DAMN you, Tiger Woods. Damn you for making golf one of the wealthiest sports on the planet. While your decade of dominance (yes, we remember) may have been directly responsible for ballooning tournament purses and sponsorship to record levels, it also inflated the egos of tour professionals way beneath you. Now, it appears, some of those egos have filtered their way into Australia’s playing ranks and it’s causing some, shall we say, contractual conundrums.
That’s the opinion of one representative of a golf equipment giant Down Under whose popular brand is getting increasingly frustrated with Gen-Y’s grip on reality. Whether it’s a young gun from the amateur ranks or a familiar face straight out of tour school, there appears to be a lot of contention around one big question: how much is a young pro really worth?
“I have been trying to work with sponsoring the next generation golf pros and it is interesting how much they think they’re worth,” our frustrated source says.
“The golf retail industry in Australia is only worth around $200 million per annum, so while there is this huge illusion there are billions of dollars in golf from a manufacturer’s standpoint, the pie is quite small when compared to other markets.”
Fifteen years ago, a start-up pro being offered free clubs, apparel and footwear for 12 months from a major manufacturer – plus a nominal sum for tournament-related expenses – would have been the opportunity of a lifetime. Sadly, this is the type of proposal now being declined by several youngsters – players with nothing on their playing resume, little marketability and a David-and-Goliath battle ahead of them just to make tournament cuts. “And then you have journeymen pros who have been back to tour school three or four years in a row suggesting that we should be offering a retainer,” adds the source. “Sponsoring players has become a bit of a joke in this country, it really has.”
So what’s brought on the ridiculous player demands here in Australia? Sure, some of the more profitable brands have more financial muscle to flex, but our source believes it also has a lot to do with the support networks around today’s vulnerable young players. “I once had a father of a talented 12-year-old demand a vehicle, accommodation, an allowance and return international airfares if he was to even consider his son partnering with our brand,” he recalls. “You can guess how we responded. So often it’s the parents of the kids that make these ridiculous demands. The kids themselves are lovely to deal with – gracious, humble and they have good morals. Sadly, they have little say in the final decision.”
He said Australia’s very best young players – names like Ryan Ruffels and Todd Sinnott who recently inked their first professional contracts – are worth every cent because their performances and marketability justify the spend. The next tier down? “Not a chance.”
The greatest example of a young player worthy of big sponsorship dollars is American sensation Jordan Spieth. Under Armour tore up the final two years of its existing endorsement deal with the Masters champion just so it could lock him away long-term on a new 10-year mega deal. It’s believed the new contract includes many performance-based incentives. Yep, even the world No.1 has to perform to get paid.
So the moral of the story for our boys is pretty clear: companies will pay big bucks if you’re really worth it. But if you’re coming out of another tour school with limited status and little hope, perhaps it’s best you accept your free clubs and shoes with a smile and just be grateful someone still thinks you’re relevant.