SHOW THEM THE MONEY
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.”