John Roughan

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Dialogue: Green-eyed monsters have no place in golf

By JOHN ROUGHAN

What's been eating Greg Turner? Ever since some golfing enthusiasts found the venture capital to bring Tiger Woods to the New Zealand Open this year, Turner has been grumpy about it.

For six months he has been saying he was concerned for me, the average fan who enjoys a day or two at the Open but should not be expected to pay the gate rates required to provide a return on Woods' reputed $5 million appearance fee.

I don't know at the time of writing whether Turner's avowed anguish for me has affected his performance, or Woods' for that matter, for better or worse, but I want to tell him not to worry.

I do enjoy a day at the Open when it comes to Auckland. Golf is the most pleasant of spectacles. There are few sports you can watch by walking on green swards in the sunshine, standing a few metres from the players and picking your preferred vantage point for each stage of the game.

And I particularly enjoy watching Greg Turner. He is good enough to have won the Open twice, yet he is never one of those metronomic golfers that practice has made predictable. He is loose-limbed and wears a worried squint.

Even when he is going well you get the feeling his next stroke could be a disaster.

He is among the most loyal of our professionals, returning for the Open every year more for our sake than the prizemoney. In return, he probably relishes the support of a gallery the New Zealanders would seldom attract anywhere else.

He is right that I wouldn't pay $175 to watch the tournament today, or even half that. Much as I would like to see Tiger Woods, I don't want to see him that much.

But I'm glad - no, thrilled is the word - that Woods is here. It is a thrill to have him performing in this country, just as it was to have Anna Kournikova, Marat Safin and Michael Chang here. If that means I am a pathetic case of the Kiwi cringe, you bet.

Let's get real. We are a tiny population on the edge of the world and getting poorer. A lower dollar helps us to trade at low value but makes it increasingly hard to bring world class here.

Notice how few rock stars come for our dollars now? When was the last time a celebrated international stage production came to Auckland?

The Government's greatest gift to local entertainment is not radio quotas and television charters, it is the exchange rate. On the occasions that somebody can lure a class act here, be grateful.

I don't resent in the slightest those who get in to see Woods on corporate entertainment accounts or are keen enough to pay their own way. I hope the sponsors make a return on their investment because I would not have taken their risk. Not at those gate charges.

So what has Greg Turner been bleating about? "My only issue is with the ticket prices," he told the Herald again this week. But it is not. In an article for the Listener he elaborated. He would have preferred that enough money had been raised to pay for both Woods' appearance and an increase in prizemoney to enhance the quality of the field. Tickets would then be "necessarily expensive", he conceded, but somehow "still at a level most fans accept and can afford".

Instead, this year's Open has been turned into "a simple profiteering exercise ... the principles of the market standing over any rights of the people". He fears the egalitarian foundations of New Zealand golf will be shaken by the event this weekend, leaving "a sport and a society more marginalised than before".

Whew. I don't think I have been numbered among the marginalised before. It doesn't feel so bad. In fact, it feels like my choice.

Seriously, Greg Turner no more speaks for me than those demonstrators at Tiger Woods' arrival "represented" Nike employees in the Third World. Turner wants to play for a richer prize, as he finally made clear when he dropped his bundle on the Herald's front page yesterday, and antiglobalisation loons fear the loss of low-paid jobs.

If we are going to make social comment on the event at Paraparaumu this week it's tempting to treat Turner's attitude as a classic of that self-destructive syndrome in this country that cannot accept the high market value of some rare people.

One of the silliest debates we've had in recent years was over the salaries of television presenters. All sorts of people, from the Prime Minister down, decided they knew better than television executives what to pay a person who attracts audience against competition.

It is a dull spirit that cannot be lifted by the presence of people who excel or sometimes simply let their physical attributes give their industry or sport its best image.

They are lucky people and they become very rich, possibly out of proportion to their value to us. Who is to say? Not the green-eyed monster. When it comes to assessing the value of any performer, those who put up money and run the risk of losing it have reason to get it right.

Good luck to them and good luck to Turner, too. If one of ours can pip the Tiger in a close finish this weekend, it would be perfect.

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