News & Opinion

Tiger’s effect on golf? Not what you think

ST. LOUIS – It would be great to see Tiger win again! If Tiger wins, it would be good for the game of golf!

These are two of many thoughts of fans, professional golfers and even the media, but do they have any basis in fact? To answer that question, you first must define what golf means in this context.

If we are talking about professional golf, there is no question that Tiger Woods is the biggest needle-mover in the game today. He drives TV ratings, and the turnstiles need a little extra lubricant when the Big Cat is on the prowl at a tournament, such as in Sunday’s final round of the PGA Championship here at Bellerive Country Club.

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St. Louis turned out en masse to see Tiger Woods during the final round of the PGA Championship on Sunday at Bellerive Country Club, foretelling a similar trend among TV viewers.

© GOLFFILE/BRIAN SPURLOCK
St. Louis turned out en masse to see Tiger Woods during the final round of the PGA Championship on Sunday at Bellerive Country Club, foretelling a similar trend among TV viewers.

On Sunday, CBS earned a 6.1 rating and 14 share, which was a 69-percent increase over last year’s final round, in which Justin Thomas won, and was the highest rating of a final round at the PGA since 2009.

Those higher rating points turn into additional dollars that the PGA Tour can seek in future rights deals and expand the ever-growing prize money for which Woods was the main factor in cultivating since he arrived on Tour in 1997.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that even Tiger Woods, with his 79 Tour victories, including 14 major championships, has been unable to grow the game at the grass-roots level.

It’s not his fault. He clearly can do little more than he has done on the golf course, and off of it with his Tiger Woods Foundation. Yet, his actions have produced no measurable growth in a game that by many measures is moving backwards as society uses its time in other pursuits.

Even in Woods’ heyday in the early 2000s, the professional game – defined by purses – grew while the amateur game – defined by participation – retrenched.

Let’s be honest: It’s hard to believe that Woods would represent and play the golf equipment of sports juggernaut Nike, which eventually quit making golf equipment altogether.

Woods’ initial foray into golf architecture was a flop, but he recently has found some traction with his design work.

From a growth standpoint, the game – not including professional golf – has not benefited from Woods’ celebrity. In fact, an argument can be made that the overall game was hurt by Woods’ overwhelmingly popularity.

Woods’ attractiveness to the public, not only golf fans, was recognized very quickly. Everyone wanted a piece of Woods.

Rights fees for PGA Tour broadcasts rose exponentially. To pay for those increases, advertisers were charged more for the inventory on golf coverage. Those increases eventually were passed on to consumers, making equipment more expensive.

It was basic economics: when the cost of goods or sales increase, the expense generally is passed along to the consumer in the form of higher prices.

Because Woods was so popular, many speculators tried to cash in on his celebrity, building more courses, better courses, more expensive courses. Many of those courses built during the height of Woods’ dominance since have gone under or are struggling to survive.

Is any of that trend Woods’ fault? No, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened and is attributable to Woods’ popularity.

Woods is a freak of golf nature. There never will be another player like him, with such widespread acceptance by the public at large, to go along with a game among the best ever.

But to say that his return is good for the game ultimately is fake news.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli