The following is an exclusive excerpt from the forthcoming book, Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force, about the former PGA Tour commissioner and the backlash he faced from two of the game's legends.
Jack Nicklaus was first to arrive for the meeting at Bay Hill Club and Lodge. He checked his watch. He was early. It was March 9, 1983, pro-am day at the Bay Hill Classic in Orlando, and Nicklaus had requested to see his longtime golf rival, Arnold Palmer.
This wasn’t a social visit. Nicklaus’ agent, Chuck Perry, urged him to discuss with Palmer their mutual discontent with the direction the PGA Tour was headed under its commissioner, Deane Beman. Even with the pros playing for more money than ever before, the Tour’s elite grumbled about its leadership. So The Golden Bear decided to take The King on a hunt.
Nicklaus was escorted to Palmer’s office, a former storage unit in a corner of the Bay Hill golf shop of the resort he owned. Standing in the doorway, Nicklaus glanced around and with a look of disbelief turned to the pro shop attendants and asked, "This is Arnold’s office?" They assured him he was in the right place. Nicklaus looked around, sized up the motley collection of art, family photos and books, shook his head, then said with a gasp of astonishment, "He comes in here everyday?"
Moments later Palmer approached Nicklaus and welcomed him into his quaint and cluttered office. Alastair Johnston, the high-powered IMG executive who attended to Palmer’s business affairs, and IMG’s founder, Mark McCormack, were there too.
Once seated, Nicklaus quickly took the lead. He outlined his concerns, berating Beman for breaking with precedent. The Tour’s purpose, Nicklaus said, should be limited to assembling the schedule, marking the golf course, and setting the hole locations. Tournament operations should be the bailiwick of sponsors, volunteers and tournament directors. In short, Nicklaus was at odds with the Tour’s growing role as a marketing engine and proclaimed its marketing initiatives had crossed the line.
Just three years earlier in 1980, the Tour established a marketing department, which was renamed PGA-PGA Tour Properties, Inc., in 1982, after it entered a partnership with the PGA of America. The Tour had already signed deals for an official credit card, airline and cruise line. Nicklaus complained that the growth of such initiatives represented unwanted competition for his and Palmer’s own branding opportunities. Every shirt sold with the Tour’s golf man logo meant one less shirt sold with either Nicklaus’ Golden Bear logo or the multicolored umbrella that Palmer trademarked.
It was with a twist of irony that Nicklaus mentioned logoed shirts. In the book, "Arnie: Inside the Legend," author Larry Guest recounted how during the height of their spirited rivalry, Palmer made it a habit to ridicule a friend or club member who arrived at the first tee in his presence wearing a golf shirt emblazoned with Nicklaus' Golden Bear.
"What’cha doin’ wearin’ that pig on your shirt?" Palmer often chided, pinching the emblem along with several layers of skin beneath it and twisting hard.
Indeed, some say it is more than happenstance that once the Nicklaus camp learned of Palmer's demeaning exploits, they redesigned the logo, giving the bear a slimmer silhouette.
This rivalry of sorts off the course worked both ways. When Palmer ducked out of the meeting for a bathroom break, Nicklaus queried Johnston if this was truly Palmer’s office or had he chosen to meet here to avoid drawing any attention? When Palmer later was informed of Nicklaus’ flabbergasted reaction, he seethed. Within a week, Palmer ordered renovations to modernize and expand his office. "That meeting with Jack cost a couple million dollars," Johnston said.
When the meeting resumed, Nicklaus expressed his other concerns. He believed the Tour should limit its role in negotiating and packaging television rights. Nicklaus and Palmer operated their own Tour events and wanted to sell the TV rights individually rather than have them grouped with the Tour’s other tournaments. Nicklaus concluded: "I’ll do everything in my power to stop that man," he said of Beman.
Nicklaus beseeched Palmer to put their business interests before any lingering animosity for each other. It was time to orchestrate a palace coup.
"Well?" Nicklaus muttered.
Palmer nodded in agreement, delivering a verdict of damnation. The two shook hands setting in motion a power struggle that raged behind the scenes for several months.
To understand how the Tour became the success it is today, one must examine this oft-overlooked moment. During this period, Beman, then 44, faced the biggest threat of his tenure.
"It wasn’t a power struggle," Beman said. "It was a total revolution."
A few months later, the men he worked for would call Beman to the carpet. In a packed ballroom at Westchester Country Club’s turn-of-the-century clubhouse in Harrison, N.Y., players stood in tense, solemn expectation for what some were calling a public hanging. It was this climactic moment that defined, and then catapulted, the Tour to an era of dynamic growth.
