The New Zealand open is always one of the highlights of my season, and I was proud to win it in 2000, but I won't play next January unless the outrageous ticket prices are reduced. This year patrons paid $21 for a weekly pass. For next year organizers have jacked up the cost to $205 to help recoup the $2.25 million appearance fee they're paying Tiger Woods.
I'm not attacking Tiger or his fee. He and I are very good friends, and we have often played together. What's more, I'd love to beat Tiger in my backyard. I'm upset about the exorbitant cost of the tickets, which would make the New Zealand Open one of the world's most expensive events and keep most people from attending. That's why I was stunned when Steve Wilkins, the tournament director, recently told me that plenty of New Zealanders are perfectly willing to pay $205 a ticket. Whom is he talking about? Many of my friends wouldn't be able to afford that steep a price.
What really bothers me is the organizers' blatant disregard for youngsters. The event has always been free to kids 16 and under. Now even they will be charged $205. I sponsor a junior golf program in New Zealand and would never dream of asking those kids to pay more than $20 for a ticket out of their hard-earned savings.
As one of New Zealand's leading golfers, I feel I must stand up on behalf of my countrymen, but I'm not the only golfer who's protesting. There has been a ground-swell of support among touring pros from New Zealand. Stephen Scahill, Greg Turner and David Smail, the defending New Zealand Open champion, have said they too will not play unless prices are reduced, and Bob Charles has congratulated me for my stance. I will keep in touch with tournament officials, and there's plenty of time to reach an agreement. I make only one demand, and it's a simple one: Reduce the price by at least half and I'll play.