The History and Development of The European Tour Qualifying School
The first Qualifying School (known as the PGA Tournament Players Division Qualifying School) was played at Foxhills (Longcross and Chertsey Courses) and Walton Heath (New Course) from November 8th – 11th over 72 holes. There were 261 participants aiming to get into the top 120. Eventually 127 qualified to get a Tour Card allowing them to go to “Monday Qualifying”. Prize money of £1,400 was on offer and the first ever winner of the Qualifying School was David A. Russell – other notable card winners included Ian Woosnam and Gordon J. Brand. The first Qualifying School was administered by Tony Gray and John Paramor.
The Qualifying School returned to Foxhills with an increased entry of 307 playing for a top 100 place. The eventual winner was Sandy Lyle who earned a cheque for £300.
The QS became known as the PGA European Tournament Players Division Qualifying School and returned to Foxhills where the entry exceeded 350 players with the number of cards available reduced to 80 and ties.The event was won by Glenn Ralph and Stephen Evans. Notable card winners included Ian Woosnam (again), Derrick Cooper, Andrew Murray, Keith Waters and Warren Humphreys .
The Qualifying School moved to Portugal for the first time as part of a three year deal with Dom Pedro and Quinta do Lago. With the number of entries of increasing the decision was taken to split the QS into two weeks of 72 hole competition with 40 cards available each week. (1977 QS winner Sandy Lyle topped The European Tour Order of Merit and won the Vardon Trophy.)
The two tournament system in The Algarve remained in place but the cards were reduced to 35 and ties each week. The first week was won by Paul Carrigill and the second by Manuel Montes from Spain (the first continental European winner).
In line with the change in title of the official body, the QS changed name to the PGA European Tour Qualifying School. Prize money doubled to £2,000 per week and the number of cards on offer each week dropped to 30 and ties. Gordon Brand Jnr and Roger Chapman finished first and second respectively on week one. Anders Forsbrand, Mats Lanner and Paul Way came through the second week.
The Qualifying School moved to La Manga, a 36 hole complex in Spain and was played over the North and South Courses. The format remained as two 72 hole events played over consecutive weeks with 30 and ties qualifying from each. The winners each week were José Rivero and Grant Turner respectively. Magnus Persson from Sweden became the youngest ever card winner at 17 years and 116 days.
La Manga again hosted the QS and David Ray and Andrew Oldcorn and Fredric Regard topped their respective weeks from the 326 competitors taking part.
Year of change. On the European Tour only the top 125 (down from 150) automatically retained their cards in 1984 as the Tour moved to an All Exempt Tour. This also resulted in major changes at the QS. The event moved to a single competition played over six rounds rather than four. Some players were given an exemption through to this event and all others had to go through 36 hole qualifying at La Manga the week before. There were a total of 388 entries – up from 326 the year before. The number of cards on offer reduced to 50 exactly and for the first time players were ranked from one to 50 (based on their finishing position) which would determine the events that they would be able to play on the new All Exempt Tour in 1985. Robert Wrenn Jnr and Jeff Sluman (both American) headed the QS but subsequently went on win tour cards at the USPGA Tour Qualifying School played later in the year and did not play any events on the European Tour in 1985. Indeed a total of 15 Americans won European Tour cards including Nathaniel Crosby (son of the late Bing Crosby). Prize money went up to £6,000.
Nineteen year old José Maria Olazábal led from start to finish to win the QS over the North and South Courses at La Manga. Prize money rose for the second year running to £10,000. Thirty-one non–European players won Tour Cards (out of 52). Andy McFee took over from John Paramor as Qualifying School Director.
Pre-Qualifying moved away from La Manga for the first time and was split into two stages. Pre-Qualifying 1 (PQ1) was played at Foxhills and Silvermere in England in September and Pre-Qualifying 2 (PQ2) was played at El Saler and Escorpion in Valencia, Spain in November. Both events were played over 36 holes and players could enter either PQ1 or PQ2. If they failed at PQ1 they were also allowed to try their luck again at PQ2.
La Manga hosts the QS Final again and the former Australian Amateur Champion, Wayne Smith chips in twice in his final round to win by one shot.
American Mike Smith came though pre-qualifying and won the QS. Colin Montgomerie headed the qualifiers at Foxhills during PQ1 and went on to earn 28th card at the QS at his first attempt. Notable “failures” at this year’s QS included Miguel Angel Jiménez, Jesper Parnevik and Vijay Singh. Prize money went up to £12,000.
Ironically, after their performances the previous year, Jepser Parnevik topped the list of qualifiers with Vijay Singh second and Miguel Angel Jimenez sixth.
As the venues for Pre-Qualifying are increased to six (PQ1 – Foxhills, Silvermere and Bolton Old Links, PQ2 – El Saler, El Bosque and Escorpion , entries for the QS reached a record of 497 and Germany’s Heinz Peter Thuel topped the qualifiers. This proved to be the final year of the event at La Manga.
