New dawn for senior golf in Europe with launch of Legends Tour

Irish Golfer

Ryan Howsam, Chairman of Staysure and Colin Montgomerie (R) during the second round of the Staysure PGA Seniors Championship (Photo by Phil Inglis/Getty Images)

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An exciting new era for over-50s golf in Europe has been unveiled with the launch of the Legends Tour following a ground-breaking joint venture agreement between the European Tour and Staysure Founder and Group CEO Ryan Howsam.

Under the unique agreement Howsam, who founded insurance firm Staysure in 2004, will take a majority equity share in the Legends Tour – formerly known as the Staysure Tour – and will oversee the Tour’s commercial strategy. This is an evolution from Staysure’s existing umbrella sponsorship of the over 50s circuit in Europe, a deal his company announced in December 2017.

The revolutionary new ownership structure is the first time in golf that an individual will have a controlling stake and leadership role in a major Tour.

Entrepreneur Howsam will work alongside the Head of the Legends Tour, Mark Aspland, and the current Tour staff with a clear focus on driving greater consumer engagement, particularly among the affluent European 50+ year old mature market of which Staysure has a growing database of over 5.5 million, with the aim of releasing as yet untapped commercial potential of the Legends Tour.

As part of this strategy, the Staysure Tour will be renamed the Legends Tour and it will put some of golf’s iconic names at the forefront of the brand, including our own Paul McGinley and fellow former Ryder Cup Captains Mark James and Ian Woosnam, as well as 1999 Open Champion Paul Lawrie.

The quartet of Ambassadors will play a central part of growing the popular alliance format which gives amateurs the chance to play alongside some of golf’s great names in tournament conditions. A newly-formed ‘Legends Club’ will help enhance the amateur experience and will include a dedicated amateur Order of Merit where amateurs can compete for a place in the end-of-season Tour Final by playing in three-day alliance events at some of the best golf courses in the world. 

The additional focus on the amateur experience is part of the Tour’s greater commercial focus, which is aimed at driving increased playing opportunities for Legends Tour members.

“If you ask yourself who owns the mature golfing market across Europe, there isn’t a player out there,” said Howsam of what prompted him down this latest path.

“That was the starting point and because we were involved as the lead sponsor, we knew how it worked for us as a brand. We’ve now got several million opted-in customers who are over the age of 50 so when a sponsor turns up to get a tournament, they also get access to a database that’s substantially bigger than what the European Tour would have and it’s very targeted.

“If you start to think about who’s spending the money generally, forget about golf at the moment, it’s a mature audience… so if we can put a deal to a car company or financial service that gives them a great event and a great experience, as well as a return on their investment, that’s a pretty special proposition.

“On top of that, the opportunity to play with these guys in the alliance format, the best amateur experience in golf I believe, has been exceptionally well-received.” 

For Tour Head, Mark Aspland, the announcement is one of timely good news and comes off the back of a particularly trying year for everyone involved in Senior golf in Europe after the cancellation of the 2020 season.

“It was like a left hook from Mike Tyson,” Aspland said of the decision to cancel this year’s schedule.

“We sat with our chief medical officer in February time and he had us all around the table and he said, ‘look guys, there’s likely to be no events until August, you need to plan in case there are no events until August’ and we just looked at him and were like, ‘what are you talking about?’ But he was absolutely spot on.

“It’s been a dreadful year for all sports, we’re no different, but if you could pick a positive, it’s that we’ve taken the time to look at what 2021 is going to look like and we were able to put more time and effort in with Ryan to make 2021 up to a really good level.”

The benefits of this time and effort should become clear when the season tees off next year with Ambassador McGinley unwavering in his belief that senior tour golf around Europe is sure to reap the rewards of the new partnership, not least through its focus on the pro-am experience.

“A lot of corporate sponsors get involved in tournament sponsorship because of access to the pro ams and that’s always been successful,” said McGinley. “We’re taking something that has worked all over the world and making it better, rolling it out in a more dynamic and up to date way.

“We’ve got Ryan in our corner, a very successful businessman who’s prepared to put his energy, investment and expertise in along with Mark on the European Tour and I really do think we have a great chance of success.”

General regulations of the new Tour are set to remain much the same although it is hoped that more Monday qualifying events will be introduced to increase opportunity and access for professionals over the age of fifty.

Field sizes are set to increase next year too, to compensate for a lost season in 2020 while Qualifying School will return ahead of the 2022 campaign – much to look forward to then for the senior golf scene in Europe.

“We’re going to create the best amateur experience in golf that’s not available anywhere else, with only 30 spots available each week,” Howsam says.

“The pros have really taken this on board and we’re collaborating with them in a way that will drive income for them as well. There’ll be revenue channels available for the pros through the structure that we’re putting together, in addition to the earnings that they can get.

“We’ll introduce a celebrity pro-am, creating an amazing opportunity for sponsors to do something at an event in a different way, and we’re also providing access to an audience that they couldn’t ordinarily access by sponsoring a golf tournament.”

Despite the uncertainty that remains due to COVID-19, Howsam had no reservations about rolling out his plans for next year and is hell-bent on ensuring this new path for senior golf in Europe will be a smooth and successful one.

“From a business perspective, there’s always a way to win,” Howsam added. “I’ve got a group of companies, the largest of which is a travel insurer and you’d think that that’s probably the worst place you can be, but we’ve gained market share in this period.

“OK, we’re down from what we were but there are travel insurance companies not traveling and we’ve reinvented the wheel. Next year, we’ll have moved on, there’ll hopefully be a vaccine and people will adapt. I don’t think in life and in business you can ever take a back seat. We’re going to go for it next year and we’ll find a way of making this work.”

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