Golf sponsor unhappy with Tiger Woods skip

American's refusal to commit could cost golf lucrative sponsorship, writes Steve Elling.

An HSBC official has hinted that his bank could stop sponsoring golf events if stars such as Tiger Woods, pictured at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on January 30, 2014, do not commit to HSBC-sponsored events. Pawan Singh / The National
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From half a world away, the director of sports sponsorship for banking giant HSBC wrote a new verse to a familiar melody, centred on a player who has become something of a personal fixation.

For two years in a row, world No 1 Tiger Woods has been in China in November, playing in one-off exhibitions for pay, yet has skipped the HSBC Champions event in Shanghai, considered one of the 10 biggest events on the planet.

Giles Morgan, the HSBC sponsorship chief, who has taken Woods to task on the same front in the past, on Wednesday offered more criticism about the American star’s failure to commit, an absence that began when the Shanghai tournament was sanctioned as a PGA Tour event – meaning that Woods no longer could accept appearance fees to play there.

The China event is one of four World Golf Championships events, which each carry a price tag estimated at US$12 million (Dh44m) for the title sponsors. Thus, Morgan’s frustration is understandable, both from a financial and emotional standpoint.

In China on Wednesday for the HSBC-branded event on the LPGA circuit, Morgan reiterated his complaint that Woods should support the events where sponsors are spending a fortune, “as opposed to playing in meaningless, money-making opportunities around the World Golf Championships”.

Little of this would matter in the Arabian Gulf region, except that Morgan’s company is title sponsor of the HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, too, a cornerstone of the European Tour’s desert swing.

More notably, when Morgan was at Abu Dhabi Golf Club last month, he underscored the fact that the bank’s golf-sponsorship contracts expire after next year – all of them, by design. A sobering thought.

In other words, Woods’s continued absences could cost the sport plenty, spanning both world borders and gender lines.

For the men, the Shanghai and Abu Dhabi events are two of the biggest European Tour-sanctioned events of the year. The bank underwrites the British Open and a tournament in Brazil.

“We do think that players need to be respectful of these major events, which are really at the top and the pinnacle and the lifeblood of the sport,” Morgan said.

“If you’ve got sponsors investing that level of money, the players should respect the calendar.”

Players are not obligated to enter particular events as long as they make the minimum number of appearances in a season to retain their tour membership.

Morgan implied that perhaps the tours should exert some back-room coercion, because he is clearly using his wallet – one of the biggest in the game – for leverage.

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