October 25, 2010
Posted: 1138 GMT
Golf's silly season officially began with the PGA's rather loftily titled Grand Slam of Golf, which took place in the sun-kissed paradise of Bermuda recently.
It brings together the four winners of the year's majors who play over 36 holes. The winner takes home a cool $600,000 with generous prize money for the other three.
PGA champion Martin Kaymer and U.S. Open winner Graeme McDowell snapped up their invitations but unfortunately for the organizers, Masters champion Phil Mickelson understandably decided to put his family first after a long season and skip the event, while British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen was injured.
Alternates David Toms and Ernie Els, fine golfers both, who have not exactly been forces in majors the last few seasons were hastily drafted in and rather embarrasingly proceeded to dominate with Els winning.
That's the nature of golf but after McDowell's Ryder Cup heroics and Kaymer's three in a row tournament triumphs, the tepid atmosphere at the Port Royal Golf Course was less than inspiring. They finished eight shots behind Els.
Watched by a smattering of a gallery, it's hard to escape the feeling that these end of season invitational tournaments serve little purpose other than to fill the pockets of the participants and a few hours of satellite channel air time.
But the cash bonanza does not end there for golf's superstars. Genuine end of season competition resumes with the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai in November where the battle for the world number one ranking will be gripping, while for the European Tour stars the Race to Dubai reaches its climax in the emirate.
But then come the first week of December and the gravy train is in full swing.
It kicks off at the Tiger Woods-hosted Chevron World Challenge where the prizes are hardly to be sniffed at, with $1.2 million going to last year's winner Jim Furyk.
Despite being an 18-man invitational event, what started as an end of season exhibition affair has now become an official tournament attracting world ranking points.
The argument for this would have been made stronger because at the same time in South Africa, the Sun City Challenge, sponsored by a major bank, is also going on and $1.2 million is offered to the winner from the 12-man invitational field. Again ranking points are on offer for the lucky few who get the call from the organizers.
The players aren't to blame here and who wouldn't pitch up to add to their pension funds? And a lot of money is donated to charity.
But, and it's a big but, the line has to be drawn between genuine, full-blooded competitive tournaments, such as the majors and regular season Tour events, and invite-only small-field events in which the rich just get richer and consolidate their position in the world rankings for good measure.
It was a trend started when the late, great Mark McCormack created the World Match Play tournament at Wentworth in the 1960s and invited all the game's legends to turn up.
Since, through his International Management Group (IMG) he had most of them signed up, their participation was not in question and winning the tournament was highly prestigious.
It was the era before the world ranking list, but when it was introduced it quickly attained that status and started to count towards the European Order of Merit.
But as player's earning power increased, the attraction of playing 36 holes per day in the English autumn grew less attractive and the quality of the field declined.
World number one Tiger Woods is IMG's star client but he took it off his regular schedule and its status year by year grew less important. The other problem was the quality and status of the replacements for the game's very elite, who surely by sheer chance, mostly happened to be IMG clients.
And that is the nub of the problem with invitational events, it's not an even playing field, or in this case golf course, and leaves too much power in the hands of tournament organizers and sponsors.
They have every right to put on events, pay as much prize money as they want, but administrators should put a stop now to this 'rankings creep'.
It undermines genuine full-field tournaments and helps widen the gap between the game's existing elite and young up and coming stars who are working their way up the rankings.