Six weeks after Nicklaus and Palmer’s rendezvous, a fairly routine meeting of the PGA Tour tournament policy board was set to adjourn on May 17 in Atlanta, Ga., site of the Atlanta Classic. Beman led a lively discussion. Much had been accomplished, including the approval of Bay Hill’s status as an invitational and the creation of the TPC Greens Committee to evaluate changes to the TPC Sawgrass course. No one wanted to see the meeting drag on. But then Jim Colbert, one of the four player directors on the 10-member board, interrupted with a final question that struck everyone by surprise. He asked the independent board of directors to assess the Tour’s performance.
Seated at one end of a long rectangular table, Colbert sensed that his fellow board members took offense at the innocent question. From all corners, puzzled looks confronted him. To the men in the room, the answer seemed self-evident. E.M. (Del) deWindt, chief executive officer of the Eaton Corp. of Cleveland and the Tour’s chairman of the board, spoke rapidly, with an eagerness for one of his favorite subjects. Beman, indeed, had done much more than just continue in the role formerly held by Joe Dey. deWindt reminded Colbert that when Beman became commissioner in 1974, he inherited a Tour playing for $8.2 million total prize money, with $400,000 in the bank, rented office space in New York, and owned as its largest capital asset an IBM Selectric typewriter.
deWindt noted that in 1979, Beman assessed some brutal facts. Professional tournament golf experienced a period of relatively flat growth and uncertain prospects for several years in the 1970s. Television ratings declined and research indicated a shrinking demographic for the game. Many felt that golf had not kept pace with other professional sports in terms of marketing, promotion or spectator innovations; nor had the Tour developed any significant revenue sources besides television rights fees, which, in 1980, accounted for nearly 80 percent of all Tour cash receipts.
Against this sobering background, Beman developed his vision for the Tour: promoting the game aggressively, increasing revenue by competing more effectively in the sports marketplace and broadening the base of support for tournament golf and the game. In the nine years that had passed since Beman had assumed leadership of the Tour, deWindt crowed, Beman found a 415-acre piece of swampland in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and persuaded the developer to sell the land to the Tour for $1. He moved the Tour’s headquarters there and built the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course, marking the launch of a network of spectator-friendly courses.
Beman ushered in the creation of the Senior PGA Tour just in time to showcase the magnetism of Palmer as he entered the twilight of his career. Tournament purses were on the rise, deWindt bragged. Charitable contributions had reached record levels. New revenue streams from TPCs to marketing partners were paying off handsomely. The Tour’s financial picture had never been better. All of this was irrefutable. When deWindt finished speaking in near reverent tones of Beman’s record, Colbert said, "That’s what I thought. But we’re fixin’ to get hammered."
It was a jolt no one in the room could’ve anticipated. There was a collective stunned silence. Colbert slumped forward, his forearms on the table, and broke the silence with an explanation. It was a few weeks ago, he said, while competing in the 1983 Byron Nelson Classic in Irving, Texas, that he entered the players' locker room to find Nicklaus holding court in front of an audience of 20 other pros. This gave Colbert an uneasy feeling. Nicklaus was friendly and respected by his peers, but he wasn’t the type to linger around the clubhouse. So Colbert leaned against a locker behind Nicklaus, yet well within earshot, and listened to the Golden Bear disparage the way Beman ran the Tour like a feudal lord. Colbert stood there, arms folded, and watched in dismay as heads bobbed in agreement. Colbert summed up the grievance session with this assessment: "Jack thought the Tour was all but running a used car lot."
At this point, Colbert didn’t know that Nicklaus and Palmer had already formed an alliance to overthrow Beman. Everyone in the meeting recognized Nicklaus as among golf’s foremost powerbrokers. He carried clout as one of the few players of his day who moved the needle and was at the top of the sports marketing pyramid. What was Nicklaus up to?
From across the table Colbert’s eyes met Beman’s. There was such a vast understanding in Beman’s eyes. His brow, pleated with worry, was a summation of all the things he didn’t have to say: trouble loomed.
The locker room meeting Colbert had witnessed foreshadowed what was soon to come. Before long, Beman would stand accused of being a power-hungry dictator, who was steering the Tour in the wrong direction. His list of detractors included a roll call of future Hall of Famers. They unleashed their frustrations, signing their names to a letter that demanded Beman’s dismissal.
"They wanted a new commissioner," Colbert said with his clipped, assured conviction. "That’s all there was to it. They wanted Deane out. He was getting into their business."
