In the 1980s when Greg Norman was at his flying best, lining fairways six people deep, and seriously influencing television ratings, he was being paid about $300,000 a week to play in Australia. The public got to see the best player in the world all around the country, and few of the rank and file pros begrudged Norman s fee, because they understood the magnitude and importance of his presence. Prior to Norman s emergence, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and American based Australian star Bruce Devlin regularly played Australia biggest events as a part of an arrangement their manager, Mark McCormack had with the Dunlop Slazenger Company. They made world-class clubs and the royalties earned were no doubt significant for the time. The superstars gave obvious credibility to the tournaments, and their presence gave golfers their only chance to watch the best players in the world in the era before the televising of overseas golf. Everybody won. Peter Thomson has always been a vocal critic of the principle of appearance fees. In 2001 he wrote in The Age that The payment of appearance fees in events that purport to be championships , where everyone starts on an equal footing, has forever been an embarrassment. The banning of it since 1953 has been the making of the USPGA Tour. Places such as Australia, Brazil, and Morocco have all succumbed to the temptation to buy someone s appearance. There are pro s and con s to Thomson s argument. In America there are a number of players, for example, who sport a Royal Bank of Canada logo on their shirts. Technically the endorsement fee is not appearance money but you can be sure that every one of them plays the RBC sponsored Canadian Open. The US Tour also has an extraordinarily generous pension scheme that pays out millions of dollars to players when they retire. One could argue it is appearance money by another name and that, rather than being paid out week-by-week, it comes in a massive lump at the end of ones career. Of course, everyone gets a share depending on how well they play, whereas appearance fees are the preserve of the few. The issue though is Australia and our four significant events the Open, the PGA Australian the Masters and Perth International. When Australian Tour Tournament director Andrew Langford-Jones says appearance money is killing our tour it’s hard to argue with the economics. Whilst Norman s $300,000 seemed like an awful lot of money for a weeks work it pales into insignificance when compared to the $3,000,000 that was paid to Tiger Woods to play at Kingston Heath in 2009. As great as Woods golf has been and as much as he has done to boost the incomes of his contemporaries (as Arnold Palmer, Norman and Ballesteros did for previous generations in America, Australia and Europe) one legacy of Woods is the staggering escalation in fees for those a level below. His management sets his fee somewhere around $3,000,000. You can well make a case he is worth that. Like Norman there can be no question he sells thousands of extra tickets and turns on television sets all around the country. The problem is the market. Woods setting his price at three million suggests to Mickelson (or more accurately, his management) he is worth 2.5. Perhaps he is. You could make that argument. That in turn makes Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy worth a million and a half. Call Sergio Garcia s manager and invite the flashy Spaniard to play at Royal Sydney, Lake Karrinyup Royal Melbourne or Royal Pines and the fee, one assumes won t be far below a million dollars. If Woods set his price at a far more reasonable and sustainable number the rest would be forced to charge relative to him; and it hardly needs to be pointed out that they are not curing cancer or solving the crisis in the Middle East. Thomson saw it as his responsibility, when he was one of the very best in the game, to promote the local tour and he and his great friend Kel Nagle were unstinting in their support of tournaments in both Australian and New Zealand. Of course, it was a different time and the riches of today s U.S Tour were unimagined. Our homegrown pros however would do well not to forget the legacy of Thomson and Nagle, and before them Norman Von Nida. There mayn t even be a tour without the foundation they built. Now, more than ever, our best players need to come back and support, and most do, but they are not doing it for nothing and the question is whether that is sustainable. How much can we afford before the tournaments become uneconomic? Robert Allenby has been an incredible supporter of the tour here. Adam Scott plays for well under his market value, if the $1 million + number is right for one of the other major champions. Geoff Ogilvy, John Senden and Greg Chalmers play every summer and look like they enjoy doing it. Mark Leishman has played some fine golf in America, and he too comes back. Jason Day, our next best-performed player behind Scott, is seemingly reluctant to play as much as the best from the past in Australia. He is what they like to call an independent contractor and can do what he likes, but he will wear out the goodwill of the Australian fans if he makes it clear coming home for a couple of weeks to support the tour is not important to him. In their defense, it is hardly reasonable to ask our players to play for nothing when equal, or lesser-ranked foreign players are being paid to appear. It is critical for both golf fans and the generation of players to come for our best events to survive. To do that the economics must work, and that means the best Australian players asking for something less than the market may suggest they are worth.
Author: Mike Clayton / Golf.org.au