“Appearance fees do still exist at certain events for certain players,” said James Dunkley, manager for Lee Westwood and other players.
The European Tour’s swing through the Middle East is known for using appearance fees to build top-notch fields. Those tournaments include the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, which starts Thursday, followed by events in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar, with prestige falling by the last two events.
The reasons for paying fees are many. Without them, some top players won’t attend and the strength of the roster falls, which reduces the number of points available for the world golf rankings. That can further keep top players away. Sponsors, doling out millions of dollars, want to guarantee a strong field.
Top players, who are mostly based in the United States, often want to avoid the travel and instead play in the early events on the PGA Tour, in Hawaii and California. They also have other commitments to schedule around.
“Players typically commit to play 35 weeks, which leaves you 17 weeks a year off, or for holidays or sponsor obligations,” said Nick Biesecker, a longtime golf agent. “Time is your most valuable commodity. It has to be lucrative to carve out a week.”
Of course not all of the top players are being paid to play, and those who are receiving fees don’t exactly advertise it.
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is attractive. In addition to an $8 million purse, it offers a lot of world-ranking points because of the top players in the field. This year is the first time that Justin Thomas, world No. 3, will play the event, and Rory McIlroy will return to the tournament for the first time since 2018.