The 43rd Ryder Cup starts Friday at Whistling Straits in Haven, Wisc. A team of 12 U.S. golfers, captained by Steve Stricker, will take on a team of 12 European golfers, captained by Ireland’s Padraig Harrington.
The winning team will take home a cash prize of . . . $0.
The Ryder Cup is a unique professional sports event in that the athletes aren’t paid.
The Olympics, which feature both pro and amateur athletes, might seem analogous. Yet Olympic national teams frequently provide medalists with cash prizes. The Ryder Cup eschews cash prizes altogether.
Perhaps one might consider an NCAA sports tournament to bear some resemblance, given that college athletes aren’t paid for performance. Yet that analogy doesn’t quite work, either. College athletes, for the time being, can’t receive direct pay for play. Ryder Cup golfers are all pros, some with decades of experience and tens of millions of dollars in earnings.
Started in 1927 by English businessman Samuel Ryder, the Ryder Cup is held every two years and administered by the PGA of America and Ryder Cup Europe. It is considered one of the sport’s most prestigious events. Sponsors and partners include such eminent companies as Rolex, BMW and Polo Ralph Lauren.
“Spanning 91 years and now 42 competitions,” the Ryder Cup stresses, the competition “is among the last great professional sporting events where winning, and not prize money, is the reward.”
While prize money isn’t the reward, revenue generated by sponsors and broadcast rights is still on the line.
To that end, the U.S. team donates to charities as selected by team members. According to the Ryder Cup, each member of the 43rd U.S. Team recently designated $100,000 to a charity or charities and another $100,000 to youth development programs, for a total of $2.85 million. The donations are organized through an outreach program funded by the PGA of America, meaning the players themselves are not funding them and thus do not receive a write-off. Since 1999 (when the practice started) and spanning 11 Ryder Cups, the U.S. Team has donated over $28.6 million to more than 200 charitable organizations.
While they aren’t paid, the golfers do receive items of value for their participation. Most notably, the U.S. captain gives his players and five vice captains a gift. The practice of gifts is also followed by the European Team. In addition, the PGA of America pays for the U.S. players’ travel and hotel expenses, so while they aren’t paid, their costs are covered.