It’s a subject that comes up fairly regularly. Indeed, it never seems to go away. And it always provokes extreme emotions on either side of the debate.
You’re either accepting of appearance money in professional golf, or vehemently against it. There is no in-between position that sees both sides. No grays. Just blacks-and-whites.
So what do I think? For me, appearance money is a necessary evil. The clue is in the title. “Professional” golfers play the game for cash. That’s the job. Even the prize-funds in tournaments are nothing more than merit-based appearance money. That’s what they are, just a fair way to hand out appearance money. You earn for the show and the level of entertainment you put on. Otherwise, what you have is an amateur tournament.
That’s what every pro signs up for – the ability to earn money off their ability to play golf. That’s why we all do it. And, the laws of supply and demand being what they are, you can’t stop a guy from accepting when a promoter or sponsor comes calling with a big cheque and an offer to play in a tournament. Almost every time he is going to say, ‘yes.’ And as soon as one guy responds in the affirmative, every other guy is going to do likewise.
The obvious way to stop all of the above is if every player in the world got together and agreed never to take appearance money again and “let’s put all this money back into purses.” That would work until the first greedy guy took a cheque under the table just to show up. Then, before long, we would be back where we are now. That’s the necessary evil side of the argument. Things would be better if all the money went to the prize-fund because merit-based distribution is the fairest way. But that’s not how the world works. Not the golf world anyway.
Which is fair enough. Competitive sport is not a democracy. Nor should it ever be. So it is easy to suggest that the biggest draw in the sport – Tiger Woods – is worth any amount of appearance money. He has been worth every penny. In fact, you could say he is worth 10 times whatever he has been paid. Look at how much money everyone on Tour is making now. A large percentage of that is down to Tiger and the attention he brings to the game.
Still, having said that, the value to tournaments drops off very quickly. The fourth-best player in the world isn’t worth anything near as much as Tiger. I’m not sure how many guys I would pay to come to the “Geoff Ogilvy Classic” here in Australia. Tiger for sure. He makes a difference. Phil Mickelson is border-line outside of America. I’m not sure there are 10 guys who could carry an event on their own. Maybe three or four. Rory McIlroy. Dustin Johnson, in certain markets. Adam Scott in Australia. And maybe Rickie Fowler.
That’s about it though.
So, while paying appearance money might not actually be worth the expense, the reality is that it is what you have to do to get big names to play. They can just sit back, making the same money somewhere a lot closer to home than Australia, which is why you have to dangle a big carrot to get them. If you offer a lot less or nothing at all, they aren’t coming.
Think of this as white-water rafting. Once you get to a certain point in the river, everyone gets dragged down the same path. It’s a force that is almost impossible to fight. The tide just gets too strong, especially for younger players who are most susceptible to getting swept along. For them, appearance money is a good ‘tidal wave.’
Player agents are part of this too. Tournaments would certainly benefit from an absence of commission-based management. ‘Flat-fee’ or just pure management of players would help make appearance money go away. Or, at least, the numbers involved would decrease markedly. There would be a lot less manipulation behind the scenes and fewer strings would be pulled in order to make things happen.
But, again, that isn’t going to happen. The existence of agents is another inevitable consequence of the capitalist system operating within golf. Yes, there are positives and negatives. But the negatives are that commission-based people don’t make those they are representing any better. But they do add to the economic picture.
“Things would be better if all the money went to the prize-fund because merit-based distribution is the fairest way. But that’s not how the world works. Not the golf world anyway.”
Appearance money is not confined to the superstars either. It starts whenever you turn pro when someone says, “If you come play in my pro-am next week I’ll pay you $500.” Then, when you get onto the PGA Tour, playing in a Monday pro-am and another on Wednesday can earn you, say, $2,500 and a free hotel room for the week. That has gone on forever and is available to every player who wants it. Every week.
The clubs in our bags can get appearance money too. Players can earn extra money for playing a certain driver for the week. And they can switch every week. So they can pocket as much as $60,000 per annum. More if they use particular fairway woods and putters. All of which is appearance money.
Where appearance money is really negative is when it pits players against players and players against tournaments. It’s “he got more than me to play and I’m better than him.” So animosities and jealousies soon emerge. Then guys miss events. So, while I don’t mind that my eponymous Classic has to pay Tiger $2million to appear – that’s the reality if I want to move the economic needle – the darker, evil side of appearance money is a lot less palatable.
To be fair, I’ve also seen the up-side of appearance money. When I played the European Tour in the late 1990s, any event with Colin Montgomerie, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood in the field was immediately better. They always seemed to play the same schedule. And they always seemed to finish in the Top-10. So they were worth every penny.
There is one way to get rid of appearance money – contracting players to play the Tour. That would mean dismissing the idea they are ‘independent contractors,’ which is not quite true anyway. Then, each player’s ‘base salary’ would be relative to his qualification level. A Q-school graduate would be worth X. A guy ranked between 100 and 125 would be paid 2X. And so on up the line. That would be their ‘wage’ providing they played these 20 tournaments.
Performance bonuses would be paid on top of those wages. Prize-money would be less but you would be compensated as if you were in a ‘normal’ job. That would put an end to appearance money because the players would have to play. But right now they can play wherever and whenever they wish, which means just about all of the power is in the hands of the players. Without them, there is no tournament. That’s how capitalism works. And it isn’t likely to change any time soon.