by Graham Otway
SKY TV have signed a sponsorship deal worth more than £10m to guarantee the British Masters, which starts at Woburn today, will be a fixture for the next four years.
With this week’s named backing of Ian Poulter – and with with Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose in a queue to host the event for the next three years – the tournament should grow again into one of the biggest events on the European Tour schedule.
However, it could be several months before the Tour announces which other courses in England will host the Masters before the Sky contract ends in 2018.
Lengthy discussions have been taking place with the three Ryder Cup stars to pick a venue that has played an important part in their careers. But so far no agreement has been reached.
Woburn was an obvious choice for Poulter because it is where the Hitchin-born and now Milton Keynes resident learned his golf and is still a member.
And the Duke of Bedford’s estate has a history linked to the tournament, having hosted it 16 times previously between 1979 and 2002.
But the air of uncertainty was summed up by Donald when he told The Golf Paper : “I do not know yet when or where I will be hosting it.
“I have thought about The Grove because it’s close to Hemel Hempstead where I come from but I might also consider a links course. I just don’t know at the moment.”
Worksop’s Westwood said he first got involved in talks 18 months ago and was immediately interested in the project.
He favours playing at Close House, near Newcastle, on The Colt course opened in the Spring of 2011 with fairways laid out over 160 acres of the Tyne Valley.
It is unlikely that Woburn will get the tournament against next year because the members of the club are already committed to seeing The British Women’s Open, The Senior Open and an Open qualifying event played on their facilities.
But since Tour golf in England has been limited to just one tournament a year – the BMW at Wentworth in May – since The Masters was last played in 2008, Westwood believes this weekend’s event will be a magnet for English fans
When Sky offered free tickets for tomorrow’s first round 15,000 were snapped up within the space of four hours and Westwood, below, said:
“It’s a tournament that we’ve all been looking forward to for a long time and I’ve got fond memories of watching it while I was growing up, as well as winning the title in 2007.
“It will be exciting to be back at Woburn. It’s a great course and I’m sure it will be in fantastic condition.
“It’s amazing that tickets for Thursday were sold out so quickly.
“It’s brilliant for the game over here and shows the crowds that come out for tournaments in the UK.
“Even seeing the posters dotted around London and outside Wembley, was brilliant and brought it home what it means to have tournaments like this on home soil.”
Sky’s sponsorship has landed the Masters a £3 million prize fund this weekend and only the BMW, The Scottish Open and the Dunhill Links events have carried more lucrative purses on the European Tour this year.
Several of Europe’s biggest names will be anxious to get their hands on a share of the rewards with only two small events – the Portugal Masters and The Hong Kong Open – left on the schedule before the Race to Dubai Final Series gets underway in three weeks time.
Only the top 60 on the order of merit will qualify to play in the DP World Tour Championship in The Desert next month and currently Graeme McDowell is only 63rd on the money list, Ernie Els is a lowly 79th and players’ chairman Thomas Bjorn 89th.
*This article was originally published in TGP on 7 October 2015