Palmer Whets Appetite for Money-Laden Players

Players Shows Takes Much Money to Promote Golf to the Non-Wealthy

The Arnold Palmer Invitational got all the drama it deserved, as British golfer Tyrell Hatton hung on with one clutch shot after another to fend off a surging Sungjae Im, Australian Marc Leishman and a group of other contenders, one of which was Rory McIlroy. However, all the long-term talk was about the week coming up – The Players.

Officially called the Tournament Players Championship, the monetary extravaganza has been going on since the mid-70s. It has been won by many of the top notables, but has never had a successful defending champion. The purse for the Players is now the largest of the PGA events at well over 50 million, and the winner’s perks are endless. Of course, you have to beat out the top 50 in the world, but somebody’s got to do it. The goodies include a 5 year exemption for three PGA championships, 600 Fed Ex points, 100 points toward world ranking, and oh yes, $2.7 million.

This all resulted in my first couple of questions. First of all, why is the Players not considered a major championship, the 5th one by the present structure? Number two, what makes a major…a major? Time-honored traditions, stately and hallowed venues, or just money? Doesn’t the PGA run the risk of putting on such a lavish show that the true majors begin to pale. Does nearly 3 million start to gleam brighter than the green jacket?

As was the Arnold Palmer, the Players will be played in Florida, at TCP Sawgrass…you know, the one with the island green whose waters would gobble up seven of 10 shots for most of us? I looked at some of the special packages offered for the week, and that brought about my next question. It’s more of a riddle, really, and gives me some insight into the predicament we sometimes find ourselves in during political years.

For a very long time, the game of golf has tried to open itself to the non-royal or aristocratic. With the birth of the municipal golf industry, a haven has been created for the weekender with an average income. That, however, is getting out of control, and aristocracy golf remains beyond our means. The catch is, tremendous amounts of money come from sponsors promoting a game that is being sold to “commoners.” It advertises products to be purchased by “commoners,” and stages events such as the Players, where few of us could ever tread with our wallets as they are.

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Television promotion is expensive, costing vast amounts to show a game striving to be accessible. However, to show up personally for the Players is daunting. Sawgrass offers several packages, starting with the Players Stadium package for $711 per person. That brings one night at the Marriott, breakfast at the clubhouse, and a place in the gallery for one round. The Dye’s Duo Package for $1,132 per person offers the same, adding a round at the Dye’s Valley Course. The Championship Package runs $1,500. That offers three nights at the Marriott, daily breakfast, two rounds at the Players “and much more.” Double those figures for a couple, then add the travel and the side expenses for lunch and dinner.

As the Players demonstrates, it takes an awful lot of money to sell golf to ‘Average Joes,’ and it cost ‘Average Joes’ a lot to go watch it. It would take breaking the law of physics to separate non-aristocratic golf from the money machine, and no one behind its operation would ever want to do that. It’s like the stock market – still for the wealthy, but now they let the rest of us in.

There’s no crime being committed here, just a catch-22 required in growing the game. Whether the offers are worth it is all up to the purchaser, who may find it expensive or inexpensive, depending on the bank account. At least, as we can all see, the talent level is worth it, and that keeps us coming.

So, in 2020, I will watch the Players at Ponte Vedra Beach from the couch, and try not to get dizzy watching all that money fly around. It’s sure starting to look like a new major to me.

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