Time is finally called on Walker's world folly

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The Independent Online
This time last year, Ernie Els was frolicking in the surf at Montego Bay, his girlfriend in one hand, a bottle of beer in the other and a cheque for $550,000 (pounds 367,000) burning a hole in his back pocket. When the Johnnie Walker World Championship hits Jamaica, Christmas comes early for the seasoned golfer.

On Sunday, the ubiquitous brand figure of Mr Walker, complete with breeches, red tailcoat, top hat and cane, will do a runner from the West Indies. The World Championship, run by Mark McCormack's IMG, and paid for by United Distillers, has reached the end of the bottle.

The event received the coverage it wanted in the form of television pictures beamed all over the world. The date was handy for the festive drinks market (customer in off-licence in Morecambe Bay opts for bottle of Black Label because he's been brainwashed with brand image splashed into his living room from Montego Bay), and the venue was suitable. Casting his monocle over the globe, Johnnie alights on Jamaica because it is one of the few places where golf can be played in shirtsleeves in December and where the Tourist Board is all for it.

No matter that the championship has as much chance of finding a true world champion as Trivial Pursuit has of producing an Einstein, Monopoly a Murdoch or Cluedo a Holmes. In fact, the introduction of the word 'world' to any event is almost a guarantee that it is manufactured, contrived and open, not to the world at large, but to a small group of recidivists. In addition to the Johnnie Walker, there's the Toyota World Match Play, the Sarazen World Open, the Loch Lomond World Invitational (new), the Andersen Consulting World Championship (new), and the World Cup, not to mention the $1m Challenge in Sun City.

The richest golfers are not just spoiled, they are spoilt for choice. Johnnie Walker (annual budget of around pounds 250m to raise the spirits) thought they had made the creme de la creme an offer they couldn't refuse, but every year somebody finds an excuse - perhaps too tired, too close to Christmas, or the private jet is having a refit.

The great and the good say the money is irrelevant, it is the titles and a place in history they are after. In terms of history, there are only four titles worth a damn, the four majors. Who will remember the winner of the Andersen Consulting World Championship? With a prize fund in excess of $3m, its main boast is that it is the most lucrative tournament in the game. Multi-national companies consult Andersen for business advice. Who did Andersen consult for their input into golf? After a convoluted knockout format, held at venues throughout the world, the climax is on New Year's Eve in America involving four players from the second division. The winner receives a $1m.

Nice work if you can get it? Who said anything about work? Appearance money is officially outlawed, but the successful modern golfer can expect the guarantee of a sum up front in order to ensure that Greg or Seve or Nick is at their event. The superstar will then play in a 'shoot out' or hold a golf clinic, thereby justifying his extra curricular payments.

For the chosen few, who have the opportunity to amass millions, create their own companies, design courses, run their own tournaments, and award themselves appearance money, life is better than winning the lottery. You might think that occasionally they would acknowledge this: "To tell you the truth we've got it made. We play on the best courses, in the best locations, in the best weather, for huge amounts of dosh. And even if we do play a lousy shot, it'll hit a spectator and rebound back into play."

Instead, what they say is: "The greens were too slow/fast or too green/brown or too flat/bumpy. The flags were in ridiculous positions and the crowd kept moving around and photographers kept taking pictures. I can't wait to go home. Where's the courtesy car?''

It is doubtful if Steve Webster will enter this world although, by winning the European Tour qualifying school last week, he has a toe hold on the ladder. He's been financing his golf by working in a pro shop. "I'm going to take my mum and my caddie out for a celebration meal," he said. After six gruelling rounds in Spain, he had won a couple of grand - and it was burning a hole in his pocket.