The DP World Tour overhauled its schedule. 3 big questions remain
Late afternoon on the second Friday of September, as the shadows grew long in County Kildare and Shane Lowry got up-and-down for birdie on No. 18 in front of an adoring home crowd, we got a glimpse at the DP World Tour’s full potential.
All eyes were on the Irish Open. Well, “all” might be a stretch. But there was no PGA Tour event going up against it. No LIV event, either. And afternoon golf in Ireland means morning golf in the United States, golf’s largest market, setting up the Irish Open as a perfect appetizer to college football Saturday and professional football Sunday. The golf was good on those mornings, too, with Lowry in contention, Ulsterman Rory McIlroy playing in the final group and rising Swedish talent Vincent Norrman outlasting both of ’em on Sunday.
Lowry called it his “fifth major” and “one of the greatest events in the world”. Countryman Padraig Harrington called the local interest in the event “enormous” and “brilliant.” McIlroy was impressed, though not surprised, by the massive turnout.
“No matter where we play The Irish Open, the crowds always come out.”
In other words, it was a banner week for the Irish Open — and for the DP World Tour.
The week that followed was even more star-saturated. The BMW PGA Championship didn’t just boast McIlroy and Lowry but also their 10 European Ryder Cup teammates. By week’s end McIlroy, recent FedEx Cup champ Viktor Hovland, World No. 3 Jon Rahm and Englishmen Tommy Fleetwood were all inside the top seven. That was enough top-tier power to outshine the competition at the PGA Tour’s Fortinet Championship, which kicked off its own fall campaign over the weekend.
If it seems like this is Europe’s chance to have a moment, that’s exactly the point. Over the last 18 months the DP World Tour — a mainstay of the golfing world for the last half-century — has been too often lost in the shuffle between LIV and the PGA Tour, dismissed amongst the drama, relegated to a distant third in the collective consciousness of the casual golf fan. Nowhere was that better exemplified than in June, when the DP World Tour literally delayed its schedule release as a result of the sudden agreement between the Saudi PIF, the PGA Tour and (you’re forgiven if you forgot they were included, too) the DP World Tour.
The circuit did eventually release its new schedule, though. In mid-August — in the midst of the FedEx Cup Playoffs — they dropped the outlook for 2024 along with what can best be described as a viewer’s guide to help make sense of it. When your schedule includes 13 months, five continents, 24 countries and 44 tournaments, you need some help with reading comprehension.
Look, I have zero affiliation with the DP World Tour (or the PGA Tour, or any other tour). And I would say that as a fan of European golf it has been difficult to make sense of the where, why and when of the DP World’s schedule in recent years. But this latest version? It’s remarkably coherent. It makes a lot of sense. It reads like the skeleton of something great. And it still may have one fatal flaw. Let’s dive in.
What is DP World, anyway?
Gosh, that’s a great question. The DP World Tour is the artist formerly known as the European Tour. And while we miss the simplicity of the Euro Tour’s title, the new title sponsor does appropriately identify its new worldwide nature. While the second half of the season still looks an awful lot like your parents’ European Tour, the rest of the schedule reflects that “World” part of the whole deal. So it’s a logical sponsor; add two letters and some caps lock and this world tour becomes the DP World Tour.
As for the sponsor itself? DP World is a self-described “world leader in global supply chain solutions.” The DP stands for “Dubai Ports.” It’s a Dubai-based logistics company that handles an absolute boatload (scientific term) of containers every day. Their title sponsorship? That came thanks to a reported promise of $400 million over the next decade, beginning in Nov. 2021.
“With a year-round calendar, and a truly global footprint, golf is a sport that reflects the nature of our business,” reads DP World’s website. No kidding.
How will the Saudi PIF be involved?
That is a terrific question that we will, for the purposes of this article, largely ignore until we know more about the resolution of talks between all interested parties. Is there a world where we see more DP World events with Saudi sponsors like national oil company Aramco, a major Formula 1 sponsor? Potentially, yeah. But we’re not there yet, so let’s first check out the schedule as currently constructed.
What does the new schedule look like?
Again, glad you asked. The bulk of the schedule can be broken down into five “swings” before its fall finale. Those swings provide some geographic coherence to the whole operation. They also have individual payouts; the winner of each swing gets $200,000 from a $1 million “swing” prize pool and qualifies for the “Back 9” — but we’ll get to that. Let’s first take a look at the cornerstones of the new schedule.
1. Opening Swing
Australia and South Africa host the first six events of the 2024 season. The real catch? This swing kicks off the 2024 schedule but concludes before 2024 even begins. This is essentially a bunch of co-sanctioned events, with two (the Australian PGA Championship and Australian Open) in Aussie and the other four in South Africa and Mauritius. The AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open wraps up on Dec. 17, 2023, comfortably before the beginning of the…
2. International Swing
In this case “international” refers to a stretch of golf played in the Middle East and into Africa to begin the 2024 calendar season (Jan. 11-Mar. 10). That means the Dubai Invitational. It means the Hero Dubai Desert Classic the following week, the first of five Rolex Series events with $9 million purses. Then it means a third consecutive event in the United Arab Emirates before heading to Bahrain, Kenya and twice more to South Africa. A flight from the UAE to South Africa isn’t exactly a puddle-jumper, but we’re staying within a couple time zones for a couple months. At least until we get to…
3. Asian Swing
In 2023 the DP World Tour made its most significant foray yet into Asia, and it’s clear from the 2024 schedule that was hardly a one-off. The Asian Swing (Mar. 21-May 19) includes stops in Singapore, South Korea, Japan, China and, of course, Augusta, Ga. for the Masters and Louisville Ky. for the PGA Championship. Okay, so that part of the schedule is still a little awkward for top pros. But we’re getting there. Just like the DP World Tour will get back to its roots in the…
4. European Swing
These next events may fall under the category of “European Tour events that you’ve heard of but haven’t necessarily watched very much of.” That’s because we’re running from May 23-July 7 here, which is primetime for you to be A. watching the PGA Tour or B. enjoying summertime in some way that does not involve golf on television. We’re guessing it’s probably A.
