Today’s announcement by Victorian government tourism minister Tim Holding that Tiger Woods had again been signed to play the Australian Masters in Melbourne later this year was not only breathless, it was also tawdry and faintly obscene.
To get Woods out to this country once — at a rough cost of $3.4 million, of which Victorian taxpayers paid approximately half — could perhaps be justified on the grounds that the world No.1 golfer had not played in Australia for a decade. And at the time he was arguably the pre-eminent figure in sport.
But to go cap in hand, and beg Woods’ management company for a second visit — at a time when his golf is at its lowest ebb since he turned pro in 1996, and his reputation as sport’s golden boy has taken a massive and perhaps irredeemable hit — defies common sense.
Last year, the hype and hoopla that accompanied him — and his travelling retinue that, we were to discover later, included much more than just his mother, manager and Nike golf bag — was everything that the state government and the tournament organisers could have hoped for.
But many of those who saw him at the Masters will be happy to leave it at that. They won’t be rushing back to get stuck in the traffic jams around the 2010 venue, Victoria Golf Club, or the equally slow-moving traffic jams inside the golf course.
For the viewing experience at Kingston Heath was hardly five-star. Unless you were in a corporate box, which I wasn’t, ticket-holders got to see him play a couple of shots every three holes. And that was about it. The galleries were so big, and standing five and six deep anywhere close to him, that it was impossible to see the American play any more than every second or third shot, at best.
If you wanted an unimpeded view of his brilliance, you had to take up a position at least two holes ahead of his group, savour the moment as he walked through, and then bolt another two or three holes ahead again.
This time around, you can rest assured the reception that awaits Woods in Melbourne will be far more muted. Not only has the novelty factor gone, but the lustre that once shone from this one-time prodigy, the boy whose father once said would become a more influential figure in history than Gandhi, Buddha and Nelson Mandela — has become laughably tarnished.
Here’s what his mother and father said in an interview with Sports Illustrated in 1997:
“Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity … He is the Chosen One. He’ll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations.” — Earl Woods, Tiger’s father
“Tiger has Thai, African, Chinese, American Indian, and European blood. He can hold everyone together. He is the Universal Child.” — Kultida Woods, Tiger’s mother.
No, he’s not. He’s just another self-obsessed sports jock with an out-of-control libido, and absurd sense of entitlement.
While Melbourne was swooning over Woods, and feeling mightily chuffed that the Chosen One was in their midst, his mistress Rachel Uchitel, the New York “nightclub hostess” packed in Woods’ luggage along with his toothbrush and golf spikes, was holed up at Crown Casino.
And Uchitel, we were soon to discover, was but one of a passing parade of paramours, more than a dozen in total.
Many won’t be too fussed by what Woods does in his private life; a good number, though, will.
But, aside from all those practical issues, there remains one other matter. And that concerns the tournament promoter, International Management Group, which also happens to be the group that manages Woods’ affairs. Well, business affairs, anyway.
Last year, IMG sold 80,000 tickets to the tournament — 20,000 for each of the four days at Kingston Heath. On top of that, the US-based sports marketing company sold all eight of its Platinum corporate boxes around the 18th green, as well as 12 Gold boxes and even the four Sky boxes.
Each day, the Champions Club lunch — seating 560 people — was sold out.
All up, IMG’s hospitality division grossed what we can safely say was many millions of dollars from its on-course corporate entertainment during the week.
Then there was the Masters Gala Dinner at Crown’s Palladium ballroom (at $6000 per table), the new sponsors drawn to the event such as 3AW and Gatorade and a new, two-year TV broadcast rights deal with Channel Nine.
But, IMG’s “take” from the Woods extravaganza — huge as it was — was increased further still by the Victorian government, through its Major Events Company.
VMEC stumped up a considerable sum to help pay some of Woods’ appearance fee, thought to be about half of the $US3 million ask, and is expected to do so again.
So the IMG-run event will be underwritten to the tune of $1.5 million or so, whether it makes a profit from all its other tournament-related business, or not. Nice work if you can get it. This means the Cleveland-based sport behemoth wins on every count — from all the money it reaps from ticket sales, corporate hospitality, TV rights and merchandising, and also from the state government’s generous backing.
Just one of many reasons why this deal between IMG and the Victorian government is shabby, tawdry and should be condemned.
*Charles Happell is the publisher of new sports website Back Page Lead, where this was first published. The sports opinion website provides sports content to Crikey.