Deane Beman, the second PGA Tour Commissioner – and arguably its most consequential, recently appeared on the Golf Channel to talk about his time as the tour’s CEO, and how he transformed a disparate group of touring pros into a business entity which today churns out millions in revenue per week.
In 1974, Beman, a solid yet nondescript tour player, became the tour’s second commissioner, succeeding Joe Dey, who led a fledging “association” of tournament pros for five turbulent years.
Beman, then 35, would go on to serve for twenty years, and was responsible for turning a group of PGA tournament golfers, called the tongue-twisting ‘Tournament Players Division of the PGA of America,’ into a money-making behemoth called the PGA Tour.
To open the segment on Golf Today – Golf Channel’s newish morning show, its host, Jimmy Roberts, asked Beman if he could “have ever imagined the PGA Tour becoming what it is today?”
“Bowling had a better TV deal than golf at the time,” Roberts added.
The PGA Tour that Beman inherited, on January 1, 1974, was responsible for scheduling and managing a collection of pro golf tournaments, many hosted by golf-addicted celebrities such as Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Glen Campbell, Jackie Gleason and Sammy Davis Jr., among others. Its full-time staff at any given event was just “one or two,” and the total purse was $8 million… for the entire year.
And yes, on television at least, golf was less popular than even bowling. (Although to be fair, bowling was much more popular than it is today.)
More than anything, Beman, a former insurance salesman, knew his business talent would be more beneficial to the tour than his playing skills.
“There was no question in my mind that golf was undervalued,” said Beman, who won four times on the PGA Tour, including the season prior to becoming commissioner.
“And I took the job because I thought I might be able to have a bigger impact on golf as commissioner than as a player, even though I’d won a tournament just a couple months before, and had a full exemption for a couple years and was in all the major championships. So I walked away having just won but I knew that the PGA Tour was undervalued.
“It was really an association that scheduled tournaments, and put rules officials out there. It was not a business entity. And that was my mission to transform the tour from an association to a business entity.”
The biggest challenge Beman faced was overcoming the “traditional” culture of golf, particularly related to marketing the tour as a big-league TV sport, including the creation of the Tournament Players Championship and TPC golf courses; as well as innovations such as stadium seating, title sponsorships, PGA Tour licensing, and so on.
“Golf is a very traditional game, and overcoming the traditions, of the way things were done was always a big challenge in everything we tried, from bringing on the TPC of Sawgrass, for developing ideas, for marketing, for managing tournaments,” said Beman.
“I think there was only one or two full-time employees at any of our tournaments around the country when I became commissioner. So they weren’t run as a business they were run as a almost a local association.
“So there were a lot of trails to blaze.”
As a reminder, Beman noted that when he came on board, “the tour” was not the PGA Tour. It was a collection of local tournaments and individual players, with its stars deemed by fans and media as “the tour.”
“Again, golf is a very traditional game, and you got to remember, back then the PGA Tour wasn’t the PGA Tour. It didn’t have a name actually that was marketable,” Beman continued.
“The name was the ‘tournament players division’ of the PGA of America. That was our name.
“We didn’t have a name. We didn’t have a brand. And the brand for golf for 50 years – until I started – was the players.
“The most important players, at the time, were what the tour was. Not the tour itself.
“And, of course, it started with Nelson, and Snead, and Hogan. And then transformed itself, after – into the late 50s and 60s, to Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and then went on with Greg Norman.
“But the players were the PGA Tour. And we didn’t really have anything to market. The players did all the marketing for themselves through their agents.”
That focus on the players is why, upon assuming the role as commissioner, Beman quickly introduced The Players Championship concept.
Originally known as the Tournament Players Championship, the inaugural event was slotted late into the 1974 schedule on Labor Day weekend. Jack Nicklaus claimed the tournament’s maiden trophy, and secured a first-place check for $50,000.
The PLAYERS would eventually find its permanent home, in March, two years later when it slid into the 1976 schedule as the headline star of the tour’s popular Florida Swing.
The Tournament Players Championship was off and running, and quickly became one of the tour’s most anticipated events.
From the outset, Beman’s vision was for the PLAYERS “to earn its stripes,” and eventually transition to the category of a major golf championship. Yet, nearing its 50th anniversary, the PLAYERS – despite its major feel, highlighted by elite fields, massive purses, and golf’s most iconic hole – is still only nicknamed “golf’s fifth major.”
Yet, at 82, Beman – arguably golf’s greatest salesman – is still pitching the idea.
“I’ve always thought that the Players Championship should be a major, and considered a major,” said Beman, when asked if the Players should be designated as such.
“You have to earn your stripes in this game, so early on it was a hope that we could reach that pinnacle.
“But I believe the statue of the tournament, the interest that the players have in it, should make it eligible for that kind of a category [a major].
“And Jack Nicklaus I’m sure won’t be unhappy because he’s won it three times, and Tiger’s only won it twice, so if it were declared a major, Jack will still get one more win ahead of Tiger.”