In the past two decades, professional golf has experienced tremendous growth and unprecedented success on a global scale. Professional golf superstars, such as United States Tiger Woods, have become household names. However, the significance of the emergence of golf on the international scene and its influence on the economic landscape has often been overlooked. Since the introduction of professional tournament golf in the mid 19th Century to the early 1980s, golf was dominated by players from the United States and United Kingdom. In the first half of this period, the sport was exclusively reserved for players from the United Kingdom. However, following a win by Francis Oumiet, a 19 year-old amateur, in the United States Open golf tournament in 1913, a new period of American domination emerged (Frost, 2002).
In the early 1980s to the mid 1990’s, professional golf players began participating not only in home tours but also in the United States PGA Tour. In 1996, the golf community sensed the need to consolidate major world golf tours, thus leading to the inception of the International Federation of PGA Tours. The success in the globalization of golf as a professional sport can be well observed by the fact that recent Official World Golf Ranking indices are not dominated by players from either the United Kingdom or the United States. For instance, in the 2005 season, only six were from the United Kingdom whereas 20 were from the United States. This paper shall examine the success achieved by golf as a sport on the international scene. It shall commence with a brief description of the sport followed by why and how it has become globalized. It shall also cover participants and the economic landscape. Finally, it shall explore major sporting events on the international, national, and local levels and rank the sport on a scale of 1-10.
Golf: A Brief Description
Golf is regarded as one of the fastest growing sports in the world. A golfer plays with the intention of propelling a ball towards a cup normally located on a green field using the fewest number of club strokes. The club is usually made of iron or wood. A player must successfully move the ball from the designated tee-off point to the cup. This requires one to overcome several hazards such as water pools and sandy, rough patches with skill and determination.
The globalization of golf as a professional sport
During the early 1900s, most golfers preferred participating in home competitions. For instance, since the inception of United States Open up to 1919, Americans won each and every trophy save for the year 1900 when Harry Vardon, a United Kingdom professional golf player easily regarded as the world’s all-time best player, won the title. Across the Atlantic, in the United Kingdom, no foreign-based golf player ever won the British Open till 1922 when Walter Hagen, a United States golfer, won his first tournament title. Players chose not to travel due to the fact that the journey across the Atlantic was tiresome, and the prize money was small and not commensurate to their expenditure. Only a handful of American players chose to play in the British Open. Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen and Ben Hagen were United States golfers who all won the Claret Jug. On the other hand, Australian-based golfers flocked the British Open and managed to win 10 out of 12 golf tournaments. However, few chose to travel to the United States. For instance, Peter Thompson, who is regarded as the greatest Australian player of all time, participated in very few U.S Open championships and never took part in the PGA Championships.
The 1960s marked an increased desire by golfers to globalize the sport. Notably, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, who were both world-renowned golfers, led campaigns towards the end of segregation in the sport. Palmer competed and won the British Open in 1960. In the following year, unlike other previous golfers, he successfully defended his 1960 win. Other United States golfers took this as an example and decided to make an annual pilgrimage in order to participate in the British Open, the world’s oldest tournament. Consequently, in the ensuing years, Tony Lema, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, and Lee Trevino participated in the tournament and won the Claret Jug and made the British Open a once-in-a-year golfers’ meeting point. This served as the first steps towards the globalization of golf as a world sport. Player was also very enthusiastic towards making golf a world sport. In 1957, Player, a South African, decided to participate in the PGA Tour, joining Palmer and Nicklaus. The three were soon regarded as the ‘Big Three’ in the 60s and were very influential towards globalization. In 1961, Player led in the PGA earnings index and was the only foreign-based golfer in the top 50, a feat that he held onto till 1971. By 1981, the number rose to three and in 1991, they were four. By 2005, 15 foreign-based players had reached the top 50 earners in the PGA Tour (Gerstner, 2007).
The European PGA Tour has made rapid globalization steps. For instance, during 2005, only 25 of the scheduled 43 events took place on European soil. In 2006, China hosted 6 events, which were more than England’s, who hosted five events. Significant stops were made in Dubai, Barbados and Kuala Lumpur. The Tour is normally co-hosted with other sponsors from other tournaments such as the Asian Tour, a strategy that is mutual to both parties. Whereas the European Tour manages to expand its existing market easily, the Asian Tour holds star events that are well attended by top players in Europe.
