The most mysterious man in golf, John Bredenkamp, began to
emerge from the shadows last week. Bredenkamp--a man who has
amassed, according to credible reports, a $350 million fortune
as a tobacco merchant and arms dealer--visited Las Vegas for
three days for the PGA International Golf Show, and from there
he flew to Gainesville, Va., for the Presidents Cup. Bredenkamp
apparently has left tobacco and weapons and devoted himself to a
game he seldom plays. His two-year-old sports-management
company, Masters International, which has 60 employees and
offices in Jupiter, Fla., as well as in Johannesburg, London,
Moscow, Singapore and Tokyo, represents, among others, two
players who competed in the Presidents Cup, Nick Price and
Robert Allenby. He also represents Michael Campbell, the
lavishly talented New Zealander, and David Leadbetter, the most
prominent teacher in the game. Earlier this year Bredenkamp
nearly bought a struggling equipment manufacturer, Founders
Club, but abandoned the deal when he decided the terms were
unfavorable to him. He's looking at other golf companies and
other golfers. Someday he might want to manage golf tournaments,
run golf schools and build courses. In the meantime people in
the golf business are watching and waiting and whispering, even
the high and the mighty. Mark McCormack, the founder of the
International Management Group, has been inquiring about
Bredenkamp's intentions. "He's a man of incredible resolve," a
fellow golf mogul told McCormack. "Bredenkamp could lose $100
million in golf and still not give up."
Bredenkamp was raised in Zimbabwe when it was Rhodesia, and has
lived in Holland, Belgium and England. He lives now in a mansion
on a golf course in Sunningdale, outside London. On a 1996 Times
of London list of the richest people in Great Britain,
Bredenkamp ranked 76th. But Bredenkamp, who became a Dutch
citizen in 1970, is little known in Europe and even less known
in the U.S. That is likely to change. The business cultures of
tobacco and armaments are secretive by nature, but golf is out
in the open. Bredenkamp does not work the practice tee pressing
flesh and making friends. His reputation, though, precedes him.
In the tight circle that comprises the American golf industry,
word of a tape of the British investigative news show Dispatches
is going around. First aired on British television on Nov. 9,
1994, the documentary describes, in the kind of detail that is
hard to fabricate, Bredenkamp's immensely profitable night job
as a sanctions-breaking arms salesman, a middleman between
manufacturers and warring countries. The program details, for
instance, how a company owned by Bredenkamp sold land mines to
Iran and antiaircraft guns to Iraq in the Iraq-Iran war in the
mid-1980s, and how those mines killed British soldiers in the
gulf war in 1991.
On a weekday afternoon last month, Bredenkamp sat in the living
room of his vacation home in Jupiter, which is on the ocean and
down the road from Price's house. There were ashtrays
everywhere. Bredenkamp, 56, is white-haired, unpretentious and
uncomfortable without a cigar or pipe in his mouth. He had been
answering questions directly and simply for more than two hours.
He had already acknowledged his miscalculations in a mammoth
equipment deal he negotiated for Price in 1995 with a company
called Atrigon--then fledgling, currently out of business--
doomed in part by the heft of Price's contract. Now Bredenkamp
was being asked about his history as an arms merchant. He was
not happy. "You said you weren't going to get into this,"
Bredenkamp said. Nothing of the kind had been said. "I can tell
you right now I made all my money in [tobacco]," said
Bredenkamp, who sold Casalee A.G., the tobacco company that he
owned, for $100 million in 1993. "Tell me something: If I had
broken sanctions and done all the things that have been
reported, do you not think some official would come to the
office for a discussion? I have never had any- body come to me
and say, 'You've made one dollar illegally.'"
But Bredenkamp's rhetorical question supposes that war is a
logical business with open books, and it is not. The British
news program implies that the reason charges were never brought
against Bredenkamp is that he operated with the tacit approval
of British and American intelligence organizations. Moreover,
Bredenkamp, in the interview in his Jupiter house, acknowledged
that he has broken sanctions. He admitted to violating United
Nations economic sanctions against Rhodesia in 1972, in the days
when Ian Smith was the president of the country, by buying
aircraft for the white-run Rhodesian government that was then
waging a brutal civil war with black Rhodesians. Finally, even
tobacco executives who worked for Bredenkamp routinely heard him
speak of arms deals. "He's always been an arms dealer," says
Brian Murphy of Harare, Zimbabwe, who worked as an executive at
Casalee from 1980 to 1988. Any suggestion to the contrary, says
Murphy, "is a very big lie."
For a brief period Masters International represented two of the
best players in the world: Price, who was also raised in
Zimbabwe, and Ernie Els, the South African who won the 1994 U.S.
Open. Els became part of Masters International when his business
manager, Nic Frangos, and Bredenkamp launched the company as
50-50 partners. Bredenkamp and Frangos had known each other as
schoolboys; they attended the Prince Edward School in Harare in
the late 1950s, the same school that Price went to in the
mid-1970s. Their joint business venture, which began in May
1994, ended six months later. Frangos refuses to discuss the
relationship. Els speaks for his manager. "They broke up when
that deal came up about John being an arms dealer," Els says,
referring to the Dispatches report.
The list of people who will not speak about Bredenkamp is long.
Says Frangos, "I have no comment whatsoever, but even that, I
suppose, tells you something." Sam Feldman, a South African
sports agent who worked briefly with Bredenkamp, says, "John
Bredenkamp is a gentleman, on the outside. Aside from that, I've
nothing to say."
