DEVELOPING CRISIS IN PRO GOLF

The crowds are larger than ever and the money is rolling in, but the PGA has serious problems which it is too timid to face
December 04, 1961

Next month the 80 or more professional golfers who follow the tournament trail steadily for the first three quarters of the year will tee off in the Los Angeles Open to begin the 1962 tour. During the course of the year they and the several hundred fairly obscure pros who join them from time to time undoubtedly will set new course records, attract greater crowds than ever and may even develop a promising new golfer to threaten Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Doug Sanders, this year's leading money winners. The box office gross for the 48 tournaments will be somewhere in excess of $2.5 million, and the pros will divide up more than $1.7 million of that in prize money. They will also stage countless exhibitions for fees of up to $2,000 apiece, play in many pro-amateur tournaments on their off days (where the pot can be as full as $10,000) and take home another $250,000 or so, the total they made this year from their various television shows.

The outlook for the playing members of the Professional Golfers' Association could hardly be rosier. Indeed, it may be too rosy. For there are several important problems facing the PGA, and just at a time when members of that organization could and should be finding adequate solutions and exploring the future boldly they seem perfectly content to rest complacently on their collective haunches and wait for more money to roll in.

This distressing tendency may lead to disappointments. For instance, the growing interest in golf everywhere means that more and more people want to watch the pros, and yet nothing is being done to accommodate the steadily growing crowds. Even at the Augusta National, a course purposely designed to accommodate large galleries, it is becoming virtually impossible for more than a fraction of the audience to see a popular pairing.

The PGA and its tournament sponsors soon will have to forgo the vast new audience they are developing or invent a better way for several thousand people to follow a single golf match (grandstands bordering the fairways, perhaps, with closed-circuit television bringing in the action from elsewhere on the course).

Another imminent problem for the tour is the lack of really first-rate courses on which the tournaments can be held. In Houston, for example, a city where there are half a dozen splendid courses, the tour plays on a flat, unimaginative and poorly groomed public course because the private clubs either don't have adequate facilities or don't care to have their grounds trampled by the galleries. There is talk in Houston of building a course specifically for the tour with vantage points for the gallery and all the necessary accommodations for servicing a large crowd, but it would cost around $3 million to complete. At least half the cities on the tour are in the same fix, so it is going to take a lot of initiative and gumption on the part of the PGA to get these projects under way.

There is also the question of new talent. Among this year's 25 leading money winners, only Jacky Cupit and Dave Hill, who are in 18th and 22nd place respectively, can genuinely be considered fresh faces. It takes years to develop stars like Palmer and Player, and yet the PGA leaves it to chance that colorful young performers will come along to replace them. There has been sporadic talk of splitting the tour—as is done for a few brief weeks during the winter when some of the lesser names take a swing through the Caribbean—but unless there is more opportunity for young players to win money, few of them are likely to endure the years of sacrifice it now takes to get in the profit column. Even so, the PGA must fight a constant battle to keep the money distributed as broadly as it is now, for the sponsors always want a bigger winner's purse to add to the excitement.

Just when these and other problems of the future needed some determined and farseeing direction, the PGA parted company with the only true impresario the tour has ever had. J. Edwin Carter is his name, and he is an ebullient, rotund and bald-headed man of 55 who, for all his faults—and plenty of pro golfers will spend hours of your time listing them—is a showman who knows how to squeeze the last dollar out of pro golf. It was he who developed the kind of heavyweight program that sells for $1 at the PGA and U.S. Open tournaments, full of local advertising "sandbagged" out of loyal club members. It can produce a profit of as much as $50,000.

During Carter's five years as tournament director for the PGA he increased the number of weekly tournaments from 41 to 48, the prize money from $800,000 to this year's $1.7 million and the estimated gate from $1.8 million to $2.5 million. The principal reason Carter left, aside from the fact that his bustling personality clashed with some of the slower-footed PGA officials, was that he was earning some $100,000 a year from the proceeds of the tour. This breaks down to $39,000 in salary and expenses plus a 5% to 10% cut of some of the gates and 15% of the ad revenue from the program.

Carter's replacement is Jim Gaquin, a tall, bespectacled Bostonian who pahks his cah when he talks and has built a reputation as the best friend the American golf writer has ever had. Gaquin was in charge of the press tent at all PGA events throughout the Carter regime, and nobody in the thankless job of public relations was ever more patient, accommodating or knowledgeable about his work. "That's the first birdie scawed on a par-4 hole longer than 445 yards since January 27," Gaquin would call out to the clutter of reporters bent over their typewriters as the report of rounds in progress came into the press tent, or "That's the fewest putts taken on a cahse east of the Mississippi since the Whatnot Open of 1959." Gaquin did not have to look up these obscure statistics; he has a thousand of them, and they're as familiar to him as the indigestion he gets from the hash houses where he and his pretty blonde wife Lois used to eat after they saw the last reporter safely on his way at the close of a golfing day. Gaquin is an extremely modest, almost diffident man with none of his predecessor's aggressiveness. For all his detailed familiarity with the records of golf, he lacks Carter's flair for showmanship, so it can only be assumed that the PGA put this likable man in Carter's job in order to preserve the status quo.

Actually, the PGA itself is scarcely the organization to run the professional golfing show, and the fact that it does so is simply an evolutionary accident. The PGA was originally formed some 45 years ago as a union of teaching pros, and it wasn't until the late 1920s—when some adroit players like Hagen and Armour, et al. began to attract crowds—that the PGA seriously took up the business of managing tournaments other than its own championship. Nowadays, with a PGA tournament scheduled for nearly every week of the year and weekly TV commitments to boot, the playing pros are quite obviously in show business and could use a Barnum or a Ziegfeld to promote their troupe and exploit its future.

PHOTOOVERFLOW CROWD AT THIS YEAR'S OPEN STRAINS VAINLY FOR GLIMPSE OF ACTION

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)