Image courtesy Chris Dean/PDC
THE Coral UK Open will enjoy a huge change in format for 2019 and a prize fund boost to £450,000, with all PDC Tour Card Holders guaranteed a place in an expanded 160-player field for the event as they compete for a £100,000 first prize.
In the biggest move since the tournament was introduced in 2003, the PDC will be abolishing the UK Open Qualifiers for professional players which had previously been used to determine 96 qualifiers.
All 128 Tour Card Holders will now be invited straight into the UK Open from 2019 onwards, with the field complemented by 16 Rileys Amateur Qualifiers and 16 qualifiers from the 2018 PDC Unicorn Challenge Tour Order of Merit.
The UK Open's unique open draw format will remain in place, with the Tour Card Holders being exempt from the early rounds based on their PDC ranking.
Play will again be across eight stages simultaneously at the Butlin's Minehead Resort from March 1-3, with the action culminating with the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final on the main stage on Sunday.
The UK Open's top prize will increase to tournament record £100,000 in 2019, with a total prize fund of £450,000 on offer and being paid down to the last 96.
"We're always looking at ways to enhance the value of securing a PDC Tour Card, and this is both an important and exciting development for players," said PDC Chief Executive Matthew Porter.
"The UK Open is a real favourite with both players, fans and television viewers and will still retain the unique combination of amateur qualifiers and professional stars.
"The change will be accompanied by an increased prize fund of £450,000 and also allows the expansion of the ProTour circuit to include more Players Championship events for professionals to compete in.
"Following the recent expansion of the William Hill World Darts Championship, this is another positive development for players ahead of our forthcoming 2019 PDC calendar announcement."
PDPA Chief Executive Alan Warriner-Little said: "The PDC circuit continues to improve and The PDPA gives its full support to these innovative and exiting changes to the UK Open, which can only be of benefit to our players and the game as a whole.
"This 17th year of the UK Open now gives all of our Tour Card Holders and top Associate Members a new challenge and opportunity whilst continuing to give amateur players the chance the fulfil their ambitions in ‘The FA Cup of Darts’."
Eight events remain to be played across two weekends on the 2018 Challenge Tour circuit on September 8-9 and November 10-11, with the top two players from the final Order of Merit claiming a PDC Tour Card.
Following the 2019 PDC Qualifying School, the next 16 ranked non-Tour Card Holders from the final 2018 Challenge Tour Order of Merit will be invited to compete in the UK Open.
Two Players Championship weekends will replace the UK Open Qualifiers on the 2019 PDC calendar ahead of the cut-off for professional players' exemptions for the UK Open draw.
Butlin's Weekend Break Packages, which include tickets for all six sessions of darts plus accommodation at the Butlin's Minehead Resort can be booked through bigweekends.com.