Deane Beman, for 12 Years His Sport's Top Executive, Has Marketed the Game From Tee to Greenbacks : He Has Put Golf on Its Course

Times Staff Writer

Judged by his authority, work habits and life style, Deane Beman fits the image of a typical president or chief executive officer of a big corporation. All he really lacks is the title.

He has a large staff and a big office, reports to a board of directors, helps set policy and runs the day-to-day business of his company, often rushing from city to city in a private plane. He is seldom home, and the rare times he is, he usually gets telephone calls at all hours.

And, oh yes, he likes to play golf.

On the course, however, Deane Randolph Beman does not act like the typical corporate executive whose skill with a driver or 9-iron would remind you of Gerald Ford or Spiro Agnew. Beman, when he is on his game, can shoot 66 from the back tees at the PGA Tour's Tournament Players Club here at Sawgrass. Riviera, Pebble Beach and L.A. North are easier courses to do that on, to give you an idea of how good he is.

Beman's company, while owning the Sawgrass course and operating six others like it today in Florida, Connecticut, Colorado and Texas, is better known for the 72 golf tournaments it runs. He is commissioner of the PGA Tour.

A former amateur champion and a four-time winner on the tour, Beman has labored in semi-obscurity for 12 years as golf's No. 1 executive. His job is largely misunderstood and, in fact, his organization isn't understood too well, either. Tour golf is not like other sports, and Beman's job can hardly be likened to the work of commissioners who run other sports.

Beman runs a sport for about 500 independent contractors who receive no salary or expenses and can decide on their own when and where to play. His players make their own rules; it is their company. At their request, Beman administers their rules, markets their game on television and sets up tournaments for them. He is hired by a board of directors, the Tournament Policy Board, which includes four players among its 10 members. Three executives of the PGA of America and three independent directors compose the rest of the board.

The world hears frequently about such media favorites as Pete Rozelle and Peter Ueberroth, but, in truth, the sporting press pays about as much attention to the fellow who runs major league golf as it does to David Stern and John Ziegler, who, in case you didn't know, run the National Basketball Assn. and the National Hockey League, respectively.

To understand Beman's job, one must first understand that the PGA Tour and the PGA of America, known simply as the PGA, are not the same thing. The Tour is Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and the 72 tournaments. The PGA of America is one tournament, the PGA Championship, and hundreds of teaching and club pros. But the goals of the tour players are different from the club pros'. One is wholly competitive, the other is a teacher and business man. The two organizations have close ties but little else in common.

Once, pro golf operated under one umbrella, the PGA of America, starting in the early 1920s. By the late 1960s, however, as a result of a long-simmering disenchantment among the pros who played the tour for a living, controversy had begun to split the poorly run organization. The controversy was virtually boiling over when Beman came onto the tour at the age of 30 in 1967.

"The players thought they would be better off and have more direct control of their own destiny if they had their own organization," Beman said. The upshot of the players' disenchantment was that a Tournament Players Division, the forerunner of the PGA Tour, was formed with Joseph Dey, who had been the executive director of the United States Golf Assn., as its first commissioner. Beman supported the split.

As a rookie, Beman was not eligible to serve on the Tournament Policy Board, which sets the rules for the tour. Nevertheless, he was asked by his fellow pros, who were impressed by his business expertise, to advise them. He had a degree in business administration from the University of Maryland and ran, with a partner, his own insurance brokerage firm that did business in more than 20 states.

His credentials as a golfer were equally impressive. He won the British amateur championship in 1959 and twice won the U.S. amateur championship, in 1960 and 1963. He represented the United States in the Americas Cup, World Cup and Walker Cup competitions several times between 1959 and 1966. He won four tour tournaments between 1969 and 1973, overcoming severe health problems and an inability to hit the ball as far as most pros.

In 1972 he became a voting member of the tour, and to take greater advantage of his business acumen, the players immediately elected him to the policy board.

At one of the board's quarterly meetings that year, Dey stunned Beman by telling him that he was retiring and that he and the board wanted Beman to be the next commissioner.

Beman said the news came right out of the blue. It also came at the wrong time for him.

