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“Put the legends front and centre.” That was how entrepreneur Ryan Howsam summarised his vision for metamorphosing the European Senior Tour into something the sport had never seen. As the 2022 season draws to a close, it is safe to say this ambitious plan is already bearing fruit and the video below offers a behind-the-scenes insight into what's changed.
Since it's 2020 rebrand, masterminded by new majority stakeholder Howsam, the Legends Tour has reinvented European senior golf. The Alliance Series is one of the few official tournaments that gives amateur participants the chance to play alongside some of golf’s biggest names. Meanwhile, the popular Celebrity Series draws in crowds to see an eclectic range of stars from the world of sport and entertainment take to the course.
Unlike most Pro-Am tournaments, though, the Alliance Series places the focus firmly on the experience. Treated like pros from the moment they arrive, participants are immersed in the luxury of world-class golf. As well as sharing a course with the greats, the Legends Tour gives passionate amateur players access to locker rooms and clubhouses. Also on offer are local caddies who know the course, fine dining and accommodation between rounds and a prizegiving to top off each event. This is more than a Pro-Am: this is an opportunity for amateur golfers to get a real professional experience.
This year’s Legends Tour schedule has been an intercontinental excursion through some of golf’s best venues and hidden gems, from Jersey’s historic La Moye to Scotland’s Gleneagles. On one side of the star-studded line-up are golf’s household names like Paul McGinley and Ian Woosnam, while Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler, legendary jockey AP McCoy and TV presenter and scratch golfer Dan Walker are regulars on the celebrity circuit.
Given the unusual nature of the guestlist, you would be forgiven for thinking that the professionals see the trip as merely a chance to have fun in a casual setting. But Howsam knows that could not be further from the truth. “These guys are trying to win and they’re very, very competitive,” he says, which adds up - you don’t hit the heights of a McGinley or a Woosnam without a major competitive streak.
“Having the stars of the past on here is so, so important,” according to keen golfer Howsam, who regularly competes against those players who earn a living from his tour. “Obviously, they’re the names that we can sell on the back of”.
That is proven to be the case – the full Alliance Tour experience costs between £8,000 and £12,000, and there’s been no shortage of participants happy to meet that price. It includes personalised gifts, up to three rounds of competitive golf (with pros joining for at least two), access to top-of-the-range facilities, hospitality and a caddie. With that in mind, Howsam says that “whilst it is quite expensive, it’s all relative. I think it is priced about right”.
This is from a man who knows the value of such a large sum. Coming from a humble background, the budget for top-level golf was out of Howsam’s reach as a youngster. “I came from a council house. We didn’t have a lot of money for lessons and that stuff, and I went to work selling double glazing, when I was 17.” He had moved to live with his grandmother three years earlier due to a rocky relationship with his father. “I did a year of A-Levels and got thrown out!”
That is not to say his love of the game hadn’t manifested itself at an early age: “As a 16-year-old, I could have gone down the assistant pro route. I wanted to get into golf, I went to work and saw what the guys were earning. I didn’t pick any clubs up until I was 22, 23, then I stopped again when I was about 26. I don’t think you could ever say that I was ever on a route to be a professional golfer.”
Building a future for himself took priority, and Howsam took to sales like a duck to water. Initially selling double glazing door-to-door, the industry instilled a hard-working, hustling mentality in Howsam that shot him to rapid success. He was the top salesperson in the country by 19 and soon became an entrepreneur.
What followed would be a rollercoaster of triumphs and failures that Howsam admits would teach him some vital life lessons. From the ground up, he spent his 40s building travel insurance giants Staysure.
“[At the start] it went after a niche market. It started in the over-50s market, and then it went after medical travel insurance. We dwarf everyone in terms of turnover and profit, but we started as a niche business.”
The company expanded in the blink of an eye and was soon a UK market leader, with an estimated 8million customers in under two decades. That was how Howsam first got involved with the European Senior Tour. The suggestion was actually first put to him by golfer Jeff Hall: “He suggested Staysure sponsoring the Senior Tour. I said ‘nah, I don’t think so’.”
Of course, the story does not end there. “They put a deal to me back in 2016 and I didn’t think the numbers really came together. They badgered me; I looked at it again in 2018 and we agreed a deal.”
The timing felt right because Howsam had recently gotten back into golf himself, riding on the wave of his newly erupted business. Around 2014, he picked up his clubs again and started to get back into the swing of things. Still, he has to bow down to the skills of the professionals who grace his events.
“When I’m going out here, I’m still not scoring. I can score with my mates, but not out here in tournament play. I’m not good enough for this.” Still, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy teeing it up against the legends. “If you’re the chairman of a football club, you can’t run on the pitch with Ronaldo, can you?” he adds with a smile.
After a few years working with the European Senior Tour, Howsam was satisfied with the sponsorship. As a lover of golf he enjoyed getting involved with the events when he could, and the deal was benefiting his brand, but the entrepreneurial side of his brain couldn’t help feeling like there was a golden goose waiting to be hatched.
“They weren’t really marketing the thing. You’ve got great people playing and nobody knows about it! I just thought there was an opportunity to take it from what it was into something that was properly marketed. That was probably one of my core skills: putting the legends front and centre”.
Howsam approached the tour with his vision for a revitalised brand, and the Legends Tour was born. Where a lot of businesspeople would have secured Staysure’s naming rights as part of the deal, Howsam resisted the temptation. “I had to put another hat on and say, ‘what’s the best name for this tour?’ and these are legends of the game... that felt like the right name”.
After spending 2020 transforming the tour, its debut season was a roaring success. Howsam, though, won’t have the Legends Tour resting on its laurels. Plans for the future are dripping with the same ambition and experimental mindset that got him where he is today.
“A senior Ryder Cup is an absolute must. I’m pushing so hard to try and get that done, and I think that will be massive for us. Senior golf needs it.
“Then just taking up the prize funds, making sure we’ve got some marquee players and putting it on the map... can we get golf on the back pages again? It is a sport and, for some reason, the newspapers aren’t really writing about it. There are still great characters, and if you’ve not been out and seen them… these guys can really, really play. I don’t think people realise how good these guys are.”
It doesn’t stop there. “One of the other areas that we’re looking at quite seriously is creating Legends Tour resorts. Imagine lifestyle living using the Legends Tour brand.” The scope for expansion is there because, Howsam feels, golf is experiencing a high point in the aftermath of the pandemic. So how do we capitalise on that and make sure the growth continues?
“First of all, getting more ladies out, we need to promote that more. The disability stuff we’ve been doing is interesting and, I think, good for the game. Just getting young people involved more and more. I mean, golf is booming now, it really is. I want the Legends Tour to grow but it is not just about the over 50s market. I want to see a more diverse audience. I want kids and families following the game more on the whole. We just cannot let this opportunity slip from our grasp and anyone who has a footing in golf should be looking to ensure the best future for the game, at every level.”
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