The QS experienced a further significant rise in entries as they reached a total of 542. The Final moved to Massane and La Grande Motte in the South of France. Qualifiers included Phillip Price, Per- Ulrik Johansson, Darren Clarke, Robert Karlsson, Peter Lonard and Thomas Levet.
With the continued increase in the level of entries (554 this year) the PQ1 and PQ2 venues were expanded to seven (PQ1 – Manchester GC, Bolton Old Links, Quietwaters, PQ2 – El Saler, El Bosque, Escorpion, Mediterraneo).
The number of Cards was reduced from 50 to 40 and field size for the Final was reduced to 180.
Notable card winners included Paul McGinley and Paul Lawrie.
PQ venues are increased to eight in total (PQ1 – Quietwaters, Bolton Old Links, Manchester GC, Collingtree, PQ2 – Girona, Emporda, Pals, Mas Nou) as the Qualifying School ventured into the Catalan region of Spain for the first time. South Africa’s Retief Goosen topped the list of QS graduates.
PQ1 and PQ2 were extended to 54 hole competitions and continued at the same venues as in 1992. Lee Westwood earned his card at the first attempt by finishing 5th. Meanwhile Philip Golding finally won his card at the tenth attempt.
The QS was impacted by dreadful weather which caused severe flooding in the South of France. La Grand Motte was rendered unplayable for the whole week and the Final was reduced to four rounds which were all played at Massane. David Carter headed the list of qualifiers.
After five years in France the QS Final returned to Spain and was hosted by San Roque and Guadalmina. The number of cards was no longer set at 40 precisely (which normally resulted in agonising play-offs) but cards were now given to 40th position and ties.
Steve Webster went on to win the QS after winning the Silver Medal as the leading amateur at the Open Championship. Other notable qualifiers include Angel Cabrera (who had won PQ1 at Quietwaters but was attempting to get through QS for the fourth time) and Padraig Harrington (first attempt).
The number of venues at Pre-Qualifying was increased once again to nine (PQ1 – East Sussex, Five Lakes (formerly Quietwaters), Manchester, Slaley Hall, PQ2 – Emporda, Perelada, Pals, Panoramica, St Cyprien). The Final was played at San Roque and Sotogrande with Niclas Fasth topping the list of qualifiers. The previous year’s winner, Steve Webster, had to return to the QS but regained his card.
The total number of entries for the QS reached a record of 750 players. The Final went back to Guadalmina (and San Roque) but was severely affected by the bad weather and in the end only four of the scheduled six rounds were completed with Holland’s Chris Van Der Velde ranked first after four players tied on 280 (-8).
In 1996 the number of players earning a card off the Challenge Tour increased from ten to 15 and so the number of cards from QS was decreased from 40 and ties to 35 and ties to balance the numbers.
The Final was back at Sotogrande this year (along with San Roque as the main venue). Notable qualifiers included Geoff Ogilvy, Anders Hansen and Stephen Dodd.
There was a significant change this year as the Qualifying School developed into a proper three stage process with PQ1 and PQ2 being replaced by Stage One and Stage Two. All non-exempt players were now required to attend Stage One with the qualifiers then progressing to Stage Two. All Stage 1 and Stage 2 events were now played over four rounds rather than three and the field size for the Final was reduced to 168 players
Stage 1 Venues – Carden Park, Chart Hills, Five Lakes, Woodbury Park, Wynyard Hall (490 players total, 149 qualified)
Stage 2 Venues – Emporda, Pals, Perelada (93 exempt players and 149 qualifiers)
Final – San Roque, Sotogrande (73 exempt players and 95 qualifiers)
Total prize money for all Stages of the Qualifying process was now over £90,000 with £10,000 going to the winner.
Notable qualifiers included Ian Poulter and Justin Rose.
Stage 1 venues increased to five with the introduction of the first venue outside the UK – Moliets in the South of France. The list of qualifiers was led by Desvonde Botes from South Africa. Nicolas Colsaerts from Belgium became the second youngest player to earn a card at QS (18 years and eight days). This was the final year as Qualifying School Director for Andy McFee who had conducted the event for 16 years.
The QS Final continued at San Roque and Sotogrande with Nick Dougherty, David Park and Simon Khan all successful qualifiers. Mike Stewart took over from Andy McFee as Qualifying School Director.
The Qualifying School Final moved to Emporda and Pals in Catalunya as part of a two year arrangement – all Stage 2 venues were also in the same region of Spain. The Final was notable for strong winds (the Tramontana) and heavy rain which caused severe flooding. Thirteen of the 39 players who earned cards went on to become winners on tour.
Entries hit a new record of 803 players. This was the second year of the Final being played in Catalunya and Richard McEvoy topped the list of qualifiers. Although conditions were vastly improved over the previous year, fog still delayed the start of play for the fourth and sixth rounds. A notable qualifier was Ben Banks, son of Genesis keyboard player Tony. Prize money for the whole QS exceeded £100,000 for the first time (£109,000).
