The European Tour today revealed its schedule for 2021, a jam-packed, mouth-watering line-up of 42 events in 24 different countries.
Conspicuous by its absence – at least for now – is the French Open.
Established in 1906, the 'Open de France' is the oldest national open in Continental Europe and has been an ever-present on the European Tour schedule since the circuit’s inception in 1972. The centenary edition of the event was held in 2016.
The most recent edition, played in 2019, was won by Nicolas Colsaerts. The Belgian joined the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Byron Nelson, Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie in having his name engraved on the trophy.
The COVID-19 pandemic saw the tournament sit out 2020 – and, as things stand, it won’t be happening in 2021 either.
All of which is quite remarkable when you consider that it’s barely two years since France played host to what was described as “undoubtedly the biggest and most successful [Ryder Cup] to be staged in Europe”, not to mention the fact that, in 2017 and 2018, the French Open formed part of the European Tour’s lucrative Rolex Series.
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Quel est le problème?
A spokesperson for the European Tour told bunkered.co.uk: “We made a commitment to our players to release our full 2021 schedule before the holiday season and we did that today, communicating the many confirmed events for next season.
“It does not mean the schedule is complete and if 2020 taught us anything it is that situations can evolve very quickly.
"There are still additional tournaments to be added and the Open de France could very well be one of them.”
So, there’s hope.
Indeed, the schedule released by the tour currently has a space for an unnamed ‘European Event’ sandwiched between the Portugal Masters and British Masters at the start of May. It stands to reason that the French Open could fill that spot.
However, bunkered.co.uk understands that another European country has declared an interest in putting on an event that week, so it is by no means a given that France will get it.
If it is to do so, it will need to find a sponsor prepared to underwrite the tournament's substantial costs.
An event that once attracted support from the likes of Paco Rabanne, Peugeot and Alstom, the French Open was left in limbo when Chinese conglomerate HNA pulled the plug on its deal in June 2018 after only two years.
The tour brokered the support of French asset management company Amundi – a long-term partner of the event – for 2019 as the tournament moved to a new October date. However, that was a one-year deal and, when the 2020 French Open was cancelled in April, there was no sponsor on its masthead.
There are, therefore, issues to overcome. But rather than slam the door shut on one of its longest-standing and most prestigious events, the tour appears to have left it ajar.
As they say in France: vouloir, c’est pouvoir.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
One thing that certainly won't be happening is the French Open debuting on the PGA Tour schedule.
First reported by French newspaper Le Figaro last month, Pascal Grizot, the new president of the French Golf Federation, has been exploring the possibility of staging the first PGA Tour event in France.
Grizot, previously president of the France 2018 Ryder Cup Committee, claims his attempts to find a sponsor for the French Open are being undermined by the European Tour itself.
"The European Tour ... does not know how to make a great tournament," he is quoted as saying. "I cannot go and ask sponsors for amounts comparable to those incurred on the PGA Tour if I do not have a guarantee of the field. Turn on your TV and watch the difference between a field of players in a PGA Tour tournament and a field in a European Tour tournament."
He added that he has told Ty Votaw, the executive vice-president of the PGA Tour, that "if the European Tour is not ready to transform, the French Golf Federation is ready to work with the PGA Tour and make the first PGA Tour tournament on European soil."
Bonne chance, Monsieur Grizot.
bunkered.co.uk understands that this idea, for all Grizot's grandstanding, is a non-starter on account of the "Strategic Alliance" signed recently by the European Tour and PGA Tour.
Any PGA Tour-sanctioned event taking place in Europe would require the involvement of the European Tour, and vice-versa.