The WGC-HSBC Champions is the Rodney Dangerfield of golf tournaments. It’s getting no respect.
Or so suggests Giles Morgan, global head of sponsorship for the London-based multinational bank that underwrites the $8.5 million fall event in Shanghai.
Speaking today ahead of this weekend’s HSBC Women’s Champions event in Singapore, Morgan aimed a dagger at late-season appearance fees, telling Channel NewsAsia that HSBC has “had words” with the major tours about persuading top players to enter the game’s biggest events rather than chase the gobs of guaranteed cash on offer at lesser tournaments and exhibitions across the globe.
“I do think the tours – and I think the tours are working on this – should make sure that there is respect to the tournaments,” Morgan said. “As opposed to playing in meaningless … money-making opportunities around the World Golf Championships.”
Though Morgan doesn’t refer to him by name, the obvious target of his remarks is Tiger Woods, who has skipped the WGC-HSBC Champions the past three years. Last fall Woods ruffled feathers by playing a big-money exhibition match against Rory McIlroy in China on the Monday of HSBC Champions week before skipping the WGC event in favor of the following week’s Turkish Airlines Open, which paid him a reported $3 million appearance fee.
“The World Golf Championship is an enormous event and we pay a major prize fund for that and we are absolutely not in the business of paying appearance fees on top of that,” said Morgan, chiding Woods and others of his ilk for accepting seven-figure payouts instead of the no-cut WGC event’s measly guaranteed last-place money, which last year was $40,250.
Golf’s currency chase is nothing new. The great Walter Hagen, the first man to make a living as a touring pro, was known to sell his services to the highest bidder, even if it meant missing an occasional major. And if Tiger were to issue a retort to Morgan’s not-so-subtle rebuke, it would certainly be along the lines of, “I’m an independent contractor, and I can play wherever and whenever I please.”
Still, the stakes in this debate are high for the PGA Tour and other organizations – including the European Tour, the R&A and the LPGA – that stage tournaments upon which HSBC bestows sponsorship dollars. It was reported recently that the bank’s five major golf sponsorship deals – the WGC-HSBC Champions, the HSBC Women’s Champions, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, the Open Championship and the HSBC Brasil Classic – all expire in 2015 and HSBC will take a long look at whether to continue its support at existing, higher or lower levels.
Although the PGA Tour can’t prevent an Indian tycoon from pulling out his checkbook to lure Woods to New Delhi, it could conceivably enact stricter policies that limit the amount of freedom its players have to pursue appearance fees at the expense of its own sanctioned tournaments. In particular, the Tour and the European Tour – the former of which prohibits its tournaments from offering appearance fees and the latter of which allows them – must strike a delicate balance between keeping sponsors and players happy. Morgan’s comments in Singapore suggest that the long-running debate over appearance fees will bear renewed watching in the coming months.