Back in the boardroom, Beman, preparing his own defense, scribbled down nine points on the cover of his board book. In the minds of the independent directors, this was emblematic of a proxy fight with stockholders. They all were successful businessmen, the type who had risen to their positions of power by quelling an uprising or two, and they advised Beman how to proceed. Perhaps the most influential was deWindt. His eyes bounced from Colbert to Beman and he suggested the Tour produce an annual report. Information had been periodically provided to the membership through the year at various player meetings. Players also could discuss individual concerns with the Tour’s player relations representative, Mike Crosthwaite. But the Tour never produced a formal report to the membership.
"Any legitimate business should provide an annual report to its stockholders," deWindt opined. The rest of the Tour’s independent directors – Bob Kirby, chairman and CEO of Westinghouse, and Card Walker, chairman and CEO of Disney – echoed deWindt’s suggestion.
Colbert’s warning proved the equivalent of Paul Revere’s midnight ride through Boston when he shouted, "The British are coming!" Having a head start helped Beman’s staff prepare for the player uprising – and they needed all the good fortune they could get, considering the rebellion’s ringleader was such a worthy opponent.
For much of their lives, Beman and Nicklaus rejoiced in each other’s triumphs. They first met at the 1953 USGA Junior Amateur Championship in Tulsa, Okla., when Beman was just 15, Nicklaus a towheaded teen of 13. They became competitors, frequent practice-round partners, and Walker Cup teammates too. Nicklaus learned to chart courses from Beman, who assembled a rudimentary yardage book in the mid-50’s and scribbled more sophisticated notes after witnessing top amateur Gene Andrews use one at the 1958 U.S. Amateur. Nicklaus scoffed at Beman’s meticulous nature at first. “Try it one time,” Beman urged. Nicklaus did so the week of the 1961 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, broke par every round he played and won. When Nicklaus showed up as a professional at the 1962 L.A. Open, he was surprised to find he was the only one who walked off yardages, and scribbled notes on index cards. Soon others adopted the practiced, and before long a yardage book became an indispensable part of a pro’s equipment.
Nicklaus affectionately called Beman "his swing doctor," and even has credited Beman for playing pivotal roles in two of his record 18 major victories. On the first memorable occasion, Beman suggested Nicklaus try his spare center-shafted Bull’s Eye putter prior to the 1967 U.S. Open at Baltusrol. Smitten with the putter, Nicklaus nicknamed it "White Fang" (the brass head was painted white to prevent sun glare) and rolled to victory.
The other in February before the 1971 PGA Championship (at the original PGA National now known as Ballen Isles) when Nicklaus and his wife Barbara had invited the Bemans over to their North Palm Beach, Fla., home for a game of cards. During the game, Beman mentioned that he noticed during a practice round that Nicklaus wasn’t completing his backstroke when putting. After the Bemans won the card game, Nicklaus dashed to his pool deck, where he practiced on an Astroturf green. Thanks, in part, to Beman’s timely tip, Nicklaus one-putted 29 times on the grainy greens that week – "the best putting in a tournament in my life," he said – and rode a confident stroke to a two-shot victory. His second PGA Championship title made him the first professional to twice capture the modern career Grand Slam.
If Nickaus won more titles, Palmer won the most fans. Professional golf's original superstar was Palmer, who with his matinee idol looks and go-for-broke style emerged as golf’s first celebrity pitchman in the early 1960s. His one-time collegiate opponent, Mark McCormack, recognized Palmer’s potential as a global brand. Their deal formalized with nothing more than a handshake, gave birth to sports management goliath IMG. During Palmer’s first two years with McCormack, his endorsement earnings reportedly grew from $6,000 to $500,000, the kind of success never seen in golf before. But it proved to be just a harbinger of the hundreds of millions of dollars Palmer would earn even after he ceased to be a competitive golfer.
At Palmer’s urging, Nicklaus, when he turned professional in 1962, also signed with McCormack. But in 1970, Nicklaus fired IMG because he was reportedly frustrated at playing “second fiddle” to Palmer at the management firm. "To have held on to Nicklaus, I couldn't have expanded the company," McCormack later explained to Sports Illustrated. "I’d have had to personally watch over him. Instead, I was creating IMG. I'd have won the battle and lost the war."
In 1975, Nicklaus hired a former college president and magazine publisher, Chuck Perry, to manage his business affairs. As president and CEO of Golden Bear International, Perry set about expanding Nicklaus' marketing effort. According to a March 1977 article in the Ocala (Fla.) Star Banner, Golden Bear employed 178 people and Nicklaus' vast empire stretched from golf clubs, bags and balls to car dealerships, a travel agency, a radio station, cattle ranches, real estate developments, a natural gas company, and of course, a golf course architectural shop.
