Fourteen of the top players in golf have signed a letter, authored by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, that asks PGA Commissioner Deane Beman and the Tour's tournament policy board to answer a broad range of questions about the future direction of the sport.
The 14 players, whom Nicklaus described last night as "the main players in the game," are particularly concerned about the PGA Tour's decisions in recent years to market the sport heavily. They are also worried about other new business and potential high finance ventures..
A special players meeting has been called during the Westchester Classic next Thursday evening to, in Nicklaus' words, "begin getting the answers to a whole series of questions about which we feel we've had trouble getting information in the past . . . the questions have been asked for a couple of years, but this could be the beginning of getting the responses.
"Arnold and I met with some of the top players last week (at Nicklaus' Memorial tournament)," said Nicklaus last night by telephone from his home. "We're getting out of the game before too long. But we didn't feel that the state of the game was necessarily correct, going in the right directions. This has been a concern of a lot of players for some time."
An extremely concerned Beman and his staff have assembled an extensive package of material, including audited financial reports on the Tour's new business dealings, which will be distributed to players at Westchester, sources say. "We feel that when some of the players who are upset see all the information that we present to them, that they will feel much better," said Beman yesterday.
Nicklaus and Palmer have concerns about several programs and trends in the game that are the creations of Beman. The Westchester meeting, and the discontent of the 14 top players, represents a heating up of longstanding frictions between the ideas endorsed by the two sides.
Said Nicklaus, "We have questions in a lot of areas . . . Is the Tournament Players Club (in Jacksonville, bought with the players money) generating proper income . . . What are the specifics about building more 'stadium golf' courses like the one at the TPC . . . Are the marketing plans that they're developing now going to hurt the earning power of future stars in the game . . . Are players giving up too much when we all pool our TV rights and sell them as a group?"
The broadest area of concern, the most economically far-reaching and the vaguest is marketing.
Beman would like the Tour to put its logo on everything from golf shirts (a $200 million a year industry) to golf bags. "Players have never gotten a fraction of the money back out of the sport that they should have," said Beman. "The marketing of the game is long overdue."
"The players want to know what the long-term financial effects of this will be," says Nicklaus. "They want to know who'll be better off and who'll be hurt."
Tour pros are concerned about whether the Tournament Players Club and other similar future facilities may leave them liable for business losses. Beman said yesterday, "The Tour will have no liability in any of the courses that are planned."
The top players also want to know whether the next Hogan or Palmer or Nicklaus will have the opportunity to build an empire whose estimated worth, like Nicklaus', runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Or, will an aggressively marketed PGA Tour cut into the market, thereby greatly cutting into their dollar potential?
To see the potential big business value of such an innocuous phrase as "the marketing of golf," think of the empire subsumed under the words NFL Properties Inc.
Now, players sign away individual TV rights to the Tour upon joining. That means major stars cannot participate in possibly lucrative televised exhibitions conflicting with Tour events.
Players even wonder if--when the day arrives that the Tour has its own shirts, shoes, bags and the like--they will still get vital endorsement contracts from the manufacturers of these products. For instance, Ray Floyd is paid $90,000 a year to carry a bag advertising The Yellow Pages.
"What we are doing will just broaden the opportunities for those type endorsements," said Beman. "We would just be a small slice of the marketplace. PGA Tour products would need players to do TV commercials, or endorse their products, just like any other corporation."
"Nothing in this is directed at Deane," Nicklaus said. "There no question that Deane has a broad agenda in a lot of areas that he's pushed. He's very ambitious. But that's all to the good as long as everybody is informed and consulted along the way. We're concerned that the players, even former board members don't get any information . . . Since Arnold and I sent the letter, the board has been very responsive.
"Golf has always been a very clean game," said Nicklaus, contrasting golf's recent history with that of tennis, which has been rich in law suits, bad blood and infighting. "We don't want that to happen to us . . . If the board answers our concerns, there will be no problems. Probably, there's some right and some wrong on both sides--Deane and the board, and Arnold and I and the other players (in their camp) . . .
"None of us wants to hurt the game. I think everyone will put their personal interests second."