and Eddie Carter as Recorder, and Marina Bray as the indefatigable secretary to the organisation.

Now take a couple of steps back in time to trace how all this came about - Some 3 or 4 years earlier in the very early 1970's The Secretary of the PGA, Major John Bywaters called in a well known professional golfer of the time, John Jacobs OBE to "take hold of the professional circuit and develop it" Jacobs was well known as a fine player of his time, successful in business in the development of driving ranges, one of the world's leading coaches - in all a professional's professional.

So it was that on a Sunday morning in August 1971 a basic plan was drawn up that would lead to the founding of what we know today as "The European Tour"

Jacobs decided that his philosophy would be to sell the professional tournament player to sponsors - old and new - as being "worthy of his hire" - to raise the lowest level of an approved tournament to a minimum of £8000 when the PGA could not guarantee the field and £15000 at other times when the field would be guaranteed.

Existing sponsors were approached some could not commit the required prize money, but others did and new sponsors were attracted. There was also a new gleam of light when Jacobs persuaded the Independent Television to network four tournaments to fill the void created by the BBC's withdrawal from domestic tournament golf.

Up went the prize money and having asked for 3 years to do the job, Jacobs faced the British golfing press, and was able to announce that after only 3 months in the job, that total prize money for the 1972 season would be in excess of £400,000.

During this era there had been a dramatic rise in the quality of the European golfer - Tony Jacklin who won the Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes in 1969, followed by his success in the same year in winning the US Open. In the same year Great Britain and Ireland (as the team was then) halved the Ryder Cup at 16 points all when Nicklaus conceded Jacklin a two and a half foot putt on the last green of the last match. Peter Oosterhuis went from top amateur to top professional. Also in 1971 Britain's amateurs captured the Walker cup, the first time since 1938. Domestic players such as Brian Barnes and Bernard Gallacher brought a breath of fresh air to public interest in golf's shop window.

Tony Jacklin and Jack Nicklaus

1973 saw another increase in prize funds to £500,000, including the £50,000 Open Championship, a figure undreamed of two years or more ago. The consequent benefit to the finances of the PGA enabled two Tournament Administrators to be appointed for the 1973 Tour - Tony Grey and George O'Grady the current executive director of the European Tour .

By 1974 Jacobs had taken European countries gently by the hand and persuaded them to form their own Tournament Association and to join a European Committee co-ordinating dates, prize money etc. He also enticed Ken Schofield away from George Simms to head up the European Tour Division of the PGA. In the meantime Colin Snape had been appointed as General Secretary of the PGA, following the sudden death of John Bywaters.

With some thought of what was to come George Simms writing in the John Player Golf Yearbook of 1974 said - "Finally has the moment not arrived for the setting up of one full-time administrative headquarters for the British and European Tournament circuit? It could and should be self-supporting."

Meanwhile public interest in the professional tournament players was increasing with new talent winning Tournaments. The European Tour was still a division of the PGA, run by Snape.

Ken Schofield

However when the French, German, Swiss, Spanish and Scandinavian Opens became part of the circuit Jacobs and his team decided to create an entirely separate Tournament Players Division totally autonomous, running its own affairs with its own Board of Directors and with Schofield as its Executive Director. This had the full support of the players but was adamantly opposed by Snape.

Colin Snape produced a remarkable paper in August of 1973, an extraordinary about-turn seeking to remove power from Jacobs and the Tournament Committee back into the jurisdiction of the PGA, and a statement of intent that would lead to two years of acrimonious conflict between the two parties.

"He was hell-bent on becoming the main man and wanted to get the tournament players completely subservient to his rule," said Jacobs. "This, after we had been so successful in those two years!"

As Laddie Lucas said in his 1987 biography of John Jacobs, the controversial paper "threatened the new breed of tournament players, whose gaze, under their director-general was now fastened on European horizons".

Jacobs, however, was a shrewd operator. Supported by the indefatigable support of his team lead by Ken Schofield, and around 80 tournament professionals, he guided the situation to a peak at York University in August of 1975, during the Benson & Hedges Tournament.

On the cusp of being fired by the PGA for talking to the press, Jacobs unveiled a knockout blow to make certain his dream of a burgeoning European Tour would come to fruition.

"We had 80 signatures from the players and the PGA had to agree to it. We had won the day," Jacobs is quoted as saying "That meeting was key to our future" It was like, in true golfing parlance, as "a beautifully faded four wood to the stick".

