Business Aviation: Helping golfers catch a break?
From Boeing 787 flybys over the 18th green at the RBC Heritage to team logo jets – sports and aviation is not an uncommon pairing. While the spectrum of the relationship is vast, business aviation has a particular affiliation with some of the most successful athletes in the world – particularly golfers.
Pro golfers typically spend around 105 hours in the air each season travelling between tournaments. The Tour schedule sees them travel all over the US, with the amount of travel taking its toll. Speaking to PGATOUR.com, Jordan Speith admitted to being “beat up, mentally and physically” due to the chaotic travel schedule.
The PGA Tour epitomises why business jets are so useful. Business aviation can make a hectic schedule more bearable and, unsurprisingly, PGA players are using this to their advantage.
Part of the 2017 Tour schedule saw players having to travel from Hilton Head, VA to San Antonio, TX. Using a commercial schedule, this route takes more than three hours, with one connection. In comparison, using a business jet would take just over three hours, nonstop.
When you combine the physical (and mental) challenges of golf and then combine that with jetlag and lack of rest, the benefits of a business jet become clear.
Business aviation has a strong presence on the Tour – you can’t watch it for long without seeing the logo of a business jet provider. NetJets arguably has the largest presence on the tour, and has extended its contract with the PGA as the official private jet provider of the Tour until 2022. Out of NetJet’s fleet, the Citation Sovereign is the most popular aircraft used by Pro players.
But apart from saving time, business aviation offers a few more benefits for athletes. Lower cabin pressure, as found in private jets, reduces fatigue and jetlag. Gulfstream’s G650ER does this particularly well, with a maximum cabin altitude of just 3,000ft (914m). For comparison, commercial aircraft usually fly with a cabin pressure of around 6,000ft (1,868m).
Considering the large (and very expensive) equipment that also needs transporting, private jets offer the ability to do this without any hassle. United Airlines lost Rory McIlroy’s clubs in 2014, and the airline also refused to allow Chinese tennis player Zhang Shuai to board an aircraft with her tennis racket in early 2017.
It’s not just equipment that can limit athletes’ ability to travel commercially, with some players being physically too tall to fit in the cabin. One professional Russian volleyball player was removed from a flight for being too tall and blocking the aisle with his legs this year. Travelling on a private jet cuts out all of the potential stress, letting the athletes focus on winning instead.
Although these benefits aren’t cheap, the most successful golfers can easily justify the cost to travel in such comfort. During the 2016 Tour, 47 players made more than $2,000,000 in winnings alone, with endorsements also a major income source. The top five players won a combined $35,353,545 throughout the 2016 season. This makes flying privately through a jet card or programme (relatively) inexpensive.
This easily covers the cost to fly privately on a jet card or programme, with most NetJets golfers using the Citation Sovereign. The benefits, therefore, are relatively inexpensive if they help a player to win a major tournament.
Some golfers go further and buy their own aircraft. Adam Scott owns a G-IV, with Phil Mickelson and (retired) Jack Nicklaus each owning a G-V. This isn’t the most popular option, with only the most successful players buying an aircraft. This trend was started by Arnold Palmer – the pioneer of utilising aviation to help his golf play.
But private aviation is not exclusive to golf. Athletes such as David Beckham (VistaJet), Michael Jordan (aircraft owner), Serena Williams and Russell Wilson (both Wheels Up ambassadors) all take advantage of the benefits that business aviation provides.
Team sports also benefit from business aviation. Air Partner recently flew the Manchester-based rugby club Sale Sharks to play Lyon in the European Rugby Challenge Cup.
One Premier League football club charters a BBJ for European fixtures. This comes out of the necessity to fly all of the equipment, staff and the team at the same time – a logistical nightmare to attempt this using a regular commercial flight.