"I had a lot of health problems--two hand operations, a hernia operation, a bronchial problem," he said. "I had not had much healthy time."

In 1973, he was having a particularly rough time. "Coming off major surgery, I was having a difficult time getting my game back," he said. Still, he was not ready to quit and told Dey he didn't want the job.

"I had not accomplished what I had hoped as a professional," he said. "I had been competing for 20 years and I didn't want to retire while playing so badly. It (1973) was my worst year of competition, and I didn't want to walk away."

While the board looked for another commissioner, Beman's game improved. He won another tournament and markedly increased his income. This set him to asking himself, "I'm 35 years old; what am I going to do with my life?" and, "How can I contribute most, as a player or commissioner?"

His decision was easier this time. It had become clear to him that he was not going to become the best golfer in the world and he was satisfied that he had improved his game enough to walk away from it with his head up. So he told Dey he wanted the job. He got it in December, 1973, and after selling his business, he started on March 1, 1974. Today he is in the second year of a new five-year contract and the tour has never been stronger or its income higher. Its revenue has doubled in the last three years to $42 million.

While Beman's address, Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra, Fla., may not be as impressive as those of Rozelle and Ueberroth, who run football and baseball from offices in Manhattan towers, it is a more attractive place to work. The PGA Tour headquarters, a 22,000-square foot, one-story building, is in a grove of pine trees near the first green of the Tournament Players Club. The 52 men and women of the staff who work in its bright offices and halls are so neatly dressed, it leads to the suspicion that the tour's dress code extends to their resort headquarters.

Sawgrass is a 4,800-acre oceanfront resort and residential community about 20 miles southeast of Jacksonville. It is an expensive, well-groomed playground featuring 63 holes of golf. Beman lives there on a street named Osprey Point.

Florida, in fact, is a suitable base for the golf tour. The state has almost as many courses as alligators. Many of the pros live there. Beman also has a western office in Palm Springs, where another TPC course is under construction at La Quinta. He was spending so much time there in the winter that the PGA Tour bought a condominium and turned it into PGA West.

While Beman spends virtually 75% of his time today on the road, a reporter caught him in his office recently on one of the rare times he was in town for more than one day. He had just returned from Hartford, Conn., after stops for meetings in Washington and New York. The previous week he had meetings in Washington, Columbus, Ohio, Cleveland, Washington again and New York. New York, Detroit, Tucson and Washington are on his next itinerary, and in a week coming up, he will go to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Atlanta, back to Jacksonville, then Cleveland again, then Dallas.

"Then, it will start up again," he said.

Some days he leaves Sawgrass at 7 a.m. and returns at midnight after three or four stops. He gets around in a turbo-prop airplane, which the PGA Tour uses through a licensing agreement with the manufacturer.

Beman even holds staff meetings aboard the plane. "His normal pace is 80 m.p.h. and the 300-m.p.h. plane enables him to go 90," one of his senior staffers said. Another advantage: The plane has no phone.

Beman, 47, has five children, including two in college, and a granddaughter. His second wife--he is divorced from his first--Judy, travels with him most of the time, and without her help, he said, "I couldn't do it." She keeps track of his schedule and handles his correspondence.

Beman, a little fellow, is only a few pounds over his playing weight. His hair is thick and only slightly gray. By all accounts, he is still a tough competitor whether he is conducting PGA business or playing golf. In a recent game on the Sawgrass TPC course, as he likes to tell it, "I didn't make a par until the sixth hole. I birdied the first five."

He sometimes appears hard to get along with, but one senior staffer said the appearance is deceiving. But there is little doubt that Beman is a hard-driving executive who often goes too fast too hard and expects everybody to keep up with him and think as he does.

Vernon Kelly, president of PGA Tour Investment, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the PGA Tour, was asked to assess Beman's business ability. "He has an analytical mind and is a very quick study," he said. "He constantly questions you but doesn't second-guess. His memory is uncanny. He has 15 different things going at once, and all I have to do is start where our last conversation ended and he remembers what we were talking about. He is a damn good business man and an honorable person."