In 1983, Nicklaus, Palmer and Tom Watson were the top corporate endorsers in golf. Perry, along with Watson’s agent, Chuck Rubin (at the time he was also Watson’s brother-in-law) persuaded Nicklaus and Watson that the marketing and growth of the Tour would undercut their entrepreneurial opportunities. Beman visited with Watson in his hometown of Kansas City to address some of his concerns. They met for five hours. Watson’s perception was summed up neatly in a 1992 quote to Golf Digest in which he expressed his reservations about the Tour’s direction: "I think the basic problem is that the Tour is competing with its own players. It’s marketing the Tour for the players, but at the disadvantage of the successful players who could go out and market their own image."
Beman and others believe that Rubin and Perry planted the seed with their clients to overthrow the commissioner. "Rubin was the guy who stirred the pot," deWindt alleged.
In short, the agents argued that if the Tour entered into a relationship with a Fortune 500 company, it undermined the players’ abilities to sign their own deals. On the surface, Perry’s argument had merit, and it appealed to Nicklaus, who shared his "zero-sum" outlook in which there could only be winners and losers. Beman’s distance from the sport since his retirement as a player in 1974 provided him with a different perspective, but he still understood the mindset of the professional athlete.
"Nicklaus looked at business the same way as he did a golf competition; for every dollar one side made, the other side had to suffer a loss," Beman said. "That there could be more than one winner in the same contest was as foreign to professional golfers as conceding a 5-foot putt."
The agents preyed on their clients' underlying fear that the Tour would snatch lucrative deals from them. One of their chief complaints: By getting into real estate through the development of Tournament Players Clubs, the Tour was directly competing with certain players who had their own design and development business.
This particularly disturbed Palmer and Nicklaus, who already were earning lucrative contracts for their design work. It was just as alarming for Watson, who had begun collaborating with former USGA president Sandy Tatum and architect Robert Trent Jones Jr., on Watson’s first golf course project – the design of the Links at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, Calif.
Beman scoffed at the notion that the Tour was stunting its players' business ventures. He said they failed to grasp that by marketing the Tour and growing the game, everybody could win.
"If the pie grew bigger they would still be the top chefs," Beman explained, referring to the trio of Nicklaus, Palmer and Watson. "They would still have their pick of the plums."
Beman ticked off examples such as when the Tour negotiated an agreement making National Rental Car the official rental car of the PGA Tour. That scenario, he insisted, didn’t harm Palmer’s long-standing relationship with Hertz. In fact, it motivated Hertz to become more active in golf, and Palmer’s value to the company increased. But Nicklaus and Palmer rejected this line of reasoning and maintained that the Tour had overstepped its boundaries.
At that time, the Tour owned one golf course, the TPC Sawgrass, which had opened in 1982. Already it showed a positive cash flow. Another TPC course was under construction near Denver, and a third was about to break ground in Coral Springs, Fla. The Tour’s latest hire was Kay Slayden, the former president of Fuqua Industries, to head the Tour's marketing and properties division, and the ink was barely dry on lucrative licensing agreements with R.J. Reynolds and Seiko. Nicklaus and Palmer’s objections called for the dismantling of those relationships. In short, they proposed climbing into a time machine and teleporting right back to the era of Dey, Beman’s predecessor.
"This positive energy we had was almost 10 years in the making," Beman said, "and the freight train was gaining momentum."
Yet, Nicklaus and Palmer didn’t buy into Beman's grand vision for the Tour and stood ready to derail it. Oddly, Palmer hardly consulted with McCormack, his agent, during this time. McCormack had been present for the Bay Hill meeting but he was in Europe enjoying tennis’ French Open, when the effort to oust Beman took flight. Beman viewed IMG as a major rival, considering its rapidly growing influence in golf, and regarded McCormack a clever strategist. He often said that if McCormack had been more actively involved in the rebellion, he "might’ve been a dead duck."
Johnston, for one, is convinced McCormack wouldn’t have stood in his client’s way. "Deflating 'the Czar' would not have been a bad thing for IMG," Johnston said.
Beman had been tagged "the Czar of golf," a derisive nickname that evoked players' hostility toward his rising authority in the golf community. It also reflected a larger disdain for the way they felt he acted as prosecutor, judge and jury. Having played a key role in the breakaway of the Tour with Nicklaus, Palmer said he felt a sense of responsibility to ensure the next generation of players was afforded the same opportunities he enjoyed. When a letter to the Tour’s policy board chairman called for Beman’s head, Palmer just signed.
Excerpted from Deane Beman: Golf’s Driving Force, Copyright 2011 East Cottage Press. Available April 29. Pre-order now at Golfsmart.com and Amazon.com. Email the author at Golfsdrivingforce@gmail.com.