With a global worth of almost $100 billion, the golf industry generates more wealth than the GDPs of several countries, such as Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Honduras, Croatia, North Korea, and Uruguay. And at an individual level, Tiger Woods was at one point earning $8,637 per hole on the PGA Tour. There are untold riches in the golf industry. At the same time, golf is unrivalled in the world of sport in terms of its potential to give back (contribution by Black Knight International).
Golf has long been the preferred game of the business world. A 2011 study quoted by The Economist found that business managers and directors who do not play golf are paid 17 percent less on average than those who do. Golf remains the most powerful networking tool in sport, and the pro-am is golf’s competitive advantage in terms of its ability to provide for the world number one playing the same game with a major CEO playing off an 18 handicap. A billionaire cannot play rugby with the Springboks or basketball with the LA Lakers. But he can tee it up with career Grand Slam champion Gary Player in a competitive environment. And the personal contact these two can share over a four-hour round is priceless.
The world’s top professional golfers have the opportunity to generate incredible wealth through massive amounts of prize money, and then by endorsements that often dwarf this. It is exactly this wealth in professional golf that allows the sport to excel at giving back. In 2014, the PGA Tour reached $2 billion in all-time charitable giving since its first donation in 1938.
The Gary Player Invitational series plays a major part in golf’s charity initiatives. It is one of the biggest and most global charitable initiatives in golf with events in Asia, Europe, the United States, the Middle East and Africa. At the 2014 tournament in South Africa, the fundraising drive from a glamorous gala dinner auction raised more than $300,000. And since 1983, The Player Foundation has raised more than $60 million for charity worldwide.
When a golfer such as Padraig Harrington attempts to make sense of the almost unfathomable wealth in professional golf, he often turns to this kind of charitable effect.
“You realise you’ve got to do your best to help out,” said Harrington, “even though you can’t change the world. But you can help. And then you realise that the best thing you can do is play good golf. If I play good golf then I can afford the time and the money to help others. Golf gives us that opportunity.
“Most professional golfers do something for charity, and what lies behind it is we’re very lucky. We’re out there and we’re earning colossal sums of money throughout the year. Prize funds have gone up so much. And to be able to look at yourself in the mirror in the morning, you’ve got to give something back.
“There is no doubt, in a practical sense you would suggest we are overpaid for our ability to hit a little white golf ball. We have to always realise the position we’re in and how privileged we are to be doing so well out of it. It would be hard if you just kept taking. It’s nice that you can give back.”
Gary Player has long recognised the value of golf to make a meaningful contribution to society, from the time he gave his cheque for winning the 1965 U.S. Open back to the United States Golf Association to use for junior golf development and cancer treatment and research programmes, to his establishment of a foundation that raises millions worldwide for children’s charities.
“I think the difference comes when you realise that what you have is really just on loan to you,” Player said. “Even the talent we have. It’s just on loan, and it can be taken away tomorrow. It’s happened in the game so many times. Great players just suddenly disappear overnight. But true success is judged by your relationship with your fellow human beings.”
As the recognised global ambassador of golf, Player has mastered the art of the charity golf day. So much so that Black Knight International attracts the support of one of the oldest banks in the world, Berenberg of Germany, as a partner of the Gary Player Invitational event in the United Kingdom. Player’s influence also allows him to draw in the support of the world’s leading professionals and other major benefactors, all with the shared aim of raising money for charity.
“It is all about the union of business and golf helping those less privileged,” said Player. “I want my epitaph to say, ‘Here is a man who was interested in his fellow man. And in education and health. And he bettered the lives of poor people.’
“Surely that is the greatest legacy a man can leave? I have been blessed to have the support of such great companies to help make this possible.
“We are loaned only so much time in our lives and it is up to us to use this time as best we can. I can think of no better way to do this than in service to my fellow man.”