Even Price is careful when he speaks about Bredenkamp, whom he
joined in 1994 after ending a 17-year relationship with IMG.
"He's done a good job for me in respect to negotiating
contracts," Price says, "but he's still learning about the game."
One could argue that Bredenkamp has mismanaged Price more than
managed him. After dominating golf in 1993 and '94--playing Ram
irons--Price, on Bredenkamp's advice, made a move that was
supposed to ensure that Price and his family would be wealthy
for generations. He signed a 10-year deal for $25 million plus
about a 10% equity interest with Atrigon, a two-year-old
California company that had a single product, a one-piece
driver. The idea was that Price would develop a line of irons,
play successfully with them and that Atrigon would take off.
Price's close friend, Greg Norman, had done something similar
with Cobra clubs.
But the company never produced irons, or even a driver, to
Price's satisfaction. Atrigon has ceased operations, and the
deal has been terminated. Bredenkamp and Price say mismanagement
on Atrigon's part led to the failure of the company. But
Bredenkamp acknowledges that he did not advise Price well. "I
certainly wouldn't do the same thing again," Bredenkamp says.
"What I learned from the experience is that I wouldn't just want
to hear what a company was going to do; I'd want evidence of it."
As the 1994 season came to a close, Ram wanted, naturally, to
retain Price. Jim Hansberger, the company's president,
negotiated with Bredenkamp, and the sessions went poorly.
"Bredenkamp and his people were shooting for the moon--all or
nothing," Hansberger says. "It was very, very difficult to know
where I stood with Bredenkamp. I like to have nice, open
discussions. If one side wins, it's bad. He wanted to win and to
have us lose."
Tom Crow, chief of club design for Cobra, met with Bredenkamp
only once, in December 1994. The subject was signing Price. "He
was a bully," says Crow. "His attitude was, 'I'll tell you, you
won't tell me.' I got the strong impression he didn't give a
damn about our side." Their talks went nowhere.
The impressions Bredenkamp made on Crow and Hansberger--as
domineering, secretive, aggressive, blunt--are the personality
traits most often associated with Bredenkamp. As a young man he
was the captain of the Rhodesian national rugby team. Obsessed
with winning, he played with excessive zeal. As a salesman of
tobacco and arms, Bredenkamp is described as having a fantastic
capacity for travel and a desire to be present at any major
transaction, but as someone who refuses to dicker on price. He
is a willful man. Bredenkamp describes himself as an alcoholic
who "hasn't had a drink in 20 years," and says his father and
grandfather were alcoholics too. He did not join a program to
stop drinking. "I just got up one morning and quit," he says.
"Some people need programs. They are not strong. I was very
Bredenkamp has known tragedy. When he was a teenager, his
father, a Rhodesian tobacco farmer of modest means, killed his
wife and then himself. His family life is complex. He has a wife
and three grown children but reportedly also has a young son
from an extramarital affair. Somewhere along the way, says a man
who knows him, "money became his god."
However, Bredenkamp says he did not go into the sports-
management business to make money for himself but for his
friends. (In addition to representing 10 pro golfers, Masters
International manages several prominent cricketers and rugby
players, as well as Gary Kasparov, the Russian chess
grandmaster, whom Bredenkamp met while doing business in
Russia.) "I have always been very keen on sport," he says. "I
have a number of friends who were world-class athletes, and
today they have no money. I thought that was a bit of a tragedy.
I wanted to try to give something back."
He is still learning his new business, and golf. Bredenkamp
signed Campbell last year, a year in which Campbell finished
fifth on the European money list and tied for third in the
British Open. Bredenkamp negotiated a lucrative apparel deal for
Campbell with Nike. (Leadbetter and Price also have deals with
the shoe company.) Bredenkamp arranged for Campbell to play, for
a fee, in tournaments around the world and in two unofficial
events last fall. Now Campbell is weary, and his play has
suffered. Worse, he is 177th on the PGA Tour money list and
145th in Europe, which means he might not earn a card on either
tour for next year. In fact Campbell, who is from New Zealand,
turned down an opportunity to play in last week's Presidents Cup
so that he could compete in the concurrent Trophee Lancome
outside Paris in a desperate attempt to improve his status in
Europe. (He finished 58th.)
"It has been a tough adjustment for me, the golf business,"
Bredenkamp says. "I am a very decisive person: 'Yes. No. Go.
Let's do this.' Now I'm in a business where you're waiting and
looking. People say, 'I will get back to you.' It is time
consuming. It is not a very decisive business. You have to get
used to it. If I want to stay in the business, I have to accept
Bredenkamp is asked: Do you want to stay in the business? He
does not hesitate. "Yes," he says. In other parts of the house
there's a buzz of activity, Bredenkamp's men at work. In the
kitchen there is a black chef de maison, a young man from
Zimbabwe who speaks a tribal language. He wears Nike sneakers
given to him by Price. Elsewhere, one of Bredenkamp's assistants
fields calls on a cellular phone. Bredenkamp seldom gives
interviews, but he is enduring this one with patience. Over the
past two years, he has begun to realize that the golf business
is largely about marketing, that to be a golf mogul is to be a
public person. He has seen Norman's successes.
Why, he is asked, do you want to be in golf? "I enjoy it,"
Bredenkamp says. "I enjoy the people--the people that we have."