There was another significant jump in entries this year to 875 players. Germany hosted the QS for the first time as Cologne Golf Club became a Stage 1 venue. The Tour de Las Americas was recognised and granted exemption for the leading five players through to second Stage. The QS Final retuned to San Roque which was able to host the whole competition since the construction of the New Course in 2003. Athough Peter Gustafsson topped the list of graduates, the story of the week belonged to Neil Cheetham who eagled his final hole to qualify by one shot and secure one of the last cards. (A month later in his first event of the 2005 season, Cheetham lost out in a play-off for the Alfred Dunhill Championship, however, his prize of €82,000 was more that he earned in the remainder of the season and so he had to return to QS.) Prize money increased to £135,000.
Titles of the Qualifying School stages were revised to First Stage, Second Stage and Final Stage respectively. The increasing level of entries (876 this year) meant that six venues were now being used for the First Stage as Italy hosted the QS for the first time at Bogogno (Conte Course). The field size for the Final Stage was cut from 168 to 156. The number of cards on offer reduced from 35 and ties to 30 and ties.
The number of cards being given to the Challenge Tour graduates increased from 15 to 20, however, those ranked 16 – 20 were placed behind those coming though QS. (Ross Fisher and Tom Whitehouse who were both in this category went to the Final Stage and improved their rankings with Whitehouse finishing top.) Another change was that players from the Challenge Tour in 11th – 20th position would be included in the re-rank process for QS graduates.
(David Drysdale had finished 117th in the Order of Merit (116th secured a card) and so missed out on retaining his card by only €586. He contested QS but his total of 437 was one just too many and he failed regain his card by only one shot.)
Prize money saw a dramatic increase to £183,000.
The First Stage was run over two weeks and visited Sweden for the first time (Arlandastad):
1st Stage Section A – The Oxfordshire, Chart Hills, Arlandastad
1st Stage Section B – Moliets, St Annes Old Links, Bogogno
The Second Stage was extended to four venues:
Emporda, PGA Catalunya Resort, Costa Ballena, Sherry Golf
The Final ended up being played over eight days due to very heavy rainfall in the area which had left the Old Course saturated and as a result it was only used for one round out of the six. Alexandre Rocha and Carlos Rodiles tied the QS Final on -15 (with Rodiles ranked one). Oliver Fisher became the third youngest player to come through the QS process (18 years and 64 days).
This was the last year of the Final at San Roque and was marked once again by bad weather in the shape of strong winds. Martin Wiegele became the first Austrian to win the QS.
A record of 969 players from 42 nations participated in this years QS.
The World Amateur Ranking was recognised for the first time as the leading three players from the top 10 were given exemption to Second Stage.
Jesus Maria Arruti from Spain attended the QS for a record 20th time.
Dundonald Links became the first Scottish course to be a First Stage venue.
The Final moved to PGA Catalunya Resort which previously hosted Second Stage and was played over the Green and Red Courses (subsequently to become known as the Stadium and Tour Courses).
The tournament was won by Oskar Henningson who became the first player to come through all three stages of the QS and win the Final.
The QS (First Stage) visited Denmark for the first time (Lübker) and after a break of 28 years returned to Portugal (Ribagolfe). Simon Khan had to go back to the QS for the first time since 2001 but finished as the number one ranked player. In May 2010 he went on to claim the BMW PGA Championship. A total of 915 players from 48 different nations participated in the QS process.
A record number of 21 rookies gained their Tour card for the 2011 European Tour season from the 34 successful graduates. Rather than being played during a two week period, the First Stage of Qualifying School was spread over 4 weeks (Section A – D) with two venues hosting events during each week. The QS visited Austria for the first time as Golfclub Ebreichsdorf near Vienna became a host venue for First Stage. A record number of 21 rookies gained their Tour card for the 2011 European Tour season from the 34 successful graduates at PGA Catalunya Resort. England’s Simon Wakefield completed a successful week by topping the list of graduates.
A new record was established when 777 players contested First Stage. Once again the First Stage was spread over 4 weeks with Golf d’Hardelot in northern France and Frilford Heath in England making their debut as a venues. In total, 37 players secured their playing privileges on the European Tour with David Dixon leading the way by winning the QS Final Stage at PGA Catalunya. A record of 5 players from the Netherlands secured cards: Wil Besseling, Maarten Lafeber, Taco Remkes, Reiner Saxton and Tim Sluiter. A notable qualifier was Branden Grace who went on to win 4 tournaments on the European Tour in 2012.
The Qualifying School visited the Borders of Scotland for the first time when The Roxburghe Hotel and Golf Course hosted First Stage. For Second Stage, El Saler in Valencia and Lumine near Tarragona were also added to the schedule. El Saler had previously held PQ2 (the equivalent of 2nd Stage) from 1986 to 1991.
The number of Tour Cards available was reduced from 30 and ties to 25 and ties. The leading qualifier of 28 was England’s John Parry. Gary Orr became the oldest Qualifying School graduate, aged 45 years and 202 days. He also broke the record for the biggest gap between winning his first and latest card. He won his first card in 1992, a gap of 20 years. Interestingly, the only 2 players to contest the Final and win on Tour in 2013 both missed the 72 hole cut (Peter Uihlein and Jin Jeong).