Anyway, this stretch is the Tour’s first trip to continental Europe for the summer; it goes from Belgium to Germany to Sweden to the Netherlands to Italy to Germany, each of those oriented around Pinehurst’s U.S. Open in mid-June. Which brings us to the final major of the year, which takes place in the midst of the…
5. Closing Swing
The Closing Swing has some nice highlights, beginning with a trip to the co-sanctioned PGA Tour/DP World’s Genesis Scottish Open and running through the Open Championship and then the Olympics in France. From there, the regular season winds down with events at the Czech Masters and the Danish Golf Championship. Which leads us to…
What are the playoffs?
What comes next could be thought of as the “Best Swing.” They’re calling it the “Back 9,” which works fine, too. But the post-Tour Championship rundown here is nothing short of spectacular. Say you’re McIlroy or Lowry and you want a short break after the FedEx Cup Playoffs to rest and watch college football. You can do that! Skip the British Masters and perhaps even the dreamy European Masters at alpine destination resort Crans-sur-Sierre GC. But don’t miss the Horizon Irish Open, which is held in 2024 at Royal County Down, one of the best golf courses on the planet. Then there’s the Rolex Series at the BMW PGA at Wentworth and a final series of fall events that includes stops in Madrid, at the Old Course at St. Andrews and Le Golf National.
Once again the year-end Race to Dubai will conclude, logically, in Dubai, but this time there will be a two-week “playoffs” to help determine the champion.
That first week they’ll touch down at Yas Links in Abu Dhabi for the penultimate event of the season. Then they’ll return to Dubai for the DP World Tour Championship, an event hosted at Jumeirah Golf Estates’ North Course.
At the conclusion of the season the leading 10 players will divvy up a $6 million bonus pool while the top 10 player in the Race to Dubai Rankings who aren’t already exempt will earn PGA Tour cards for the 2025 season.
Three big questions remain:
1. Who is going to play?
The Irish Open featured its homegrown stars, from Lowry and McIlroy to Padraig Harrington (and to Seamus Power, too, before he withdrew due to injury). European golf fans are like golf fans anywhere; they’ll flock to see stars. This week at Wentworth brought plenty of those, too. And the Ryder Cup brings its own star power, too, but that happens in Europe only every four years.
The question for the rest of the events is just how many PGA Tour stars — think Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Tommy Fleetwood — will show up to play regularly. The schedule can be terrific while still relying on a few guys to really pop. The PGA Tour’s reimagined fall schedule emerged in part from top pros’ desires for an offseason. How much will they really fill that offseason with DP World Tour golf?
There’s also the issue of the DP Drain. The PGA Tour has cemented itself as the top circuit in the world and the DP World now feeds directly to it — the top 10 at the end of the season now earn their PGA Tour cards, which incentivizes them to play less in Europe and around the world. I’ve talked to a few players who worry this is an own goal on the DPWT’s part. If you let your top talent go elsewhere each year, who’s left?
2. Can the DP World Tour own the fall?
Perhaps they don’t really need to “own” the fall but at least carve out their place within it. But there’s a reason the PGA Tour ceded the fall to football. Is the allure of late-summer Irish links and familiarity with St. Andrews and the big-money finale in Dubai enough to draw golf fans’ eyeballs, even as their own golf seasons come to a close?
I hope so.
It does seem like there’s enough differentiation between the DP World’s new fall season and the PGA Tour’s new fall season for both to exist in parallel. There’s a nice time-zone factor working in its favor, too; most European events can wrap before 1 p.m. NFL kickoff. And the new playoff structure means there’s a clearer conclusion to the DP World’s year, too. LIV remains an X-factor here, too, as it wraps up its own season in the fall. But LIV is also an X-factor in our final question, which is…
3. Can the DP World Tour own the world?
When LIV’s event in Adelaide went off swimmingly with locals earlier this year it seemed as though the startup circuit had tapped into something special by bringing star power to an underserved community of golf fans. But LIV’s 14-event schedule means that its ability to go everywhere is limited; this year’s schedule spanned just seven countries and held eight events in the United States.
There are offshoots of LIV that also bring some star power around the globe; the affiliated International Series brought stars to unexpected places (like Brooks Koepka in Oman), and the top seven finishers at the International Series England were all LIV pros. But the DP World Tour is now uniquely situated to globe-trot from continent to continent, touching ’em all save for South America and Antarctica.
Anybody know an interested sponsor at the South Pole?