If you’re a serious, perhaps even an old school, darts fan then you should follow the PDC Challenge Tour in 2019. The PDC’s equivalent of The Championship retains many of the advantages of the Pro Tour, such as great playing conditions that are constant for every event, efficient and consistent organisation (and officialdom) as well as, thanks to DartsConnect.com, excellent real-time playing coverage and statistical / data availability.
Sure, there are a few drawbacks, limited spectator/guest space and no streaming (yet?) being the major ones. But if you like open, regular, competitive and less predictable darts, often of very high standards, this is the place.
Why it Matters.
Challenge Tour (CT) weekends have been of increasing importance, and standard, over the last few years and it appears they will continue to be so. The BDO’s decision to allow players to attend Q School without consequence lead to quite a few additional big names, and high-quality players, now being eligible for CT 2019. In addition, the number of former PDC major players, whether slightly past their peak or returning to winning ways, is growing every year as a generational change moves across the Pro Tour.
In its original format, the CT was a decent enough second division for up & coming players or those who had lost their way, combined with a majority of what could be described as journeymen ( & Women) dart players who could enjoy a great weekend’s serious darts for relatively little cost. It has turned into an extension of the Pro-Tour for many who, for one reason or another, narrowly failed to win a Pro Tour Card.
For those who can reach the higher echelons of the CT, after Events 1-4, they will be able to play the qualifier events for the European Tour as well as filling any missing spaces on the Pro Tour itself. The combination of regular highly competitive darts, in a similar environment, decent income and opportunities at the next level, can be highly effective and beneficial.
An Alternative Route to the Top or a Return Path for the Fallen?
Rob CRoss managed to use the CT as a staging post on his fairytale route to winning at every level of the PDC Tour and claiming the World ChampionshipMicheal Barnard demonstrated this very effectively in 2018. After missing out on a tour card Barnard set about the CT with a vengeance. His two final appearances, & a Qtr final, ensured that he would be at every Euro Tour qualifier for 2018 as well as putting him at the top of the substitute list for the first few Pro Tour events. The £2,300 probably eased any financial worries as well! Thus a more relaxed Barnard reached the last 16 of his first Pro Tour event of the year, qualified for the UK Open and scored a Euro Tour qualification before the next challenge tour weekend was due! Needless to say, he did not stop there. Within weeks Barnard turned into a regular winner of early round money on the Pro Tour, boosted by his CT efforts, and over the season qualified for both the Players Championship Finals and then The World Championship itself. His earnings in this period exceeded £55,000! The icing on the cake, for Micheal, took the form of an automatic tour card meaning no Q School and a place on the Pro Tour itself for 2019. How he will perform, without the second tier earnings, regular winning habits and camaraderie, is yet to be revealed.
Overall the CT is usually about ten points below the main tour, with players averaging around eighty. This, however, includes a small number of players who are in the very early stages of development and thus can produce some very low scores. This type of player no longer features on the highest tour thus Pro Tour averages come from a selected elite group. It may well be that the difference is more like five points than ten when this is taken into account. There are a very large number of players overall, over 500 are eligible to play, and a very large percentage are of similar ability. As a result, players such as Wayne Jones and Alan Tabern have found the slightly lower average level useful in re-finding their feet and returning to Pro Tour. The CT even has its yo-yo players such as Mark Frost ( Frosty The Throw Man!) who seemed to be too good for one and not able to progress in the other.
Better and Better
2019 promises a change, the experience level of many of the players is remarkably high. There are world champions, runners up, Premier League players as well as hardened semi-pro types from all over the UK and increasingly the rest of the globe! The talent and potential are virtually limitless and I suspect we will see very high-performance levels and possible records being set on a regular basis.
Add to the above the fact that the draw is totally open and fresh for every event, and you have a recipe for a very explosive and entertaining series of tournaments that may well prove better than ever before and a hidden highlight of the PDC. Surely Barry Hearn will not miss the opportunity to promote the PDC’s efforts for long and streaming will be extended to include the CT.
If your a darts fan and love unpredictable, high level and seriously competitive darts then the 2019 CT is not to be missed. Until then snag yourself a guest pass, boot up your laptop or get practising for next years Q School.