GOLF: Volvo's pounds 20m deal allays players' fears

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There was a time when quantity, as it pertained to golfers, was the number of strokes it took to get round 18 holes. Days of innocence, of course, now nothing is that simple.

Mention the word in the context of the European Tour and you will get a mixture of responses. The top players think too many tournaments are straining the quality of events; the lesser lights are grateful for anywhere at which they can earn a crust. Others wonder if life as a golfer is too comfortable to produce champions. There is, in short, that most painful of splits, a parting of perspectives.

Which is why the Volvo PGA Championship will begin here today with the future of professional golf as steadily in the sights as the flag on the first green. The main plot will be the destination on Monday of the pounds 150,000 first prize but the subtext will be where the European Tour will be come the turn of the century.

As a pre-emptive strike, therefore, it was hard to fault the management. Fresh from a meeting the previous evening with Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam and Jose-Maria Olazabal to discuss their misgivings, the tour's executive director, Ken Schofield, was able to announce a continuing sponsorship by Volvo yesterday that will be worth pounds 20m over the next four years.

For that, they will back the British PGA (which will have a purse of more than pounds 1m for the first time next year) and Masters as well as the German Open and the Scandinavian Masters although they will no longer be the overall sponsor for the tour. And just in case anyone wondered whether this was a sign of disenchantment, Schofield pointed out that Volvo had ploughed in pounds 30m over the previous eight years so the new sum marked a significant improvement.

"This new agreement," he said, "will take us through to the end of the century and help create a new platform for our own growth and development." Later he added: "The thing that hurts me badly is that people think I'm only interested in quantity and not quality. Believe me, quality is very important."

Faldo, who pursues quality with unparalleled doggedness, certainly seemed assured. "The meeting went very well," he said. "There have been rumours and the guys wanted to talk to Ken. The tour, like the country, has been going through a tough time but at least I know now we're going forward.

"All my views have concerned course conditioning. It's all about having great courses that provide demanding golf. That's how you produce great young golfers."

Faldo, four times the winner of this tournament, will be playing his first event in Europe this year after deciding to broaden his horizons by plying his trade in the United States. "I came here out of loyalty," he said. "This is a mini-major on this tour and I felt I should support it. I would like to come back for longer."

The European Tour would like him here longer, too, but, again, nothing is that simple.