Throughout the summer of 1964 there has been one sure way of winning a major North American golf tournament. You beat Arnold Palmer and you come in first. Since the last weekend in June this success formula has been followed five times. Tony Lema did it at the Cleveland Open, Jack Nicklaus at the Whitemarsh Open, Bobby Nichols at the PGA, Kel Nagle at the Canadian Open and Chi Chi Rodriguez at the Western Open. Last week at Oakland Hills Country Club north of Detroit the first $200,000 Carling World Golf Championship was held amid the flying of foreign flags, a message from the President, boosts from the State Department and fairways full of brotherhood. When it was over, Bobby Nichols had shown that the '64 technique for U.S. golf success works internationally as well, for he beat Arnold Palmer by a stroke and that was good enough to take the awesome winner's purse of $35,000.
Once again, as he had at the PGA last month, Palmer played some superb golf—which is only a way of saying that Nichols was superlative in beating him. To get his victory Nichols needed a two-under-par 278, the first subpar four-round score in the long history of Oakland Hills tournaments. To take the lead he had to shoot a beautiful 66 on Saturday, and to hold it on Sunday he had to beat back one chance to panic when Palmer eagled the 12th hole to tie him for the lead and another when Palmer birdied the 18th after hitting a fantastic shot that bounced off the flag-stick. It was good golf and brave golf, and it got a lavish and promising event away to a rousing start.
Putting together a new international golf tournament of such enormous specifications as the Carling is a logistical feat that ranks somewhere between Operation Overlord and Henry V's assault on Agincourt. It took the better part of a year to collect and qualify the 154 pros and one amateur who came from 15 different countries located on six continents. Forty-eight players came from outside the U.S.—some from as near as Canada, whose border is no more than a commuter's ride from Oakland Hills, and others from as far away as Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina. All but four of the top U.S. pros answered the roll call, and so did the very best from the Antipodes and the United Kingdom.
The reason for this extraordinary turnout was not hard to find. The Carling Brewing Co. of Cleveland had put up the largest purse in the history of tournament golf—$200,000. The first prize of $35,000 had been exceeded only by the $50,000 winner's purse during the brief, four-year span of the once and former "World Championships" that were staged by the late George May in Chicago during the middle 1950s. Even the booby prize for 75th place amounted to a pleasant $620, and it was also arranged that anyone who completed the first 36 holes of the tournament but failed to qualify for the final two days of play would receive $400.
The $200,000 jackpot was $75,000 more than the next highest purse on record. It was more money than Ben Hogan, the best player of the '40s and '50s, has won in all his years of championship competition. It was more money for a single tournament than the pros played for during the whole year of 1942. It was enough money to run the entire U.S. government for a full minute.
The people of Carling saw nothing extraordinary about budgeting the $450,000 it took to stage their event. In fact, they thought it made eminent sense. "Golf gives you a good image to be associated with," explained Henry E. (Tim) Russell, the golfing president of Carling breweries, who spent last week observing his company's single most extravagant public relations adventure.
"The game of golf is as clean as any sport there is."
Carling attached itself to the golf image as far back as 1953, when the pro game was first developing as a major spectator sport. Ian R. Dowie, a dynamic Scotsman, was then president of Carling, and he had been raised in Edinburgh, where golf occupies the same place in the life of a growing boy as slot machines do in Las Vegas. Dowie conceived the $15,000 Carling Open for the brewery's home town of Cleveland and found a spot for it on the PGA tour. As time went on and it took more and more money to attract the attention of professional golfers, Carling gradually raised its purses to $35,000 and rotated the tournament among most of the cities where the fast-growing company was building new plants—Boston, Atlanta, Washington, Tacoma and St. Louis.
"We grew as golf grew," Tim Russell says, with evident satisfaction. And indeed Carling grew rapidly. Fifteen years ago, when the company first introduced its "quality" beer, Carling Black Label, into the national market, it ranked 62nd in U.S. sales. Last year it was fourth, behind Budweiser, Schlitz and Pabst.
By 1961 it was getting obvious that the Carling Open had not grown as rapidly as either the beer sales or the prizes of pro golf. "It was just another tournament," Russell says, "so we decided we would have to drop it or find a way to do something outstanding with it." A steering committee was formed to pursue the idea of enlarging the tournament to intercontinental dimensions—something along the lines already achieved by the International Golf Association with its Canada Cup—and it evolved a plan that was simple to express but grand in scope: the company would offer much the biggest purse in golf and would get a representative selection of the best pros from all the golfing countries in the world to compete for it.
