The PGA Tour marches to its own beat but can never be accused of not looking after its own.
If the world’s greatest pension plan and playing for a $US1 million-plus winner’s cheque every week wasn’t enough to drive employee productivity, revelations the tour has found an extra $40 million to distribute to the 10 players it deems do the most to boost publicity and engagement certainly will.
The tour’s latest act of ‘charity’ – titled the Player Impact Program (PIP) – ignited a conga line of questions when it was confirmed. Why spend $US40 million this way? Why make a small group of men who are already multi-millionaires even richer? How will this encourage the tour’s highest-profile stars to play more events, tournaments that could, ironically, really do with their needle-moving power? Why not spend it propping up smaller tournaments on tour?
Many linked the show of generosity as a direct retaliation to the proposed Premier Golf League, the Saudi-backed start-up league that’s walking around offering golden handshakes to the game’s best players to jump ship. But whatever the motive, the PGA Tour is entitled to spend its new TV-rights fortune however it sees fit. It doesn’t have an obligation to grow the game of golf, as much as we think it should.
But here’s the confusing bit. During the 2019 President Cup, when Royal Melbourne once again shone as a tournament venue and drew uncharted praise from the likes of king needle mover Tiger Woods and Team USA, we asked tour commissioner Jay Monahan what it would take to get a PGA Tour event Down Under.
“While the prospect of bringing an event down to Australia is an exciting one, we have not had any relevant conversations since the Presidents Cup that would hint at the PGA Tour hosting an event in the near future,” Monahan replied. “There are a number of items that are required to secure a PGA Tour event – among them a title sponsor, a host organisation to run the event, a venue that is capable of hosting a PGA Tour event and a date on the schedule.”
Monahan elaborated further on the time-zone difficulties and travel commitments, but it didn’t take a genius to understand the true underlying message: You guys just don’t have the corporate dollars down here to make a $10 million purse achievable.
But what if the tour took, say, just 25 percent of its PIP funds and gave it to a country outside America (OK, Australia!) as a guaranteed prize purse? Then, what if they pinched another million and put their 10 needle-movers – and their families – on a private jet to be the face of the new tournament outside America?
For what it’s worth, the cost of running a viable PGA Tour-sized tournament in Australia is about $US15 million, including a $US10 million purse. The other five is made up from cash injections from corporates and tourism bodies. Australia’s problem has always been selling its big tournaments without a legitimate hook. When Tiger is in town, no problem. But without the Big Cat, or the top-10 players in the world, it’s a hard slog to get the corporate interest. As much as we love them, how many times can we flog a dead horse and rely on our big Aussie names to come home?
We ask again, what if our tournament promoters were given the carrot of a guaranteed $10 million in the kitty and the greatest golfers on the planet already getting paid to come for a holiday (pipedreams in the midst of a pandemic, sure)?
“If I could walk into the tourism agencies and present them with this exact proposition, they’d most definitely bite,” says a source in tournament promotions who asked to remain under anonymity. “Ideally, all you’d need is a commitment from the PGA Tour for, say, five years and you’d find the other $5 million very quickly, before you even approached the big corporates. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”
On top of this, the needle-movers would not only be showcasing the best of the PGA Tour on the course, they’d be Instagramming around the clock with their families off it – snapshotting our hotels, restaurants, beaches, theme parks, zoos… you name it, the world would inevitably see it across social media.
Hey, Jay, what could be more impactful for the PGA Tour brand than that? And the best part is you’d still have more than $25 million leftover in your PIP war chest every year – surely more than enough to pay a few guys to hog the spotlight, which they’re already obligated to do for their own endorsement purposes.
As American writer John Feinstein penned of the PIP being a direct response to the PGL threat: “It’s an overreaction to something that doesn’t even exist at the moment.”
How much longer will the PGA Tour keep underreacting to the need to expand beyond its Asian Swing safehouse?
Photography by Getty images: Warren Little