He is also innovative. It was his idea, for example, to move the PGA Tour into the golf course business. He nursed the idea a dozen years or so before the first TPC course was completed at Sawgrass in 1980. Seven clubs, worth almost $100 million, are open today, and five more are being built in Palm Springs, Washington, D.C., and Scottsdale, Ariz. Eventually, Beman hopes, the PGA Tour will have 20 to 25 such courses in 10 years. Each one will be the site of a tour tournament.

The TPC courses have been profitable, netting $4 million in 1984, said Kelly, whose company oversees the construction and operation of the stadium-golf clubs. "Each deal is different," Kelly said. "But we either own, or will ultimately own, all the courses."

The tour was ready for Beman's idea. "Professional tournament golf experienced a period of relatively flat growth and uncertain prospects for several years in the 1970s," said E.M deWindt, chief executive officer of the Eaton Corporation of Cleveland and chairman of the Tournament Policy Board. "Television ratings declined and research indicated a shrinking demographic base for the game. Many felt that golf had not kept pace with other professional sports in terms of marketing, promotion or spectator innovations; nor had the tour developed any significant revenue sources besides television rights fees, which, in 1980, accounted for nearly 80% of all tour cash receipts."

Clearly, the tour, which was virtually dependent on television revenue, needed to diversify. Against the sobering background painted by DeWindt, Beman promoted his game aggressively, increasing revenue by competing more effectively in the sports marketplace and broadening the base of support for tournament golf.

A marketing department was established in 1980 and PGA Tour Properties, Inc. was added in 1982. The tour joined hands with commercial sponsors and found itself with an official credit card, an official aircraft and an official cruise line. The tour also has an official camera, an official automobile, an official drink, an official watch and an official hotel.

While aggressive marketing increased revenue markedly, the biggest boost came from the TPC courses. Until Beman opened the Sawgrass club, a gamble at the time, courses had been built solely for golfers, not fans. In Beman's view, this was a severe handicap for a sport trying to compete in the marketplace.

Why, Beman reasoned, should the PGA Tour help pay for other people's clubs? Fees extracted from sponsors for the use of tournament courses were averaging $125,000 to $150,000 and running sometimes as high as $300,000. A tournament at Inverrary in Florida virtually paid for the course, said senior staffer Dale Antram. "It became Condo Canyon." Today the tournament is played at Eagle Trace, a TPC course six miles from Inverrary.

The Sawgrass resort was virtually bankrupt, Antram said, when Beman bought some land from its developer for $1 and built the TPC course. The developer gambled that the course and a tournament would make his property more valuable--and he was right. Five tournaments later, the resort is making it. All TPC courses, which are mostly private-membership clubs, must hold a PGA tournament, either for regular-tour players or seniors.

The PGA Tour takes no risk in the construction of the courses; the policy board will not permit it. If a club loses money, the loss is the developer's; the PGA picks up.

"It sounds almost too good to be true," Kelly said. "But the reason it works is, the developer has a good piece of land and he already knows he's going to build a course. He also knows the course will lose money. He usually sells it to the members and makes his profit on his real estate.

"So we go to him and say, 'Look, you're going to build a course anyway. Sell it to us or let us operate it with an agreement to buy it. We'll sell the memberships, hold and promote a PGA tournament and promote the surrounding real estate year round. You'll get a better course because we will be involved in the construction."

Today, Kelly said developers are coming to them. The TPC courses, which are worth an average of $6 million to $8 million each, have many advantages over other tournament sites, even such a great one as the Riviera Country Club. The Pacific Palisades course, home of the L.A. Open, has limited access and parking and no seats. That is a typical complaint on the tour.

"Golf demands a lot of (its) spectators," Kelly said. "It's annoying. Casual fans may not return if they can't see."

Not all of Beman's new revenue-producing ideas were an instant success. Some were not popular with the hundreds of players, some of whom design courses themselves and have their own ideas about marketing. "Some thought the growth of the marketing program would interfere with their individual rights," Antram said.

