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  • Alistair Tait

How low would you go?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by the controversy surrounding Wayne Player’s gratuitous use of Lee Elder’s historic honorary starter moment at the Masters to promote an obscure golf ball company.

Golf has been selling its soul to the highest bidder for years.

There’s an irony to the storm Gary Player’s son caused. Arguably of all the majors, the Masters is the one that resists commercialisation most. Yes, the green jackets make a fortune from sponsorship from blue chip companies, but they make sure fans, TV viewers and those lucky enough to call themselves patrons, don’t face a barrage of commercial clutter. No advertising boards, no corporate hospitality units lining fairways, and severe limitation on television commercials.

If only all golf tournaments were run this way.

So when Wayne Player stood behind Lee Elder on the first tee on the opening morning blatantly brandishing a sleeve of golf balls to promote a brand dad is contracted to, you can imagine how the green jackets felt. Golf fans too.

I’m not naive. Players turn professional to make as much money as possible. Fair play to them. We’d all like to earn as much as the top stars. If that means plastering ourselves with logos from the highest bidder then we probably would, even if it smacks of over commercialisation. Appearance money just for turning up to work? Yes please!

TV networks pay vast sums to televise tournaments and need to recoup the cost. If that means running commercials ad nauseam enticing viewers to have a wee flutter now and then, or companies promoting products that help cure erectile disfunction, then that’s the price we pay. (That pause button exists for a reason, you know.)

However, surely there’s a limit to how far down that road players/individuals should go? Does taking money from repressive regimes with poor human rights go beyond the pale? Is it right to play in countries that have little regard for equal rights for women? Is sullying a momentous moment for golf acceptable?

There’s no suggestion Gary Player encouraged or endorsed his son’s action. Surely a member of the Golf Hall of Fame and nine-time major winner wouldn’t stoop so low as to sully an historic occasion by acting as a shill for one of his sponsors? Say it isn’t so.

The company in question has dissociated itself from Wayne Player’s actions, although it has reaped the benefits from brand recognition as a result. Every dark cloud and all of that.

Who knows if Wayne Player’s estranged brother Marc is correct and Wayne has been banned from Augusta National. Many golf fans will be hoping the green jackets have done just that. Whisper it quietly, there might even be some who wish Gary has been banned too.

The incident begs a simple question: How much would we need to be paid before we sold our soul to the highest bidder? How low would you go in your pursuit of Mammon?

#JustSaying: “Walter Hagen was the first player I knew that earned $1 million from golf and, of course, spent it too. Sam Snead earned $1 million too – and he saved $2 million.” Fred Corcoran

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