Reports: Golf's largest purse to take hit

Updated: August 4, 2009, 4:33 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

The European Tour's glitzy Race to Dubai, which was to culminate with what would have been golf's biggest purse, is apparently set to take a financial hit that will reduce prize money and a lucrative bonus pool.

Two European news outlets reported Tuesday that the season-long competition that ends in November with the Dubai World Championship will reduce its $10 million purse and the subsequent $10 million bonus pool by 25 percent each.

The big payouts had lured such PGA Tour players as Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas into adding European Tour membership in 2009 and had Phil Mickelson considering it. The goal had always been to get world No. 1 Tiger Woods, who has golf course design interests in Dubai, to consider the idea in the future.

Well-known players such as Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Geoff Ogilvy and Paul Casey all compete on the European Tour.

The Guardian newspaper and CNN International reported that the season-ending tournament for the top 60 on the money list -- formerly known as the Order of Merit and now called the Race to Dubai -- would be slashed from $10 million to $7.5 million due to economic issues facing Leisurecorp, a Dubai-based company that in 2007 signed a five-year, $100 million deal with the European Tour.

The bonus pool, for the top 15 players on the final money list, is also being cut 25 percent to $7.5 million.

An announcement from European Tour executive director George O'Grady would come this week or next, according to the reports, which cited unnamed sources.

"The agreement is proceeding as planned but George O'Grady will be making a visit to the region [Dubai] in the very near future," the European Tour said in a statement.

"On paper, this new deal doesn't look like good news, but when you think that the whole house of cards might have fallen -- and many of us did -- it is a bit of a triumph," one source with knowledge of the new arrangement told the Guardian. "And, let's face it, the top players are hardly going to end up in the poorhouse. They have all been told about it and have accepted what is happening."

The new arrangement brings into question the future of the sponsorship arrangement secured by the European Tour at a time when even the PGA Tour has to deal with sponsorship issues. General Motors on Tuesday announced that it is ending is sponsorship agreements at the Buick Open, which Woods won on Sunday, and the Buick Invitational, a popular tournament played in San Diego that Woods has won six times.

The PGA Tour also had to go without title sponsor Stanford Financial at the Memphis St. Jude event, where it reduced the purse by $500,000 in early June.

The United Arab Emirates has suffered a severe economic downturn, and there had been speculation that Leisurecorp would seek to reduce its role or perhaps even get out of the deal altogether.

Bob Harig is the golf writer for ESPN.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com