'Thai flood victims need cash not stars'
A growing resentment at the foreign legion plundering Asia's riches came to a head yesterday when Thai golfer Thaworn Wiratchant accused his government of wasting money by paying for big-name players to appear at the inaugural Thailand Golf Championship in Bangkok this month.
Veteran Thaworn (pictured), who is fifth on the Asian Tour Order of Merit, said it was inappropriate that millions of dollars be spent on attracting the likes of world number two Rory McIlroy when his country was still trying to recover from the devastating floods.
McIlroy is also the star attraction at the UBS Hong Kong Open, starting at Fanling today, where the field has been boosted by the government throwing in HK$8 million from its Mega Events Fund.
The Thailand championship, which brings to an end the Asian Tour this season, is backed by two state-owned companies and is believed to have spent US$5 million in appearance fees to lure the world's best, including this year's major winners McIlroy and Darren Clarke, and world number three Lee Westwood.
'While it might be a good idea to show to the rest of the world that Thailand is back to normal, I think the money could have been used to helping the thousands of people who have been affected by the floods,' Thaworn said.
Thaworn has been a victim. He joked: 'I always wanted a swimming pool and I have one now. The only problem is, it is inside my house.'
The 2005 Asian Tour Order of Merit champion, Thaworn also believed the overseas field denied opportunities for local and Asian golfers. 'This tournament won't help Thai golf. We are paying too much money to get foreign players without a reason,' he said.
Another Thai golfer who is also playing at Fanling, said: 'It is not the right thing to do, especially when things are not good back home.'
The glut of megabucks tournaments in China - unsanctioned by tours - has raised eyebrows. October's 'rebel' Lake Malaren Shanghai Masters offered the world's biggest winner's purse - US$2 million - which was won by McIlroy.
The total purse was US$5 million and it also attracted major champions Charl Schwartzel and Keegan Bradley, and Westwood. On top of this, Shanghai developer Shi Jian is believed to have paid a further US$20 million in appearance fees.
This followed the made-for-television Shui On Land Golf Challenge that featured McIlroy, Hong Kong Open defending champion Ian Poulter, Westwood and China number one Liang Wenchong.
Asian Tour executive chairman Kyi Hla Han slammed these events as 'vanity tournaments', which did nothing to help develop Chinese and Asian golf.
The Thailand Golf Championship was asked to join the European Tour, but turned down the offer, an Asian golf tour insider said. 'To become an European Tour event, you have to pay a minimum purse of US$2 million. The Thailand event is offering US$1 million, and using the rest of the money from the government to pay appearance fees for the world's top players,' the source said.