As palace revolts go, last week's power struggle in the kingdom of pro golf was like a fireworks display without the gunpowder. At first it evoked nasty images of rebel golfers dug in behind a bunker, lobbing wedge shots upon Commissioner Deane Beman's Washington, D.C. headquarters while Mean Deane fired back with his mimeograph machine. It ended, however, with a whimper: a barrage of legal papers and a surrender from Beman.
Although there were side issues, basically the war concerned the Tournament of Champions, that fun event the players regard almost as fondly as a one-putt green. When Beman and the tour's Policy Board decided that the tournament would be canceled in 1976, you would have thought ball washers had been outlawed. "Why not cancel Christmas, too," said golfer Jerry McGee.
His comment was understandable, for earlier in the year he had won his first tournament, the Pensacola Open, thus qualifying for the exclusive T. of C. field. "It's the second thing a player thinks about when he wins a tournament," said Dave Stockton. "The first is that he's in the Masters. Beman should know what it means to a player because he was a player himself."
The commissioner said he had canceled the tournament because its format too closely mirrored the new and expanded World Series of Golf planned for next year, which also would include many tournament winners. But there were rumors that the real reason for the ban was that the tournament host and co-sponsor, the La Costa Country Club, resembles a small-town girl with a besmirched reputation. Everyone whispers behind her back, even if they've never dated her. The resort features 57 varieties of saunas, massages and buffet tables, and has long attracted a stylish clientele. But it was also reputed to be the romping ground for heavy hitters driving bulletproof golf carts. Last week the La Costa hierarchy decided that even if they spell your name right, not all publicity is good. A group of nine plaintiffs associated with La Costa filed a $540 million libel suit against Penthouse magazine, which alleged in a recent issue that the spa had more connections with the underworld than Joseph Valachi. About this, Beman took the Fifth. "No comment," he said.
At first, the players' reaction was one of dismay coupled with resignation; the T. of C. was almost as much of a tour fixture as Sam Snead. It had been played for 23 years, first in Las Vegas, then at La Costa, which is just north of San Diego. But, slowly, like water over a hot flame, the emotions of the players came to a boil. Golfers love to complain—it keeps their minds off double bogeys—and around the practice tee and the locker room as the tour moved from Dallas to New Orleans, Memphis and Atlanta, the players were advising and dissenting. "I've never seen so many guys upset over any one thing," said Miller Barber at last week's Atlanta Classic, which Hale Irwin was to win, his first victory since last year's U.S. Open. On Tuesday night there was to be a players' meeting at which Beman and the Policy Board were scheduled to appear. There even was speculation that Beman would resign.
Actually there was no chance of a Beman abdication. He is given to saying that while he has a three-year contract, he has a lifetime commitment. His position is unique. He has more power than any commissioner in sports, since most of the others are public-relations figureheads who do little more than hold press conferences, deny protests, throw out first balls and administer the wishes of owners' committees. Beman's decisions must be approved by the Policy Board, composed of four tournament players, three Professional Golfers Association members and three businessmen, but the board rarely countermands his edicts. However, his owners are the players, a group of approximately 300 golfers who belong to the Tournament Players Division of the PGA, and when they are as concerned as they were over the T. of C. issue, Beman has little choice but to acquiesce to their demands.
The players were not only upset with Beman's decision, but with his method of arriving at it. He did not consult the players' seven-man Advisory Board, headed by Bob Rosburg. This group has no voting power but serves as liaison between the touring pros and the administration. Also, Beman still shares the athlete's suspicious view of the press. Earlier in the year when a controversy erupted between the TPD and the sponsors of the Bing Crosby and Bob Hope tournaments over the division of revenue, among other things, Beman refused comment rather than air the squabble in the newspapers. Many players felt that they were made to appear greedy. This time Beman telephoned several prominent pros and instructed them not to comment on the cancellation of the Tournament of Champions. That order stuck like a golf tee in some throats.
At the Memphis tournament two weeks ago, Tommy Jacobs, a former touring pro who now runs golf operations at La Costa, showed up to generate support for reinstatement. He found that all he had to do was sit around and listen. Golfers like Billy Casper and Dave Stockton and Miller Barber spoke with Beman almost daily, urging him to reconsider. At Atlanta, Casper said, "He sends out letters saying we ought to support our sponsors. It looks like he ought to be supporting them a little more. These people have been great to us for 20 years."
"I don't know what to say until after the meeting tonight," commented Johnny Miller. "Personally, I'd like all of the tournaments to be played in California."
Most of the pros were mumbling, but their discontent with Beman did not forebode much action beyond that. "This talk about a rebellion is silly," said Hubert Green. "It makes us sound as if we've got six-guns in our golf bags. Nobody agrees with everything that Beman's done but I don't think he's done a bad job. You can't get all the pros to agree on what day it is, much less anything else."
In fact, the decision already had been made to reinstate the tournament. Beman flew to Atlanta from Washington on Monday night, met with the Policy Board Tuesday morning and the agreement was reached. That evening he marched into the players' meeting at Atlanta and read a prepared statement that ended with another admonition to refrain from discussing the issue. Later, a player characterized his demeanor as "nervous." "I wouldn't say nervous," corrected Beman. "I was apprehensive because I did not want the meeting to turn into a debate. I did not want an adversary relationship to develop between the players and this office. There hasn't been one and there isn't any now, and it's our greatest strength."
