There’s a saying in business that it is one’s competitors who actually determines one’s pricing. It’s quite a simple concept when you think about it and explains to some extent the announcement last week of the PGA Tour’s Player Impact Program.
Like most fans I was initially perplexed – and sceptical – about the notion of the Tour handing out large sums of money to players based not on performance but popularity.
The very notion goes against the fundamental concept of competitive golf where the lowest score reaps the biggest reward.
But to think that way is to misunderstand the purpose of the Tour and its place in the game. The truth is that – surprising and disappointing as it may be – professional golf has almost nothing to do with the actual game of golf we as fans love.
Professional golf Tours (the PGA Tour the shining light among them) exist solely for the purpose of making money for their administrators and members.
And if that means converting the Tour Championship from a legitimate 72-hole golf competition into a handicap event in order to reward those already at the top because it is somehow seen as good for business, then you’d better believe that’s what it will do.
"The truth is – as with all professional golf – this has nothing to do with the game and everything to do with the business." - Rod Morri.
And if it means paying the most marketable players for their popularity rather than their play then as far as the Tour is concerned that is also a ‘no brainer’, as our American friends might say.
So why has the Tour suddenly decided it needs a US$40 million pot of appearance money to keep the top name players happy? It could have implemented this plan years ago had it wanted to.
But it never did and the answer lies in that opening line about competition.
For the best part of two generations the PGA Tour has, broadly speaking, had no competition as the world’s premiere golf circuit.
Yes the European Tour was/is a decent Tour but as a fan if you wanted to watch the best players in the world you watched the PGA Tour. And if you were a player and wanted to mix it with the best in the world, you aspired to play the PGA Tour.
If a PGA Tour player was unhappy with his lot in the US there was no realistic option to play elsewhere, certainly not for similar amounts of money.
Then in 2020 that all changed with the first genuine threat to the PGA Tour’s dominance in the form of the Premier Golf League.
Backed by a group with pockets much deeper than Ponte Vedra’s (Saudi Arabia) and offering guaranteed compensation to the game’s biggest drawcards, this was a much more serious attack than Greg Norman’s short lived ‘World Tour’ concept of the 90s.
If the Premier Golf League were able to lure away from the PGA Tour the 10 most watched and talked about players in the game, the PGA Tour would most definitely have a serious problem on its hands.
And given the river of funding the PGL has access to, and what they were offering said players, it is a scenario not beyond the realms of possibility.
So the Tour put its thinking cap on and invented – out of necessity – the Player Impact Program, a roundabout way of introducing appearance money to the game’s biggest circuit.
It is yet to be seen if the ploy will be successful in warding off the Saudi backed rival Tour though with little public movement on that front for several months it may already have done the job.
In the bigger picture, though, it’s fair to ask whether all of this will ultimately be good for golf or golf fans?
On the face of it one can’t help but feel the move will further increase the disconnect between the top levels of the game and recreational golfers but to be honest, it’s hard to imagine it will really make much difference.
Because the truth is – as with all professional golf – this has nothing to do with the game and everything to do with the business.