Golf: Show up and take the bung

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The Independent Online
A BRAVE new venue, the same old story. Europe's finest were absent en masse from the French Open last week when the promoters took the novel step of refusing to pay appearance money. Normal service is resumed this week for the Carrolls Irish Open here and, apart from Sandy Lyle, the gang of six are all here.

That, of course, can only mean that Carrolls have agreed to provide the leading lights - Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, etc - with, in football manager parlance, a substantial bung. A few years ago Ken Schofield, the executive director of the Volvo European Tour, said he was 'declaring war' on the players' agents. Appearance money, he said, was intrinsically wrong and steps would be taken to outlaw it. The trouble is the posse was out of town.

Appearance money is slushing around as much as ever. Promoters and sponsors get round the 'ban' by, for example, holding a pre-tournament shoot-out, an abbreviated form of knockout golf, for the high earners. When Schofield spoke of agents he was referring principally to Mark McCormack's International Management Group, who represent Faldo, Langer, Woosnam and Lyle. Since his declaration Schofield has shifted significantly closer to IMG. The Tour now has a joint venture with them in building and designing golf courses and, through McCormack's TWI, the televising of tournaments.

It has become an incestuous business. For the Peugeot Spanish Open in Madrid last month, the gang were out in force because they were bunged extra pesetas. For the Peugeot French Open, the francs were for prize money only. It was simply a difference in philosophy between the respective promoters. In Spain the tournament was run by Amen Corner, a company owned by Seve Ballesteros, while the organisers of the French Open, Promo Golf, refused to pay, in Faldo's case alone, up to dollars 150,000.

Anyhow, Carrolls have assembled a star-studded cast - Ballesteros and Jose-Maria Olazabal are also here - for the first championship in Ireland over a course designed by Jack Nicklaus. The course is part of a 1,500-acre estate in County Kilkenny in south- east Ireland, and Nicklaus's purpose- built, mounded design has water on many of its holes. In other words, for the All American country club read the O'American country club.

Langer, who missed the cut at the US Open after complaining of a pain in the neck, is still troubled and he may withdraw this morning. 'If it feels good I'll play, if it doesn't I won't,' the Masters champion said. 'I'm waiting for feedback from the doctors and the physios.'

Lyle, who, according to IMG, is keeping himself 'fit and fresh' for the Ryder Cup, has only played in five events in Europe this season, but is not totally idle this week. On Sunday he plays in an exhibition match to open the Oxfordshire Club in Thame, a pounds 20m development which is owned by a Japanese company.