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The ALLIANZ EurOpen de Lyon taking place at Golf du Gouverneur this week is the second of three Allianz Golf Tour events on the 2009 Challenge Tour schedule which together form a key part of the development of golf in France.

It is a remarkable success story and indications are that further success is just around the corner. Born from a study in 2005 by the French Golf Federation (FFG), which highlighted the poor state of health of French professional golf, the ultimate aim is to get French players into the top 50 of the Official World Golf Rankings by building solid foundations to help their early development.

The study showed that beyond the top dozen players or so, it was very difficult for players to make a living from the game and for tournament promoters to put on events. And, critically, there was no link between events as each was organised separately at a regional level.

Antoine Robin, Director of the Allianz Golf Tour, explained the rationale behind the new tour. “It was decided we needed to create a tour and link all the tournaments together to have a series of events which we could explain to the public and sponsors. Allianz were involved in the Open de France and wanted to have some great events in their six main commercial areas of France. Golf is the perfect business tool for Allianz, as they can invite clients to the Pro-Ams and entertain them with hospitality, and they are very pleased with how things are progressing.”

The result is a series of 13 events - nine on the Alps Tour and three on the Challenge Tour along with the Allianz Golf Tour finale; the Allianz Championship de Barbaroux. The Tour was launched in 2007 and covers the whole of France, from Paris to Strasbourg, Brittany to Alsace, the Midi to Normandy. The three Challenge Tour events, effectively the majors on the Allianz Golf Tour, cover Brittany, Lyon and Toulouse. The Allianz Golf Tour links the second and third tiers of professional golf in France, giving more playing opportunities for young golfers.

The signs of progress are becoming clear. In 2007, Julien Quesne finished Number One on the Allianz Golf Tour while last year that honour went to Julien Guerrier. Both players are on the cusp of the top 20 of the Challenge Tour Rankings and pushing for a place on The European Tour.

In broader figures, through the 1990s, France averaged 3.3 players in the top 100 of The European Tour. That figure is up to 5.4 for the first decade of the new century and rising as France, once lagging far behind the likes of Ireland and Spain, has not only caught up but overtaken them.

Allianz also support the game at amateur level with the Allianz Golf Cup and winners of this get invited to play in the Pro-Ams, further strengthening the golfing ties across all levels. Allianz’s sponsorship goes further as they sponsor three French players directly – Michael Lorenzo-Vera, Julien Grillon and Edouard Dubois.

For all French players the Allianz Golf Tour has given them more opportunities with a high allocation of places for national players in each starting field. There is also improved prize money.

“From a Federation perspective, we can explain to players that in 2006 the prize money for all tournaments was about €500,000 but has since almost doubled to €950,000,” said Robin. “All tournaments are covered by our television teams and broadcast on Sport+, part of Canal+. That was not the case before the Allianz Golf Tour and that has helped enormously. We are looking to improve the quality of events and services to players with player lounges, physios and more and the Challenge Tour is central to our plans.

“The most important thing is to develop the number of French players on The European Tour and the right way to do that is through the Challenge Tour. And ultimately the real aim is to have more and more players in the top 50 of the world.”

Alain de Soultrait, Director of the Challenge Tour, said: “The strategy put in place by the French Federation together with the strong support from Allianz is a perfect example of what can be achieved.

“This example of the collaboration of the French Federation and Allianz shows what can be done in the development of golf when you integrate the Challenge Tour. On behalf of the Challenge Tour, our thanks go to the French Federation and Allianz for their vision and support.”

France might not be there just yet but the signs are good and with Allianz extending their commitment to 2012, the future looks bright for French golf.
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