Tiger Woods announced that he has added the July 5-8 Greenbrier Classic to his usually limited schedule, and inevitably there will be some questions.
Mainly, the inquiries and rumblings will circle around “pay for play” on the PGA Tour. Unlike their counterparts in Europe, the PGA Tour does not allow tournament organizers to pay players appearance fees to compete in their events. But nothing prevents players and companies from forming alliances or partnerships that benefit both parties.
The truth is that there likely is nothing salacious going on here with Woods or anyone else. Then again, we are talking about the most scrutinized athlete in the world. The conversations about corporate sponsors and relationships with players started with Woods back when he signed with Buick when the car manufacturer had four tournaments on the PGA Tour. And it continued when he later signed deals with AT&T and Accenture, two companies that also are PGA Tour title sponsors.
If these things are going to be picked apart, let’s not forget that many of the top players have relationships with corporations that have ties to tournaments. Matt Kuchar carries a bag sponsored by RBC, which sponsors the Heritage and Canadian Open events. Although the field list for the Canadian Open won’t be released for months, there is a good bet that the newly minted Players Champion will join fellow RBC representative Luke Donald in the field. And certainly nobody questions the integrity of Kuchar or Donald.
There is nothing wrong with these associations. If you want to say that these parties are taking advantage of opportunities, or loopholes, then so be it. How can it be a negative when everyone benefits? Players benefit, tournaments benefit and fans benefit. Zurich has its brand ambassadors, and they play the Zurich event in New Orleans. Wyndham has its player representatives, too, and they show up in Greensboro. The list goes on. Operating a Tour event these days has become more and more competitive, and to ensure a quality field, some corporate sponsors realize that they have to go the extra mile – within the rules, of course.
The PGA Tour has very high standards concerning sponsorships. Hard-liquor corporations and casinos are not allowed to become tournament title sponsors. To that end, players are not allowed to advertise for companies in those segments directly through their clothing or logos. To get around this, rather than just having a Johnnie Walker patch on his clothing, Jim Furyk wears the Johnnie Walker Collection. Kuchar and Retief Goosen sport the Grey Goose Collection of golf shirts.
No one is any more fooled by this than they were when Jim Thorpe wore a shirt that promoted Foxwoods Resort. Foxwoods is a Connecticut resort with two golf courses designed by Rees Jones. It also boasts the largest casino in the United States. Is this a contradiction? Probably, but the truth is that it doesn’t really matter. The line has to be drawn somewhere.
The staff at the Tour is constantly monitoring its brand. Maintaining the Tour’s squeaky-clean image is a full-time job. The reason that so many corporations are willing to spend large portions of their marketing budgets to be associated with the PGA Tour is in large part because of this image. What other sports entity can claim the charitable contributions that the PGA Tour can? The answer is, none.
But that won’t stop the questions and the suggestion that something untoward is going on when the highest-profile athlete in the world decides to add a seemingly out-of-the-way summer stop to his schedule. The fact that the venue is owned by a flamboyant billionaire, Jim Justice, will only fuel the speculation. So get ready; the questions will come.
The Greenbrier will mark the third time in less than a year that Woods will visit a PGA Tour event for the first time in his career as a pro (he played last fall’s Frys.com Open and The Honda Classic earlier this season). Is this part of his rebranding, his new, improved image or something else?
I prefer to think that he just wants to spend a little time in West Virginia this summer. And if Justice decides to put his support behind the Tiger Woods Foundation, then Woods’ students will benefit.
It’s a win- win . . . but that won’t stop the naysayers.