The inaugural season of the new Challenge Tour is to get under way today at the Meadowside Leisure Centre in Burton.
There has been much excitement and a general feeling of progression in the sport since the announcement of a new Challenge Tour for amateur players was announced more than a year ago.
Since then, details have naturally emerged about the format of the series, with ten events set to take place across the UK and into Europe for its debut campaign in 2018/19.
A prize fund of £10,000 is being given to each tournament with the winner taking home a not too shabby total of £2,000 for his or her efforts.
Before the outset of the season, it had been planned that each event would consist of 64 players, plus a few additional add-ons at the discretion of the WPBSA, consisting primarily of the best competitors from this year’s Q School.
However, a disappointing total of 59 players have entered the draw for the first event this weekend and there have already been plenty of questions raised across social media as to the scheduling that has been enforced on the contenders.
Q School only finished a couple of days ago, granted at the same venue, but the marathon three-event slog that took more than a fortnight to complete will have taken a huge chunk out of an amateur player’s budget – taking in entry costs, travel, food, and, potentially worst of all, accommodation.
While one can understand the decision made to host an event in the immediate aftermath of Q School, with the majority of the players already in the area and perhaps a venue that is readily available, it does seem perplexing to put so much strain on the players so soon after what would have been a huge disappointment for most after failing to graduate onto the Main Tour.
A winner’s cheque of £2,000 is decent for a Challenge Tour event but a first round loss, boasting zero prize money, or even a second round defeat that carries a purse of just £125, is hardly going to cover the costs.
In that regard, it’s clear why so many of the high-performers of Q School, who earned no dosh at all for their efforts despite many of them coming close to joining the pro circuit, chose to miss this event in favour of a little reflection, recuperation, and recovery.
It’s certainly a pity, though, because the Challenge Tour should be something that is lauded in general but this is not the kind of start that the organisers would have been hoping for and there’s a danger that the whole season could become a bit of a laughing stock if events follow a similar trend throughout the campaign.
The fact that there are players in Saturday’s line-up who failed to even win a single match in Q School is already somewhat of a joke.
Still, there’s the dangling carrot of two Main Tour places being made available for the top two players on the Challenge Tour rankings list come the end of the campaign, so it’s sure to be competitive enough at the business end of proceedings in each of the ten events.
And, despite this obvious shaky beginning, the Challenge Tour remains a positive plan on paper for the sport that desperately needs a viable support structure to provide amateur players with more avenues to participate and proceed onto the professional ranks.