SHOW THEM THE MONEY

Golf Australia - - TEEING OFF - 10 | BY BRENDAN JAMES | GOLF AUSTRALIA EDI­TOR

THE 2017 edi­tions of the Emi­rates Aus­tralian Open and the Aus­tralian PGA Cham­pi­onship will be played in con­sec­u­tive weeks start­ing at the end of this month. There is no ques­tion­ing that both are pres­ti­gious events with long, rich his­to­ries of great play­ers hold­ing their re­spec­tive tro­phies aloft.

In Syd­ney, fans will get to see the reign­ing Open Cham­pion and the de­fender of our na­tional ti­tle, Jordan Spieth, along­side our high­est-ranked player, Jason Day. On the Gold Coast a week later, Masters Cham­pion Ser­gio Gar­cia will make his first PGA ap­pear­ance be­side our own green jacket win­ner Adam Scott.

Four bril­liant play­ers who will un­doubt­edly at­tract thou­sands of golf fans through the gates at both events, which cer­tainly vin­di­cates the ap­pear­ance fees each will re­ceive just for teeing it up.

Spieth and Gar­cia, as reign­ing ma­jor win­ners, will be grab­bing the lion’s share of the fees. It is ru­moured each of them will bank a seven-fig­ure sum cour­tesy of the NSW and Queens­land Govern­ments re­spec­tively, as the tourism/ma­jor events arms of both are ma­jor sup­port­ers of the Open and PGA.

Day and Scott will also be re­ceiv­ing ap­pear­ance fees, but just how much is un­cer­tain. What is cer­tain is that Scott, who has been one of the most reg­u­lar of sup­port­ers of our events through­out his ca­reer, has al­ways played for a fee well be­low his mar­ket value.

It’s not just our best play­ers who will be re­ceiv­ing an ap­pear­ance fee to play at home this this sum­mer. A se­lec­tion of well-cre­den­tialed Aus­tralian play­ers will be paid smaller, but not in­signif­i­cant, amounts to play the Open and PGA. While they cer­tainly add to the depth of tal­ent in each event, one could ar­gue they won’t in­spire vast num­bers of golf fans to move heaven and earth to get to the golf.

I cite the ex­am­ple of one player, a PGA Tour win­ner, who was playing in the Aus­tralian Open a few years ago af­ter re­ceiv­ing a $50,000 fee. There was a hand­ful of peo­ple fol­low­ing him around, two of them were spec­ta­tors.

Ex­am­ples like this have been able to come to pass be­cause play­ers and their man­agers learn what other play­ers are get­ting and see their worth as the same or even greater. It’s then up to the tour­na­ment or­gan­is­ers to come up with the cash.

In their de­fence though, it is not fair to ask qual­ity Aus­tralian play­ers to play for noth­ing when for­eign play­ers, with a lower world rank­ing, are be­ing paid to come and play. Nor should you be­lieve that it is the play­ers who have their hand out.

How much can the or­gan­is­ers of the Open and PGA, as well as their ma­jor spon­sors, af­ford to pay be­fore our two flag­ship events be­come un­eco­nom­i­cal?

We have al­ready lost the Aus­tralian Masters, which dished out $3 mil­lion – via the Vic­to­rian Govern­ment – to at­tract Tiger Woods here in 2009. The tour­na­ment that year was bril­liant with record crowds and good TV rat­ings. But by 2016, the tour­na­ment was gone and the rip­ple ef­fect that ap­pear­ance fee (plus Mid­dle East event fees) has had on the mar­ket has sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased the costs of get­ting play­ers to tee it up.

There­fore, is it any won­der then why the to­tal prize­money purse at this year’s Aus­tralian Open will be $1.25 mil­lion, which is just $250,000 more than it was when Lee West­wood beat Greg Nor­man in a play-off to win at Metropoli­tan GC in 1997?

That said, Golf Australia – which owns the Aus­tralian Open – could raise the prize­money to $7 mil­lion, like the Turk­ish Air­lines Open or Ned­bank Chal­lenge in South Africa, and they would still have to pay ap­pear­ance fees to at­tract a se­lec­tion of top-20 world-ranked play­ers.

You can’t blame the play­ers though. If some­one told you to go play in a tour­na­ment on the other side of the globe, with all travel and ac­com­mo­da­tion taken care of, you could win a tro­phy and some money, and you’ll get paid $500K or $1 mil­lion to go. Not one of you read­ing this would knock it back.

And you can be sure when a player sits in front of the me­dia be­fore a tour­na­ment this sum­mer and says they “love it here”, “what a great place” or they are “happy to be home” they gen­uinely mean it. But rest as­sured there will a Jerry Maguire sit­ting some­where count­ing the cash … “Show me the money.”

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