You have to admire Deane Beman for the business-like way he has gone about boosting PGA Tour purses to boxcar numbers and if the commissioner of the professional golf tour stays on the track he is riding now, it won’t be too long before $1 million dollar pots are the rule rather than the exception.
As one of the best amateur golfers of his time and later during an abbreviated six-year pro career, Beman had that star quality about him, and while he may not have seen himself as one of the better pros he sure knew who the real heroes were, especially Jack Nicklaus.
Since assuming the PGA commissionership 12 years ago, Beman has had only one thought in mind--to transform the Tour, not that it was hurting at the time, into a barnstorming circuit of stars with big purses to draw big crowds and fat television contracts.
It hasn’t exactly turned out that way, although Beman is gaining on it, because the stars have chosen to limit their play to the majors and a dozen or so glamour events, leaving most of the other tournaments such as the B.C., Greater Milwaukee, Southern and Pensacola opens to scramble for representative fields. Beman is closing ground on those events and don’t bet against his figuring out how to make them attractive to the stars, at least some of them.
The tried and true method, of course, is big purses. So far, corporate sponsors have stayed away from the events on the fall schedule because they don’t feel they can get enough bang for their bucks going against college and professional football on weekends. But the folks who run the Tucson Open, now the Tucson Match Play Championship, think they have the problem solved with a $1 million purse. That’s probably too much money for the stars to pass up even though the event is scheduled for a late October weekend and probably won’t be televised.
Tournaments with $500,000 or more in purse money are pretty common on this year’s Tour as the money pot continues to boil with no end in sight. The flap with the Crosby family in recent times was basically one of money, more of it in the form of a corporate sponsor that is, even though the 1985 event was one of the richest with a $500,000 purse. Beman’s goal is to have a corporate sponsor, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, for every one of the 44 events on the PGA Tour.
Old fixtures such as the Los Angeles and Greensboro Opens are run by the local Jaycees, and that’s good enough for the PGA. The Bob Hope Desert Classic doesn’t have an official corporate sponsor but it’s no secret Chrysler Corp. guarantees the purse. That leaves a total of only eight tournaments, including B.C., Milwaukee, Southern and Pensacola Opens, without a sponsor.
If you ask Beman why the rush to line up sponsors, he says it’s because of the continuing demand by the players for bigger and bigger purses, which isn’t hard to believe. That’s the trend in all sports these days, so why should golf be the only one without that kind of pressure?
While he’s at it in this big push, though, Beman should meet with the PGA’s Tournament Policy Board, which includes four players on the 10-man panel, and move to change the breakdown of purses away from the star approach he has favored over the years, taking a little of the top and adding it to the bottom. Of course, you’ll hear a lot of moaning from the stars, but something should be done to protect the least, which in golf usually are the kids starting out.
In last week’s $500,000 Houston Open, for instance, Ray Floyd walked off with a $90,000 winner’s prize while the last three guys among those who survived for the final two rounds--Willie Wood, Paul Azinger and John Cook--won $1,060 each. If those last three played in the previous week’s event--the Sea Pines Heritage in South Carolina--then they lost money by competing in Houston since it’s a cinch their expenses for the week in Texas came to more than $1,060, and no one should have to “lose” money playing four rounds.