This decision held at the Benson & Hedges in York and subsequently ratified at a European event, when the players overwhelmingly supported the break, finally set the Tour on its drive to the top.

In the wings were 2 players waiting to make their mark Nick (Now Sir Nicholas) Faldo who won the English Amateur and the British Youths Championship in 1975 before turning professional the following year, and Severiano Ballesteros from Spain. In 1976 Seve had burst upon the scene when as a raw but exciting 19 year old he lead the Open Championship at Birkdale for 3 rounds before losing to the American Johnny Miller's greater experience over the last 18 holes.

1979 was a landmark in the history of the Tour with prize money exceeding the £1 million mark and by 1985 this had exploded to over £4 million. With the young Seve and Bernhard Langer who was the leading money winner in both 1981 and 1984 it became inevitable that the British Ryder Cup Team should become the European Ryder Cup Team, and the European Tour was well and truly established.

George O'Grady

Move on 20 years to 2005 and the Tour was unrecognisable from its inception in 1971when John Jacobs supervised its formative years. Then Ken Schofield took over the reins on January 1st 1975. Now George O'Grady became the third Executive Director taking command on January 1st 1985.

Meanwhile the administrative side of the Tour had well outgrown the confines of the Oval cricket ground and moved to its present headquarters at Wentworth, where it continues to flourish. The staff in that year had reached a total of 120 - a far cry from those Oval days.

By 2006 the Tour schedule comprised 47 tournaments with prize money of nearly £74 million - The Challenge and Seniors Tour both founded by Schofield and O'Grady were also growing in strength and stability consisting of 30 and 21 tournaments respectively with increased prize funds.

So the Tour continues to flourish under the guiding hand of George O'Grady by 2011 the number of events had grown to 52 and prize money of £120 million. The European Tour is the most cosmopolitan in the world with players from many countries outside the continent competing regularly on the circuit.

This is reciprocated to some extent when in the winter months the Europeans take off for sunnier climes. This year has seen the wonderful win in the United States of the European Ryder Cup team. By coincidence Richard Hills the current Ryder Cup Director was also recruited by me from Barclays Bank in 1978 when we worked with the Tour and George O'Grady in putting on the Ryder Cup at Walton Heath.

Richard Hills & George O'Grady

Also John Jacobs was the captain of the European Team, with the late Dave Marr captaining the USA. Subsequently Richard left in 1983 to join the staff of the European Tour.

This year no less than 4 from the European Tour are in the top 10 of the World Rankings - Rory McIlroy has won the "Race to Dubai" (formerly the "Order of Merit") tops the money list in both the European Tour and the PGA of America and is likely to be voted winner of the Harry Vardon Trophy in the States - thus emulating Luke Donald's similar achievement last year.

The European Tour stands in a strong position, and in speaking with George O'Grady he says they are now strong financially and he faces the future with some confidence. There are always the problems of how to keep sponsors happy when top players won't commit - so the age old issue of "appearance money" raises its head yet again.

It's easy says O'Grady to keep the leading players content but further down the list It's not so simple. Hence the occasion when you have 2 European sanctioned events happening at the same time - as was the case last week with simultaneousTournaments in Hong Kong and South Africa.

That gives as many players as possible a chance to compete, but of course that works both ways as the sponsor wants the best field playing in his event- if not then he may become discontented and place his budget elsewhere.

Major Events such as the Open Championship, the US Open, The Masters and of course the Ryder Cup will continue to go from strength to strength and will always atract the top players.

In truth the rise in popularity of GOLF has been strong and the Tour has risen incredibly from its initial launch with prize money of less than £300,000 thanks initially to the vision and strength of purpose of John Jacobs - He said in an interview with the Tour "I moved aside because I wanted to get on with my own career but Ken was a natural and I knew the whole business was in safe hands," he says. "If you look at where the Tour started when Ken took over and where it was when he left, it is almost unbelievable, and George has followed that on by moving things even further forward. Great credit must go to both of them."

I was fortunate enough to meet John from time to time in those early days and one had to admire his tenacity and strength of purpose - plus beneath that avuncular presence was a shrewd mind and a determination to succeed at the task set him by Major John Bywaters. I think he can be well pleased!

Following my very interesting discussion with George O'Grady, I hope to follow this up with an interview on where the European Tour stands now and its aspirations for the future

Stuart Barber



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