Professional golf began in Europe, specifically in Scotland. The first professionals were clubmakers and greenkeepers who also taught golf to the wealthy men who could afford to play the game (early handmade equipment was expensive) and played "challenge matches" against one another for small purses. The first multi-competitor stroke play tournament was The Open Championship, which was introduced in 1860. That year it was for professionals only, and it attracted a field of eight. The following year, amateurs were permitted to enter. In contrast to many other sports which originated in the United Kingdom, the amateur-professional divide never created major problems in golf, at least at the elite competitive level.
Over the few decades following the creation of The Open Championship, the number of golf tournaments with prize money increased slowly but steadily. Most were in the United Kingdom, but there were also several "national opens" in various countries of Continental Europe. However, for many decades it remained difficult if not impossible for golfers to earn a living from prize money alone. From 1901 the British professionals were represented by The Professional Golfers' Association, and it was this body that ultimately created the European Tour.
By the post-World War II period prize money was becoming more significant, encouraged by the introduction of television coverage. However, each event was still organised separately by a golf club or association, or a commercial promoter. In the U.S. a formal PGA Tour had existed since the 1930s, and in 1972 The Professional Golfers' Association introduced the PGA European Tour. In its early years the season ran for six months from April to October, and was based entirely in Europe, mainly in Great Britain and Ireland. For example, the 1972 season consisted of 20 tournaments, of which 12 were in the United Kingdom and one was in Ireland. Of the seven events in Continental Europe, six were "national opens", namely the Dutch, German, Italian, French, Spanish and Swiss Opens, with the seventh being the Madrid Open.
Over the next three decades the tour gradually lengthened and globalised. The first event held outside of Europe was the 1982 Tunisian Open. That year, there were 27 tournaments and the season stretched into November for the first time. In 1984, the PGA European Tour became independent of The Professional Golfers' Association.
The European Tour has always been sensitive to the risk that its best players will leave to play on the PGA Tour for many reasons. The PGA Tour usually offers higher purses and European players want to increase their chances of glory in the three majors played in the U.S. by playing on more U.S.-style courses to acclimate themselves. In an attempt to counter this phenomenon, the European Tour introduced the "Volvo Bonus Pool" in 1988. This was extra prize money which was distributed at the end of the season to the most successful players of the year—but only golfers who had played in a high number of the European Tour's events could receive a share. This system continued until 1998, after which renewed emphasis was placed on maximising prize money in individual tournaments.
In 1989, the tour visited Asia for the first time for the Dubai Desert Classic. By 1990, there were 38 events on the schedule, including 37 in Europe, and the start of the season had moved up to February. A first visit to East Asia for the Tour occurred at the 1992 Johnnie Walker Classic in Bangkok. This has since proven to be one of the most notable initiatives in the history of the tour, as East Asia is becoming almost its second home. Shortly afterwards the tour also made its debut in the former Soviet Bloc at the 1994 Czech Open, but much less has come of this development as participation in golf in the former Soviet region remains low and sponsors there are unable to compete financially with their Western European rivals for the limited number of slots available on the main tour each summer. However, the second-tier Challenge Tour has visited Central and Eastern Europe somewhat more frequently. In 1995, the European Tour began a policy of co-sanctioning tournaments with other PGA Tours, by endorsing the South African PGA Championship on the Southern African Tour (now the Sunshine Tour). This policy was extended to the PGA Tour of Australasia in 1996, and most extensively to the Asian Tour.
There is no overall governing body in the worldwide sport of golf. While the golf authorities in the various parts of the world cooperate harmoniously overall, there is still some rivalry. The European Tour is very self-conscious about its position relative to the PGA Tour, but the two have also steadily formed a partnership. In 1998, the European Tour added the three U.S. majors — the Masters Tournament, the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open — to its official schedule. The leading Europeans had all been competing in them for many years, but now their prize money counted towards the European Tour Order of Merit, which sometimes made a great deal of difference to the end-of-season rankings. The following year three of the current four individual World Golf Championships, also usually played in America, and also offering far more prize money than most European events, were established and added to the European Tour schedule.
Since the minimum number of events that a player must play to retain membership of the European Tour has long been eleven, this meant that international players could become members of the tour by playing just four events on it apart from the majors and the World Golf Championships, which all elite players enter in any case. Players such as Ernie Els and Retief Goosen have taken advantage of this to play the PGA and European Tours concurrently and even Tiger Woods, who has sometimes played nine of the necessary eleven events, once suggested that he might enter the extra four required so that he could win the European Order of Merit, although he has yet to do so. For the 2009 season, the number of minimum events required for members was increased to twelve; this coincided with the elevation of the HSBC Champions, previously a European Tour event co-sanctioned by three other tours, to World Golf Championships status.
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