My latest Sympatico column tackles the subject of appearance fees in pro golf. Here’s a taste:
On the PGA Tour, appearance fees are banned.
At least that’s the official policy.
That means, unlike the Australian Open or the events in Dubai, an organization can’t come up with a few million dollars to entice Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson to come and play its event.
But this week in New Orleans, a handful of players will be in the field, basically paid to show up. That includes Graeme McDowell, the reigning U.S. Open winner, young gun Rickie Fowler, Englishman Justin Rose and Camilo Villegas. They are all under sponsorship deals with Zurich Insurance, the sponsor of the New Orleans tournament. Previously the Zurich Classic was one of those have-not tournaments that struggled to attract top talent in the weeks following the Masters. But thanks to clever sponsorship arrangements that work around the PGA Tour’s rules, Zurich has bolstered its field.
The New Orleans tournament is neither the first nor the best on the PGA Tour at using its corporate muscle to attract players its event. For years, Woods would show up to play tournaments presented by Buick, one of his corporate sponsors. For many years Woods would often play the Buick Open in Michigan, a tournament that seemed to have little attraction for the golfer beyond his connection with the automaker. When Buick ended its sponsorship of the tournament, and the event was moved to Virginia, suddenly Woods wasn’t anywhere to be seen.
The RBC Canadian Open isn’t any less culpable than other events when it comes to paying tour stars to show up at its event. Faced first with a difficult date during the Labour Day weekend in September, and later in the week following the British Open, the Canadian Open struggled to attract the best players. Woods hasn’t come since 2001, and Phil Mickelson has played once in the past decade.