The International Federation of World Golf Tours is a 1996 world golf organization charged with the responsibility of organizing the World Golf Championships as well as compiling players’ Official World Golf Rankings. Therefore, the organization complements existing opportunities and tournaments as well as determining who is eligible to participate in WGC championships. It thus creates an element of competition and satisfies the world’s curiosity as to who is the most prominent golfer.
The United States PGA Tour and the European Tour are the greatest beneficiaries of the International Federation of World Golf Tours. Players have been granted the right to glob-trot in search of the biggest monetary awards. Although the Japanese Golf Tour (JGT) was not in existence in 1996 when the Federation was formed, it has benefitted significantly from the influx of proven and unproven players. For instance, Tiger Woods and Darren Clarke have both participated in the JGT, hence popularizing it. However, the Australasian Tour and the South African Sunshine Tour have suffered significantly in talent drain. The loss of top players, who advance to the United States’ PGA Tour and the European Tour in search of greener pastures, has led to great variability, lesser incomes and generated lower interest (Coate & Goldbaum, 2004).
Globalization and the Economic Perspective
In the 1960s, prize money was not very substantial. For instance, in 1963, Arnold Palmer was the first to break the $100,000 prize money earnings in one season. However, over time, the prize money at sake has increased exponentially. This has been attributed to various factors. First, the PGA Tour and other golf championships have managed to negotiate lucrative television deals. Secondly, golf has become globalized and enjoys a wider viewership than in previous years. Finally, golf tours have generated increased interest at home and overseas, hence expanding existing markets as well as creating new markets. Therefore, more income has been generated.
Increased income levels have been successfully translated to the players’ benefits. Players not only enjoy higher incomes but also these funds are well-distributed among the golfers. This evidenced by the fact that people are increasingly choosing golf as a career, thus increasing competition on a local and international scene.
This concept began in the early 20th Century in the United States’ professional tournaments. The fact that prize monies were relatively small deterred world-renowned golfers from participating in most contests. Therefore, appearance fees boosted the kitty and attracted big names. Tiger Woods’ is reportedly paid a standard fee of $3 million, which partly explains his attendance in championships held in Thailand, Dubai, Germany and China in the past few years. Appearance fees help attract big names hence generating high ticket sales and improved television ratings. In addition, once big players attend a tournament, they assert that the championship is up to standard and the fields are of sufficient quality.
Top golfers, just like any other celebrities, are very influential. Hence, various firms have opted to popularize their products by signing lucrative deals with top notch golf players who are well-known in a certain locality. However, little research has been dedicated to this sector since such deals are not usually available for public scrutiny.
Major Sporting events
Although golf was first played as a sport in the 1500’s, the first tournament was held in 1869 as the British Open Championship at Prestwick, England. However, golf evolved as a professional sport in the 1920s in the United States. These events were held by sponsors in conjunctions with the Professional Golfers Association (PGA), who were charged with the responsibility of drawing up schedules, rules and determining prize amounts and their distribution. In 1968, some professionals broke away from the PGA and formed the Tournament Players Division, giving rise to the formation of such tours as the 1971 European PGA Tour, the 1977 Australian Tour and the 1983 Japan Golf Tour.
There are currently six well-known professional golf tours: the United States’ PGA Tour, the European PGA Tour, the Asian Tour, the Japan Golf Tour, the South Africa’s Sunshine Tour and the PGA Tour of Australasia. The United States PGA Tour is the most popular because it offers the most amount of cash in terms of prize money and other lucrative deals. Hence, it is the most competitive since the best players flock the championship. In addition, the United States hosts three major world tournaments: U.S Open, The U.S Masters and the PGA Championship. The United Kingdom is home to the world’s oldest golf tournament: the British Open. The European Golf Tour is considered the world’s second best tour. However, it is a distant second given the popularity of the United States’ PGA Tour (Maguire, 2008).
The latter part of the 20th Century has seen great steps been taken towards globalization of golf as a world sport. Hence, in a scale of 1-10, I would rate it at 6. Whereas golf has achieved an international status, it still faces several challenges in the global arena. Tournament money and opportunities have increased significantly. In addition, golfers can make a career out of their favorite sport. Finally, fans have an opportunity to view their most favorite players in their home area, a feat that has been achieved through tours. However, there are various unexplored markets in Africa, Europe and Asia. In addition, smaller championships have suffered due to globalization. For instance, the Australasian Golf Tour and the Sunshine Tour have lost some of the star players, thus reducing their popularity. Therefore, globalization has failed in nurturing delicate, infant golfing communities. These detrimental factors should be addressed if golf is to be regarded as a world sport that can rival other sports such as football.