At the meeting, Beman then moved on to a discussion of other business, including the reinstatement on the tour of Britain's Tony Jacklin, whose playing privileges had expired. According to the bylaws, he would have to attend one of the players' qualifying schools in order to reacquire them. Some of the younger players were upset that Beman had allowed Jacklin back on the tour without qualifying even though Jacklin has won the U.S. and British Opens. Some comments followed about the Crosby-Hope squabble, and the new tournament to be sponsored by Jack Nicklaus next year. All told, the session took about two hours and most of the pros left satisfied, their guns still in their holsters. "I think it was one of the most constructive meetings we've ever had," said Dave Stockton. "Beman showed that he is willing to listen to the players."
Given their argumentative nature, Beman listens to his subjects quite a lot. Unlike baseball or basketball players or athletes from most other sports, golfers are individual franchises. They are more concerned about how the commissioner's decisions are going to affect them today than how they will affect the tour 10 years from now, when they may be giving lessons at some fancy resort.
Since assuming office in March of 1974, Beman has been making a lot of decisions from his obscure office in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Bethesda, Md. Located on the ground floor of a high-rise apartment house, the headquarters has not even a sign outside the building to indicate that this is where the future of golf is being shaped. "It's better for me to be in Washington than in New York," Beman said last week after returning to Bethesda. He grew up in the area, played his college golf at the University of Maryland, and during his six years on the tour he continued to maintain his home there. "I don't want this office to become bigger than the game. It can't be under the day-to-day scrutiny and on the media firing line that, say, the office of Pete Rozelle is. We don't want to be cast or characterized as a czar."
Although he never reached the goals he set for himself as a pro golfer, Beman did win $370,000 and four tournaments. Indeed, he participated in the Tournament of Champions several times. He also is no stranger to the business world. While in college he founded an insurance brokerage firm, which supported him during a lengthy amateur career that included two U.S. Amateur titles and a victory in the British Amateur. He does not miss athletic competition, claiming he faces enough challenges at the office. He is frequently at his desk by 7:30 a.m. and only very rarely plays golf, although he admits almost bashfully that he has taken up tennis.
One of Beman's accomplishments has been the mediation of the smoldering dispute with the PGA. The touring pros rebelled in 1968 and formed the Tournament Players Division, hiring Joe Dey and giving him a five-year contract as commissioner. His role was played mostly in the arena of public relations. In April of this year, the TPD and PGA announced that the last of their differences had been settled amicably. Beman was a chief negotiator.
The face of pro golf will change next year. There will be winter, spring and summer championships, with the World Series of Golf becoming what Beman envisions as "the ultimate championship." In addition to buying the new suit, he did not forget to coordinate the rest of the outfit. His more subtle alterations were expanding the publicity staff; scheduling seminars for tournament sponsors; adding a television and film department; initiating a long-driving championship; and hiring an agronomist to advise the greenskeepers of tournament courses on how to keep the crabgrass out. He also created the post of Executive Director and filled it with Hugh Oliver, a retired Air Force colonel who promptly streamlined the flow of memos and issued a set of bound manuals that have the tour on almost the same operational level as the Pentagon.
Traditionalists are concerned about all the activity, but Beman points out that he is guarding against building a carnival midway. There are players who would sell advertising on their backs if they could. Indeed, many already have contracted their hats out, and their golf bags look as if they could race at Indy.
So far the thrust of the changes has been elitist. Dey helped conceive the designated tournaments, which demanded the presence of the top players. Ultimately 10 were envisioned. Beman scheduled one this year, not counting the Tournament Players Championship. "Our concept is not to dilute our product," says Beman. "We are going to take our very best and put them in one place to develop the highest level of competition and use the various media to bring them to the most people."
Beman is a good friend of Nicklaus, a man whose involvement in the U.S. tour could be likened to that of a Wall Street banker's interest in the price of gold. Beman, in fact, had a hand in two of Nicklaus' 15 major championships. He supplied the putter that Jack used to win the U.S. Open at Baltusrol, and it was a putting lesson from Beman at the PGA Championship in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. that contributed to Nicklaus' victory there. "I have closer friends on the tour than Jack," maintains Beman, wrinkling his nose in annoyance at the hint of conflict of interest. "Anyway, I can be independent of friendships and still fulfill the responsibilities of this job."
Despite the withered economy, the tour is taking deep, healthy breaths. Attendance has been up at most of the tournaments, Beman has a list of 20 potential sponsors and last week he was negotiating for a new television contract, the provisions of which might be so lucrative that for the first time the PGA may announce them.
Meanwhile, for the dissident players who see Beman as a bogeyman and who came away from the Atlanta meeting disappointed, there was both good news and bad news. The good news was that Beman was forced out of his office last week. The bad news was that he was back in it the next day. Having survived a revolt, he was not going to let a little water from a leaking air conditioner keep him away for long.