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Ticket sales poor for New Zealand Open

Tiger Woods' appearance in this week's New Zealand Open has attracted ticket requests from 325 media personnel. And it's just as well – they might be the only ones there.

The unprecedented move to pay Woods a NZ$3.7 million appearance fee has sent ticket prices soaring out of the range of fans and left promoters questioning their resolve to "get Tiger at any cost".

New Zealanders have been asked to pay almost five times what Australian fans did for tickets to the Australian Open seven weeks ago, and the response has been overwhelmingly negative. A season ticket for the NZ Open at Paraparaumu Beach will cost $NZ500, compared to $NZ75 for the Australian Open at The Grand.

Woods, who has opened his 2002 campaign at the Mercedes Championship being played in Hawaii, has generated plenty of interest in the NZ Open, but organisers admit ticket sales are well below expectations.

And an expected influx of Australian fans has failed to eventuate, leaving one local golf travel specialist without a single booking for dozens of airfares and hotel rooms he had reserved.

The promoters have not answered criticism of their pricing, focusing instead on the promotional benefits.

"This is the most-watched New Zealand Open ever, and it gives a unique opportunity to showcase our country," tournament managing director David Pool said.

"The benefits for New Zealand and especially tourism in this country are limitless."

Such statements do not sit well with golf fans and confirm for many they are simply being afforded the opportunity to pay a high price for being extras in an expensive marketing campaign.

Pool is relying on an unlikely stampede to see Woods in action, but the message is clear – the world No 1 has been priced out of the market.

Several top Kiwi professionals, notably Michael Campbell and Greg Turner, had warned months ago that admission prices would be out of the reach of the general sporting public.

"At $NZ500 a season ticket, it's turning the Open quite clearly into an exclusive corporate wank," Turner said when the prices were released.

The $NZ500 "season" ticket is, in fact, just for the week of the tournament. The same ticket last year cost $NZ50.

Woods has played in Australia twice – in the 1998 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne and as an amateur in the 1996 Australian Open.

This week could be his last appearance Down Under. Long gone are the days when Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player were regular visitors to these shores when they dominated golf for more than 20 years.

It was Palmer who arrived dramatically on the scene in the 1950s with his athletic swagger, movie-star looks and working-class background. He brought the game to the masses and made golf the sport of choice for blue-collar millions in the United States before his appeal spread overseas.

Woods, with his incredible record and even greater popularity, has openly promoted access to golf for minorities but the corporate businessman in him could make live appearances the privilege of the well-heeled.

Only the promoters of the NZ Open will know whether the loss of spectators will be sufficiently offset by higher ticket prices and the sale of television rights around the world.

The latter has been an unqualified success – coverage will be beamed to 158 million homes worldwide.

Part from screening live in New Zealand, it will be broadcast live and delayed on Channel 10 and Fox in Australia and daily in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia.

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