The previous Carling Opens had been run by H.R. (Dick) Taylor Jr., a low-pressure public relations man who now set out to prepare a study on how a large international tournament could be administered. It took him three months to get his report on paper and another two months for the steering committee to approve it and, as he puts it, "they blew the whistle in December 1962."
Some time was needed to find a summer date that fitted the PGA schedule and work out a system of qualifying that satisfied the U.S. pros—"it would have been pretty hard for any competent player not to qualify as long as he could hold on to a club," said one touring pro last week—but this was nothing to what was involved in setting up regional qualifying arrangements for the foreign golfers.
Taylor began by flying to Washington, explaining his proposition to the State Department and getting it to send letters of approval to U.S. emissaries in the 60 golfing nations that Taylor was inviting to participate. On May 1, 1963 he set off on the first of two trips on which he would visit 48 of the 60 nations, explaining the Carling World Golf Championship and learning something about the state of golf in them. On this five-week journey he covered the British Isles, Europe, the Middle East, South Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Almost everywhere enthusiasm was high, and he even found some interest behind the Iron Curtain. Through the State Department he had made contact with golf officials in Czechoslovakia. He flew into Prague on a 24-hour permit and was met at the airport by three men who approached and identified themselves by saying, "Golf." Taylor replied, "Golf," and off they went to have a chat. He discovered that there are some 400 Czech golfers, but no one with a handicap of less than five.
Another triumph of golf over international ill feeling came with the agreement of the Arab nations to be included in the same qualifying zone as the Israelis, and vice versa. On the other hand, because of the apartheid policies of the South African government, it seemed diplomatic—i.e., necessary—to include the North African and Middle Eastern nations in the same zone as the Europeans and to let the South Africans, who have numbers of first-rate golfers, qualify among themselves in their own zone.
Meanwhile, many other things had to be arranged, some of them harrowing but normal for the sponsors of any major golf event these days, and others peculiar to the Carling. First, a course had to be found. Carling wanted to play the tournament in one of its principal marketing zones. And, as Tim Russell put it, "We were determined to play the tournament on the best course we could get in the U.S. However, any course that had had a major championship within the last two years was out, because the members would have howled."
Oakland Hills—"The Monster," as Ben Hogan dubbed it after winning the 1951 Open there—was the first choice. It had been the host to four U.S. Opens, most recently in 1961, and is among the half a dozen most difficult courses in the country. The members were adept at running a major championship, and they were not averse to closing their course for a week in order to earn the $100,000 or so that accrues from such a championship.
Getting 48 golfers and another dozen or so observers from around the world was a $30,000 transportation headache to the tournament committee. It was soothed by an arrangement with Pan American World Airways, which sells Carling Black Label on many of its flights. For the past few months Carling has been working Pan Am into its TV commercials free of charge. When the final bill for the airline tickets from faraway places is presented to Carling by Pan Am, the value of these commercials will be given serious consideration in totting up the eventual charge. It just may come out all even.
It took 475 hotel rooms in the area around Birmingham, Mich. to house the contestants, press, Carling personnel and the miscellaneous cargo that attaches itself to a big golf championship. The Northland Inn, an elaborate new hotel in a suburban Detroit shopping center, was the tournament headquarters, but the manager of Northland Inn was not entirely enchanted by the honor. By mid-afternoon of the Tuesday before the tournament began, when latecomers had not yet signed into some 40 of his rooms, he sold them and thus acquired a lobby full of angrily snorting golfers, including Tommy (Thunder) Bolt, whose wrath has been known to need more space than a lobby affords.
Since not all the golfers were at home in English, interpreters were provided—two for the Japanese, two for the Chinese (one Mandarin and one Cantonese) and two for the speakers of Spanish. In addition, a Chinese golf bug by the name of Peter Lin paid his own fare all the way from Taipei to do the cooking for two Far Eastern pros, who he feared would not be able to digest the American variety of rice (they failed to make the cut, even on Lin's cooking). Carling also provided a kind of chef de protocol in the person of Peter Bennett, the head of public relations for Canadian Breweries and a onetime British foreign service officer who has done time at the U.N.
