Bigger than the Beatles
BY Grant Dodd | Australasian PGA Tour | 2009 Australian Masters | 30 Apr 2009
It has been a while since the TV cameras waited on the tarmac, with reporters breathlessly counting down the minutes until his plane landed. And it has been a while since we sat expectantly in front of our TV’s, waiting for him, the man, to emerge from his private jet to the adoration of the masses.
We won’t have to wait much longer. November, to be exact, for an historic re-enactment circa 1986, the euphoric peak of Norman-mania. This time though it won’t be the Shark making a triumphant entrance, but another, even more famous world number one golfer.
When was the last time someone’s visit here was “Bigger than the Beatles”? Such allusions, of course, are stretching the boundaries of hyperbole, but in the absence of a nuclear war, an election ( don’t keep us in suspense for too long, Kev) or a footballers positive drugs test, the visit of Tiger Woods for the 2009 Australian Masters will be the biggest story in Australia that week.
Money, specifically Woods’ reputed $4.5 million AUD appearance fee, will initially be the key bone of contention. It will be moralised about, debated and dissected until there is little left to discuss. Then things will move inexorably on to a more objective analysis of the benefits that will arise from the world number one’s visit.
They are likely to be many, and far reaching. First, and most important, is that golf, by association, will hog the limelight for a whole week. It is hard to remember a time in recent memory when the dimpled white ball has been the undivided centre of attention in the Australian sports media. The potential for promoting the game and mobilising both interest and participation is massive. How the national bodies with a vested interest in the future of golf in this country handle this opportunity will be particularly instructive.
On the matter of Woods’ appearance fee, a few points. If, as a promoter, you were intent upon making your tournament a winner, the single most important initiative you could make at the moment, irrespective of cost, would be to secure Tiger’s involvement. The simple( and uncomfortable) truth is that there is no-one else in world golf who will have a significant effect upon the success of the event. Regardless of the measurement perameters used, be it television ratings, gate takings or corporate support, who other than Woods will make a difference?
Phil Mickelson? Reportedly asking over a million dollars to make one of his rare appearances outside of the U.S., Mickelson’s fan base is largely Amero-centric. As good a player as he is, money spent in securing Mickelson’s involvement in an Australian event cannot be justified on a potential risk/reward basis.
The same can be said for Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington, all of whom reportedly command appearance fees in excess of $500,000 US. Fine players unquestionably, and amongst the best of their generation, but living in the shadow of arguably the greatest player of all time. For all their talents, their involvement would not substantially change the way the tournament was perceived in the media or wider community.
Woods’ dominance of golf at both a tournament and marketing level has been so pervasive and universal that he has become the name that defines golf in the modern era. In fact, Tiger is one of the few golfers in history who have managed to transcend the sport. His name is a brand, embedded into the lexicon of sporting, rather than golfing greatness. Only Palmer, Nicklaus and Norman in the modern era can lay claim to such a feat. Until such time as the playing field levels out with genuine contenders challenging his dominance, Woods will remain the pivot around which the men’s game revolves.
Given such a reality, the one thing to hope for is that tournament promoters IMG don’t get carried away by visions of overflowing cash registers and jack up entry fees to exorbitant levels. Everyone should at least have the possibility available to them of watching the greatest golfer of all time in the flesh. If the 2009 Australian Masters descends into an ostentatious gala event for well heeled corporate types and deep pocketed private club members then it will be to the great shame of everyone involved.
The event should be, first and foremost, a celebration of golf. It should not descend into a further affirmation of the perception that the game is a sport confined to, and guarded by, the moneyed elite. It needs to be an event that engages a wide cross section of people to think and talk about golf, and to get out and experience it in person.
The energy, excitement and expectation that will accompany the great man’s visit is something that Australian golf once took for granted. It will be good to have it back. It has been a while.
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