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WGC events to be played in USA from 2007

There has been much gnashing of teeth around the golf world since the news broke that the three official World Golf Championships events will be held in the United States in 2007, and probably for many years after that.

This is not completely new. The three tournaments, which began in 1999, were held exclusively in the U.S. just last year, with the Accenture Match Play at La Costa in Carlsbad, California; the NEC Invitational at Firestone in Akron, Ohio; and the American Express Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco.

In fact, the American Express Championship is the only one of the three events that has ever left the U.S., moving back and forth across the Atlantic, played four times in Europe and twice in the States.

But now that Amex has dropped its sponsorship, the name of the event will change to the CA Championship, and will be held at Miami's Doral Resort starting next year, replacing the regular PGA Tour tournament that has been held at Doral every year since 1962.

Make no mistake, most American players and even some of the non-Americans who live in the U.S. are quite happy all three events will be held Stateside, but that wasn't the most important factor in the decision.

Rather, sponsors and television were. While the PGA Tour derives an increasing portion of its TV rights fees from foreign broadcasters, it still receives the vast majority of its television income from American broadcasters.

And the fact is that U.S. television wants the WGC events staged in the country so they can be screened live for a 6 p.m. Eastern time finish, give or take. If a WGC event is held in Europe, it will finish in the early afternoon Eastern time, as all British Open fans will know.

That gives the broadcasting network two options, neither of them ideal. It can screen the event live at a time when ratings are invariably lower than late afternoon, or show it on a delayed basis.

ABC, which owns the TV rights to both events, always has gone with the former option for the British Open, but the latter for the WGC event. NBC will televise the CA Championship next year, and no doubt is delighted it will be held in Florida.

Several non-American players have expressed concern over the events being held solely in the U.S., including Ernie Els. Last week, during the Dubai Desert Classic, he said, "I think it's crazy. Why call it the World Golf Championship if it's played in one country all the time?

"I thought that World Championship events were to promote the game around the world. I can understand from an American point of view that the money for these events are all out of American companies ... but to play them in one country is kind of strange."

Even Tiger Woods agreed.

"I think it is our responsibility to play around the world and to grow the game as much as we can," he said.

Of course, one way Els really could express his displeasure is by boycotting the event. He has done so before, once skipping the Match Play Championship in California, but that was more because it didn't fit his schedule, rather than to make a point.

If one of the world's top players routinely skipped a WGC event, it would help demonstrate that the WGC events really don't mean an awful lot in the wider scheme of things.

The tour can call them "World Championships" all it wants, but they are anything but. There are already four world championship events, The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship.

These events don't have to attach grandiose names to their titles, because they speak for themselves. Woods has won an astonishing 10 of the 19 WGC events that he has played, but if he was honest, he would admit that he would swap all 10 of these titles for one more major.

His primary goal is to go down in history as the greatest player ever, and to do that he has to top Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major professional victories. He's more than halfway there, by the way, with 10.

February 7, 2006

 




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