It’s exactly one week since the last tee shot, the last iron shot and the last putt was hit on the EuroPro Tour as Europe’s third-tier closed its doors bringing an end to a 20-year association with developing the next generation of UK and Irish golfers and leaving behind an extremely uncertain future for grassroots golf.
The Tour Championship in Lough Erne was an emotional week, with five lucky players probably feeling they were jumping ship at the right time to the Challenge Tour via the top-5 in the EuroPro Order of Merit and leaving so many of their fellow players unsure of where to turn as their golfing futures hang up in the air.
For EuroPro CEO Dan Godding it was an undeserving end to a decade of incredible dedication that saw him bring the tour from its knees to a very powerful and prosperous position in 2019.
However, as the PGA Tour and DP World Tour continue to scramble and scrap against LIV Golf in the penthouse it has had a ripple effect throughout the game, leaving the grassroots tours struggling to keep golf’s skyscraper upright.
The Tour began in 2002 as a partnership between the PGA’s Mastercard Tour and Matchroom Sport’s EuroPro Golf Tour with Matchroom’s main man Barry Hearn pumping vast sums of his own money to keep the tour afloat.
“Barry Hearn has put love, soul and a huge amount of money into this tour to keep it alive and he loved it in the Matchroom portfolio,” praised Godding.
“It was something where he loved to watch the players go up and through and it was it was something very close to his heart to make sure this really worked. So it’s been a partnership between Matchroom and the PGA to create the tour and both parties need to be thanked. And obviously you know, it needs to be out there how much effort they both put in.
“We were PGA sanctioned. We were an official professional golf Tour.
“I’m afraid a golf tour loses money. Yes, you have a very enormous sponsor. We’ve always had an incredible person called Barry Hearn but you know very few golf tours have Barry in their in their lives. And thanks to Barry we were doing well. I mean we had good membership it was a good time and Barry was very happy to keep supporting it.
“You’re talking Barry putting in personal amounts of six figures. I mean, he would happily tell you that he’s into millions, you know, over the course of the tour, so, so it’s, um, but you know, fabulous. He’s always supported the game and that’s great,” added Godding.
The Challenge Tour cards that the EuroPro Tour were going to loose are rumoured to be going to the Clutch Pro and Tartan Tours and in an additional kick in the teeth the Clutch Pro announced a revamped two-tier tour on the day of the EuroPro Tour Championship at Lough Erne.
“These are just start-ups really,” said Godding. “You can’t really say anything but they are roll ups, you know, that’s as simple as they don’t have the Q-Schools and, you know, the fully sanctioned PGA officials on site that are making these tours, official World Golf ranking tours, you know, and with us going it’s leaving a bit of a mess behind but you know, we do need the top tours to come in and clean it up a little bit and make it a bit more official.
“It just shows how quickly something can fall. If the recipe is not correct, and the climate is not correct.”
Godding started on the EuroPro Tour in 2012, his first event was the Tour Championship in Woburn and he arrived into an organisation that was drowning in debt large enough to “buy you several Ferraris.”
“We didn’t have as schedule for the following season. We had no sponsors apart from my incredible sponsor Motocaddy who have been with us since day one and have been phenomenal.
“They kept us alive when we were when we were not good. And we were in trouble.”
Godding was driving – in the cheapest car he could find – through the depths of winter in Northern Scotland and parts of England trying to scramble together a sustainable and viable golf tour for 2013 to develop the next generation of players. After a period of over four weeks including meetings with over 150 golf clubs, he had accomplished his goal and created a golf tour.
“I didn’t think the way we were running it back then was particularly great. So we changed a few ways that we go to courses. We stopped charging courses for a start. It was more sponsor led and we built a Golf Tour. And within two years we were at the Belfry and we were really kicking, the schedule was building and we got it out of its problem.
“Membership started to go up, quality of golf went through the roof and we built a really honest proper Golf Tour. And, you know, we got to 2019 and we were we were doing really well. TV coverage was through the roof. We were in 500 million homes in associate countries and our social media engagement was the third highest in ratio of golf tours in the world.”
Then COVID hit and as Godding eloquently put it, it ‘walloped’ the EuroPro Tour and in truth, it never really recovered.
From having over 500 players at 2019 Q-School to only 320 players at the end of 2021 and a decreasing membership number, the EuroPro Tour was already up to £200,000 pounds in arears starting the 2022 season.
Other players had either stepped away from tour golf or sought playing opportunities elsewhere like the Alps Tour, Clutch and Tartan Tours and Godding felt like he had been cast back to the gloomy days of a decade ago.
“I looked at 2022 and thought, gosh, we’re a little bit of trouble here. You know, you obviously budget, my budget was £400,000 So we’ve never gone below 400 in my chair, actually 2013 was below 400 only slightly, but otherwise we’ve never gone below 400. So the budget of 400 is a safe budget. I’m thinking to myself, well we’re never going to get below that is ridiculous. And then to get we just struggled to 320 about 318 and that’s a lot of guys, it’s you know, it’s 40 to 50 grand.
At a players meeting on the eve of the final round at Lough Erne, Godding addressed his members in an open Q&A and answered all questions they had as to how the EuroPro had ended up this way.
“Yeah, so you’ve got 155 players paying £295 and that brings in just under £46,000 quid and we pay out £50 to £51K per event. So you can see there’s an immediate deficit of five grand instantly. Then when you add your TV into it, which overall is around the 35-40 grand mark.
“So then we’ve got the PGA, so I’ve got six PGA officials here and I have every single week. We do go to seven at times. Because sometimes the scoring is more difficult on certain golf courses. Hotels, food and drink and salaries for those seven guys across the week or the season. And then you got all the boards and the signage as well. The signage costs about 30-35 grand a year.”
Overall, last Friday in Lough Erne was a sad day for Godding, his staff and all the players with the likes of Stuart Grehan, Ronan Mullarney, JR Galbraith among others wondering where they will play their golf next season.
It was a sour ending that he saw coming and despite always retaining hope the EuroPro Tour would return to the well-oiled machine it once was – it was too late.
“The enormous lowering of membership is because of other tours,” said Godding. “There are opportunities that they wanted to go and play instead of, I didn’t really understand that. A lot of players lost their sponsors and were relying on that ten grand sponsor to go and play the following season. So they didn’t have the money to play a season, they didn’t have the fifteen grand to play a full EuroPro season.
“I knew it was coming but I didn’t realise how bad the situation was when we got to 2021 Q-School. Our players from the US and other parts of Europe weren’t coming.
“Before we cut this tour we were getting a lot of phone calls about Q-School for next year and I think we would have been back in 2018 and 2019 but at the end of the day you need so many elements working to make a tour viable and sadly they were only going one way.”
If rumours are to be believed, Matchroom Sports have been approached by a lifetime member of the European Tour to look into taking it over in future. It would be a costly project to resurrect and revamp but hopefully the rumours are true.
Listen to the full podcast interview with Dan Godding below