Golf: Harder times for the Tour: Robert Green argues that economic reality may have caught up with professional golf

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The Independent Online
IT IS tantalising how the European golf tour manages to progress in its nascent stages each season without actually touching Europe. From Madeira and Morocco in the last two weeks to Dubai and Thailand in the next fortnight, the entire exercise beggars geographic belief. The extravagant peregrinations also disguise some grim economic truths.

But first the good news. The next two weeks could provide two genuinely outstanding tournaments. The Dubai Desert Classic, which starts on Thursday, has Greg Norman, Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie and an impressive supporting cast competing for a purse of pounds 450,000. It is followed by the Johnnie Walker Asia Classic, which has assembled what might prove to be the most alluring field outside the four majors. In addition to the 'Dubai Four', Nick Faldo, Nick Price, Ian Woosnam and Ian Baker-Finch are among those who will be contesting the pounds 600,000 on offer. Both these tournaments have added pounds 50,000 to their purses.

After that double feast, it's back to reality, back to what might be called Spanish Harlem - even if the intermittent appearances of Seve Ballesteros and Jose-Maria Olazabal should ameliorate the gloom.

The next five tournaments are in Spain or its offshore islands. The Extremadura Open is a new event, with pounds 250,000 in prizemoney, but that influx of funds has been wiped out by damage elsewhere. Two of the other four tournaments have cut their purses by pounds 50,000 compared to 1993; the other two by pounds 100,000.

One of the latter is the Tenerife Open. The promoter, Sergio Gomez, says he is putting up as many pesetas as last year, but the currency has been massively devalued, dropping the purse to pounds 250,000. 'In the UK, you think you are coming out of the recession,' he says. 'But in Spain things are now very bad.'

Last week, the PGA European Tour announced the cancellation of the Roma Masters in April, but replaced it with a new team event, the Tournoi Perrier de Paris, worth pounds 350,000, pounds 50,000 more than its predecessor. Next week it is expected to announce all purses for 1994. While there will be pounds 100,000 increases at the Benson & Hedges International and Volvo PGA Championship, it will be no surprise if there are compensating decreases in three other spring tournaments at Lyon, Cannes and the Italian Open. As yet there are no sponsors for the European Open at East Sussex in September or for the Madrid Open in October.

At the Volvo Masters last November, Ken Schofield, executive director of the tour, said he anticipated a 10 per cent growth in purses in 1994. That may be optimistic. As Schofield also said: 'We do not have a queue of potential sponsors lining up. These are tough times, but unlike when we started, we now have resources.'

In particular, the tour has the unspecified figure it received from the controversial television deal with BSkyB last summer. On the other hand, its coffers have been depleted over the past two years especially by the continuing need to support tournaments that would not have existed if the tour had not provided substantial backing. The stretching of the schedule into the first half of January only happened because of this, but the tour's munificence cannot be boundless.

Schofield and his colleagues have done an admirable job, but after boldly defying, almost Canute-like, the laws of economics, it may be that financial reality has at last caught up with professional golf.