To take full advantage of its golfing image, Carling bought more television time over the CBS network than had ever been spent on a single golf event. On Friday night it staged a half-hour network show in which Tony Lema, Cary Middlecoff, Dave Marr and others described the snares and pitfalls of the six holes that would be covered by the TV cameras during the following two days—two more holes, incidentally, than have formerly been shown on a tournament telecast. The hour and a half of the Saturday broadcast and the two hours on Sunday were also a television first, both in the total length of the shows and the number of stations (208) on the hookup.
It was, in sum, a major commercial enterprise, but by last week it had just the kind of international flavor—and attention—Carling had hoped for. A sort of United Nations arc of flags flew around the practice green, and at the tournament's formal opening ceremonies a protocol officer from the State Department read a welcoming message from President Johnson: "On behalf of all Americans and particularly those who are devotees of the great sport of golf, I extend best wishes and welcome...." Impressed, Billy Casper observed with ferver, "This is a tremendous tournament. There's no telling how important it could be to international sport in years to come." There the amenities ended, and the pros set out on the stimulating business of drubbing their foreign friends and each other in pursuit of $200,000.
As the play proceeded, the only notable disappointments in the otherwise triumphant debut of the tournament were the size of the galleries (40,639 in four days) and the performance of the visitors from abroad. None but Gary Player of South Africa and Bruce Devlin of Australia were in serious contention on the final day—Player finishing in third place with 281 and Devlin in a tie for sixth at 283. Both of them are, however, among the more successful competitors from week to week on the U.S. professional tour, so they hardly qualify as strangers to the world of American golf. The only other overseas visitors to crack the first 40 were Peter Butler, the British PGA champion, whose 288 brought him a tie for 17th, and Peter Alliss, the long-driving British Ryder Cup perennial, who tied for 33rd with a 290.
Twenty-nine of the 48 visitors failed to make the cut at the end of two days. None of the South Americans made it, only Koichi Ono of Japan among the Asians and only half of the 12 entrants from the British Isles. Obviously, this says something emphatic about the relative qualities of tournament play in the U.S. and the rest of the world. What it says, in the main, is that a course like Oakland Hills is just too much golf—the holes too long, the bunkers too many and the greens too difficult—for players who are not accustomed to the American way of golf. The exception to this is the British, for, when the weather is violent, the more noble of their seaside courses can make Oakland Hills seem like peewee golf. But the British pros simply do not have the opportunity to develop enough tournament toughness during their short season.
Nothing illustrated this point better than the performance of Butler. He started the tournament with two fine rounds of 71 and 69 and found himself in a tie for second on Friday evening. "It's certainly nice to see one of the visitors doing so well," said a Carling official—a sentiment echoed all around the clubhouse, for everyone hoped that the international tournament would maintain some international competition. But late Saturday afternoon Butler started to drift back into the pack, and his final round of 76, while playing in the same pairing with Palmer and Player, showed what can happen to a stranger in the presence of Arnie and his Army.
Yet if the foreign performance was not lustrous, that of Ben Hogan was. Every time he walked up to a green he received the kind of applause from the gallery that can come only to a man of profound quality, and his tie for fourth at 282 after a final round of 68 was something to be savored. The Hawk still inspires awe among his fellow pros, too. One afternoon Pete Brown, a fine young Negro golfer who tied Hogan for fourth, came bounding up the stairs to the grill room, where some other players were eating, and chirped in a shrill voice: "He just said, 'Hi, Pete.' "
"Who did?" someone asked.
"Hogan did," said Brown, in a tizzy.
Bobby Nichols, it developed, got something from Hogan, too. "I practiced with Ben Hogan on Tuesday," he explained, "and I really learned a lot. I just tried to hit the ball the way he does—straight down the middle and up onto the green and hope to sink a putt or two." That is exactly how Nichols played through the tension-filled last seven holes on Sunday, refusing to change his strategy no matter what Palmer did. A birdie on 12 and then six safe pars were good enough to win. Just as he had done at the PGA when his winning putt went in, Nichols lofted his red cap high into the happy gallery, and then Arnold Palmer was saying—rather seriously—to him, "Let me have one once in a while, will you?"
Palmer will get one, to be sure, and Carling seems to have one now. "I hate to sound excessively puffy about it." Carling's Tim Russell found himself saying puffily last week, "but there is no limit to this tournament's possibilities." Next year it will be played in the U.S. again, and then in England. But meanwhile it does have one limit. Its first champion won't sell a lot of beer—Bobby Nichols doesn't drink the stuff.