AS July is now firmly established as the month when British golf all but locks itself in the Temple of Mammon, trying to persuade the average punter that not all professional players are eye-wateringly rich is a challenge on a par with rattling the collecting tin for the Society of Indigent Hedge Fund Managers or asking for donations for the raffle at Sepp Blatter's testimonial dinner.

After all, it was only on Sunday that Justin Rose pocketed a cool half-million at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen. Meanwhile, at the equally regal Royal Birkdale in Lancashire, Ricoh Women's British Open winner Mo Martin beamed down at a £277,887 winner's cheque as if it was her first born.

Serious moolah. And it gets more serious still this week as the Open Championship heads for Hoylake, where the world's best male players will squabble over a prize fund that now stands at £5.4m, an increase of £150,000 on what was on offer last year (and an increase of £5.4m on the very first Open, at Prestwick in 1860, when the gleeful winner went home with just a belt). This year's winner will walk away with £975,000.

Loading article content

If the fortunate fellow is already one of the game's elite players, the chances are that his first stop will be the nearest airport, where his private jet will be waiting. Ah yes, blessed are the birdie makers, for theirs is a comfortable cruising altitude and a lie-flat bed.

And as they head off for the land of nod - most likely by way of some convenient tax haven or other - they can dream of the cash bonuses they will be scooping up under the terms of their already lucrative sponsorship deals.

So nice work if you can get it. Trouble is, only a handful actually can. Purses are growing and the rich are getting richer, but that comforting neo-liberal theory of trickle-down economics is as much a myth in golf as any other area of life. There is a seemingly never-ending queue of wide-eyed wannabes ready to pursue dreams of glory, greatness and lashings of lovely loot on the men's European Tour, but most of them will be lucky if they even manage to recoup the £1400 they have to stump up just to enter qualifying school.

Yes, those who do come through that process will be given the golden ticket of a Tour card, but it quickly loses its shine if they cannot turn playing privileges into results and hard cash.

Nine years ago, Lloyd Saltman won the Silver Medal as low amateur when he finished 15th at the Open. He turned pro two years later, picked up regular (if modest) cheques, but then began to struggle. He plays mostly now on the third-tier EuroPro Tour, where his total earnings this year add up to £780.

At Birkdale last week, it was wonderful to watch Charley Hull, England's teenage phenomenon, light up the course with her wide smile and fearless golf. Marvellous, too, to see Laura Davies roll back the years with that combination of power and finesse that made her the dominant figure in the women's game a quarter of a century ago.

Yet for me, the abiding image from the tournament was provided by neither player. Rather, it was the disconsolate group of competitors I saw checking out of my hotel on Saturday morning. All had missed the cut. The very fact they had been billeted in the same dilapidated bunkhouse as a member of the media speaks volumes in itself of their financial resources.

As the Women's British Open is classed as a major, they at least had some money in their pockets, although £456 doesn't go very far when you have a caddie to pay on top of international travel expenses. As Anne Robinson might have put it, in reality they left with nothing.

In fact, even the high rollers of the sport don't have it quite so easy as the sums might make it seem. It is well to remember that the cheques they pick up there represent winnings, not earnings. Effectively, every one of them is on a performance-related pay deal.

Would any footballer ever agree to such an arrangement? A golfer who picks up £300,000 in a year is doing pretty well, and certainly playing pretty well, but bear in mind he - or just possibly she - is only getting what Wayne Rooney collects in a week. Rooney's rewards are guaranteed for the next five years; a golfer cannot even predict what the next round will bring in.

Recently, that point was made forcefully and eloquently by Erin Walker, wife of Jimmy Walker, who currently leads the PGA Tour money list. Writing on a golf website, she had the grace to admit that the $2,117,510 her husband picked up last year was 'a ton of money' but she pointed out that it was significantly diminished by travel, coaching and caddying costs.

"The 200 or so men on the PGA Tour are the best in the world at their chosen profession," she explained. "They represent about 0.0001% of the [US] population. Yes, they are paid well for their talents, but if you ask me they certainly deserve it."

There is a decent philosophical debate about whether the ability to hit a ball with a stick with a reasonable degree of accuracy has any intrinsic worth. But the very same debate could be had about men who chase inflated pigs' bladders around a field. There's no question in my mind about which group has the easier life.