Deane Beman, the commissioner of golf, apologized yesterday to his PGA Tour membership for not keeping them satisfactorily informed about some of the Tour's new high-finance ventures into the business side of golf.
"We have had time (to disseminate financial information), we just haven't taken it," Beman said yesterday. "The fact that these players don't feel they've understood all the ramifications of what we're doing must mean that we didn't explain it well enough. We should have found better ways to communicate. I plead guilty. It'll never happen again."
Beman was reacting to a letter sent this past week to the Tournament Policy Board, authored by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and signed by a dozen other top players, including Tom Watson and Tom Kite. The letter requested fuller financial disclosure and debate; the petitioners, whom Nicklaus calls "the main players in the game," are particularly concerned about PGA Tour Inc.'s ventures into marketing and golf course building.
Beman insisted that once the players know all the facts they will be more enthusiastic about his and the Board's plans for the PGA Tour to become involved in the sport's business side.
"I want the players to be able to ask questions based on facts, not based on the Tour rumor mill of things that are not true," said Beman. The Tour Board will distribute a lengthy annual report to the membership, including audited financial reports on various new business and marketing deals, at the Westchester Classic this week. A special players meeting, called two weeks ago, will be held Thursday evening, when questions can be aired.
By what Beman and Nicklaus call a coincidence, the Tour staff has just completed a lengthy report documenting the accomplishments of the Tour during Beman's decade of stewardship.
According to material some players already have received, purses have gone from $8.2 million in '74 to $23.7 this year. Tour revenues have gone from $4 million to $20.3. Tour assets have increased from $730,000 to $15 million and Tour reserves have gone from $400,000 to $6 million in the same period.
The Tour also is now far less dependent on television revenue for its total income. Now, only 51.1 percent comes from TV, with marketing providing 16.5 percent ($3,356,550) and the new Tournament Players Clubs providing another 16.2 percent ($3,290,300).
"The PGA Tour (now) serves as the core or anchor of a business that has become at least several hundred million dollars in scope," says a summary on the "Business side of the PGA Tour," addressed to players.
As Policy Board member Larry Nelson puts it, "If we (tour pros) can't be in the golf business, who can?"
Despite Beman's reassurances, some players want a period of more open and informed discussion.
"There is a lot of unrest among a lot of players as to what the Tour's leaders intentions are. There could and should be fuller disclosure," said David Graham. Of the board's assurances of complete financial reports at Westchester, Graham said, "Look what it took to get them. You had to move bloody mountains."
According to one member of the Policy Board, two questions will be widely discussed at Westchester.
The first: to what degree were Nicklaus and Palmer acting as disinterested friends of golf by writing their letter and to what degree were they protecting the long-range interests of their own financial empires in exactly those areas--building golf courses, marketing golf equipment and apparel--in which PGA Tour Inc. would like to make inroads?
"I can't comment on their motives," said Beman, who added that, "I'm sorry that this (the letter-petition) happened. I won't address the letter at all."
The second broad question is whether golf faces a split between superstars and rank-and-file players similar to that in tennis.
Beman, whose job is not considered in jeopardy, said yesterday, "I've always thought that the superstars are going to get along fine on their own. We've been very concerned about increasing the number of players who make a good living from this sport . . . Nothing has interfered with the rights of a player to market himself."
Some players are leery of having their organization fund the building and maintainance of stadium golf courses. "Never invest in anything that eats or grows or depends on the weather," said Chi Chi Rodriguez.
"I'm not so sure the Tour should get into the owning of golf courses," said Graham. "What will the Players Club do for me? I don't have an equity in it. Do I own the first tee or the 18th green?"
Beman's answer: "The Players Club will safely be the biggest money winner on Tour this year. As for any future Players Clubs (two are now near completion), the Tour will not have one cent of investment risk in them."
Hubert Green is among those with reservations about extensive marketing. "If we have an official soft drink of the Tour, for instance, then maybe a rival company is going to look for somebody other than a Tour golfer to be its main spokesman for another brand of soft drink," said Green.
"Deane has many good points, but he needs to be a little more open. The Tour is the biggest rumor mill in the world and we need to get more information out so all these fears and third-hand stories don't get started . . . This (Westchester) meeting should quench a lot of people's thirst . . ."
Kite said he signed the letter because he hoped that golf could "keep its lines of communication open" and avoid in-fighting.
Peter Jacobsen of the Policy Board strongly defended Beman, saying, "Deane and the people on the PGA staff have done so good a job that they've spent 100 percent of their time on producing income and no time on explaining to the players . . . This isn't a rebellion."
Rebellion or not, this episode has riveted the attention of the golf community on big-money issues. As Rodriguez put it, "Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer are like E.F. Hutton. When they talk, everybody listens."