I’m yet to be persuaded that a ‘World Tour’ in golf would be beneficial for the game as a whole. Gary Player obviously believes it’s the right path to go down, like that of the ATP Tour in tennis. I can see the argument- Let’s put on bigger and better events, take the world’s best golfers to all corners of the globe and lay on a show like nobody has seen in golf before.
What would be the benefits of this? And also, who would be the beneficiaries? Commercially, I imagine it makes considerable sense to condense the golfing world into a smaller, more attractive sphere of talent, where every time golf is shown on television, it has a bigger impact due to the golfers on show. It is also more likely that large corporations would want to be involved in this style of coverage.
The broader question though, I think, is who benefits the most from this? Is it the game as a whole? How would the demographic outlook change within the game? Would a World Tour have a larger impact or a further reach around the world?
Whenever I’ve discussed this topic in the past with either Laurie or my manager at IMG- David, (who are advocates of a ‘World Tour’ by the way) the point I’ve always raised is earning potential. The wonderful thing about golf as it is currently, is that you can have a player ranked 200 in the world, and still earn a very good living. If you contrast this with tennis and the ATP Tour, it’s incomparable. A player ranked 200 in the world of tennis is unlikely to earn anywhere near the amount of money a golfer would. I see this as a huge plus for golf. Consider the consequences of this. If you have a deeper wealth distribution, then you will also have a broader monetary contribution. Whether that be in the way of taxation, which leads governments to support society in a better way and potentially grant sporting organisations more money. Or whether that be in ways more charitable.
Take me for example. I decided to give my Frilford Heath sponsorship money away in 2016 and again next year in 2017. In 2016, that money helped fund 52 new junior golfers have coaching. And in 2017, that money will be put into local primary schools, with the help of the Golf Foundation, so that more young kids who didn’t have access to golf, now will. This isn’t about me being generous, this is about me being able to be generous. This is a tremendous offshoot in golf.
I’ve also wondered actually how big the impact would be in parts of the world where golf isn’t currently a major sport, should we develop a World Tour. Is golf in India, or parts of Africa, or parts of Asia not yet popular because they simply haven’t watched Rory McIlroy hit a golf ball? Or is it down to other factors?
A good example of this is what’s happening in Rio, post Olympics. I read an article recently that said the golf course where they held the event in Rio, is to be closed. Or turned into something else. I can’t remember exactly what it said, but it wasn’t positive for golf. This alludes to the paragraph above. There simply isn’t the infrastructure nor the social and economic conditions present in these parts of the world to warrant a World Tour spending lots of money, making a radical change to their sport, which is potentially destructive in some way, hoping that they can inspire a generation of people to pick up a golf club.
Therefore a new World Tour would probably be most impactful in parts of the world where it is already pretty well known and already frequently participated in. Say North America, Europe, Japan, and maybe China. Of course, there is potential here for golf to become increasingly popular due to more economic prosperity and better infrastructure. However, when you consider that the main attraction of a World Tour would be the guaranteed presence of the best players, you’d then have to ask what would the impact be from that. Does China need to see more of Rory? Does Japan need to see more of Stenson? Does America need to see more of Danny Willett? Honestly, I think the answer to that is no. It could well be that in fact that’s exactly what’s needed for the sport. Nobody knows the answer to this of course, I just have my doubts about its potency as a model.
So who benefits from a new World Tour? The answer; the top players, and that’s probably about it.
If all current Tours merged to create a World Tour, we would have job losses. We would have less wealth distribution throughout the game. We would have less trickle down effect of wealth into local communities due to there being less money earned across the board. We may create bigger and better spectacles for golf to showcase its attractiveness for sure. And we would have huge purses for players to compete for. But would that offset all of the negatives?
Again, I’m not convinced.
Golf has so far managed to defy the merger and acquisition frenzy that has run riot among businesses since 2008. While the European Tour may not be able to yet produce a credible alternative to the PGA Tour in terms of prize money, it has helped contribute to a wider spread of wealth throughout the world. I see this as the sole reason we need to resist a World Tour for as long as we can.