Melbourne: Golfing legend Tiger Woods would appear to have already teed-off for the Melbourne Australian Masters – a stand-alone tournament scheduled for November this year – though in an unexpected manner. Appearance money to be paid to the American sports legend has sparked off heated political debate in the country with Victoria State legislators querying the local government's decision to fork out up to US$1 million for the Tiger's presence.
Reportedly, the Tiger is slated to collect $3 million Australian (US$2 million) for his appearance at the Kingston Heath course. The Victoria state government has promised to contribute half the pledged amount ($1.5 million Australian).
Responding to some heated arguments - and also taking care not to reveal the pledged amount - Victorian premier, John Brumby, said sports fans expected to make their way to Melbourne from within the country and overseas are expected to inject atleast $19 million Australian into the local economy.
The event is expected to be a big draw as it would be the Tiger's first appearance in Australia for more than a decade. Brumby also released a report from auditors Ernst and Young, which estimates that 10-20,000 overseas and inter-state visitors would travel to this southern Australian city to see the Tiger in action.
"It secures for us an extraordinary drive in our tourism industry – it brings people to our State," Brumby said.
State opposition leader Ted Baillieu presented a differing view – expectedly - and claimed that taxpayers would be unhappy to see their money being used to entice highly paid sports stars to Australia in what are manifestly tough economic conditions.
"At a time like this, when people are losing their jobs, it's hard to believe that the Victorian public would think that this is a good idea," Baillieu said.
"When there is concern about high levels of executive salary, the government's spending 1.5 million dollars (Australian) on the highest paid sportsman in the world to come here for a tournament which is not an international tournament."
He also questioned the government's financial estimates and said that as the Australian Masters was a stand-alone tournament it was not likely that it would generate the revenue of full tour events.
"Where is the sponsorship deal, where is the television deal, where's the rights deal and where is the evidence that 19 million dollars (Australian) is going to flow to Victoria because Tiger Woods fronts?" he said.
The Professional Golfer's Association of Australia's director of tournaments Andrew Langford-Jones said Woods' appearance would provide a huge boost for the sport in Australia and the appearance fee would be well spent.
"Many, many people in Australia depend on their incomes and their jobs from the golf industry, it's no different from the car industry or any other industry," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.