Some players don't approve of the stadium-type courses, claiming the big crowds concentrated around the greens make them feel as if they're in a tunnel. Bruce Lietzke told Golf Magazine he feels as if he is "on stage 18 different times" on a stadium course. Steve Melnyk said he thinks the TPC courses will lose their appeal if Beman builds too many.

Two noted golf-course builders, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, are now working on TPC courses. Each TPC course employs a player, who is paid a fee, as a consultant. Craig Stadler is the consultant for Nicklaus' course in Tucson.

Player gripes are common on the tour. "Only about 10% are happy at any given moment," Antram said. "It requires an inordinate amount of listening and hand-holding."

Hand-holding would seem to be a difficult job for a fellow who goes as fast as Beman, but he said he does a lot of one-on-one talking to the players. "That's why I travel so much," he said.

The tour offers a player who has a gripe a good forum to air it, Beman said.

"There is a good line of communication through the players on the policy board. And most of the players have constructive ideas."

Some aren't so constructive, of course. While some players may complain to Beman personally, they also frequently take a shot at him in the press. Tom Weiskopf once told reporters that the players today are faceless and mechanical. "Beman is running a baby-sitting service," he said. "He has stifled the tour, stifled creativity, stifled personalities. He's trying to create our identities for us. He says we can't wear jeans. What the heck is wrong with a $75 pair of dress jeans?"

On Beman's efforts to turn the Tournament Players Championship into a fifth major tournament, Nicklaus told reporters: "The TPC is a fine tournament played on a fine course, but I do not believe any event should be considered a major when it encompasses only one segment of one organization. The PGA is the championship of our entire organization. We don't need two."

Melnyk told Golf magazine that if a player speaks out about a course, a tournament or a PGA Tour policy, he's subject to a fine. "Dissent is healthy," he said. But professional Jim Colbert, a member of the board, said a player can say anything he wants to about the board or Beman.

Beman listened to the complaints and said: "I think I get along with the players all right--as well as anybody could who is a symbol of authority. My decisions affect players and sponsors. Some are happy; some aren't. 'Look,' I say, 'Get mad at the situation, not at us.' "

Golf, a tranquil, nonviolent game, fosters discipline and self-control. "If you don't have it, you won't survive," Beman said.

There is such a thing, however, as conduct unbecoming a pro, and the PGA Tour, he said, "has the ability and responsibility to address that. But they are not Deane Beman's rules. The players make the rules and ask me to administer them. It's their organization."

"When a golfer joins the tour, he agrees to follow the by-laws," Colbert said.

Beman defends his sport with the fervor of a lawyer. On the blandness of today's typical pro, a common media complaint, he said: "I see that as a non-problem. The press is not doing their job; they are not taking the time to get to know the players. We'd be going downhill if you're right about that."

Ironically, the major problem today, Beman said, is prosperity. When he came aboard, the tour had a few thousand dollars in the bank and some furniture and office equipment. Today the tour's assets are $42 million, it is donating about $10 million a year to charity, 69 players earned $100,000 or more and 28 made $200,000 or more in 1984, $1 million a year is being committed to the players' retirement fund, regular-tour players are shooting for more than $20 million in prize money this year, and from two events played for $250,000 in 1980, the Seniors' Tour has grown to 27 events and more than $6 million.

So what's so bad about all that?

"With the enormous money players are making, how do we keep them interested?" Beman asked. "How do we make them realize their responsibility to the volunteers who run their tournaments. What incentives do you give them?

How do we make that work when a player gets rich and wants to take some time off?"

The problem is not new, of course. But, as Beman said, "It used to be a fall problem; now it's a summer problem, too." All the sponsors once sought summer dates because by autumn many players had made enough money to take a vacation. Today, even the sponsors of summer tournaments have difficulty recruiting an attractive field.

The answer? "We don't have one yet," Beman replied. "It's up to the players. It's their business. When the tour prospers, the money is funneled back to the sponsors and the players get it."

A sponsor of a $400,000 tournament needs to gross 2 1/2 times that, or $1 million, to break even. If the tournament is televised, the sponsor gets 44% of his purse from the TV income. A sponsor of a non-televised event gets only 33%.

The real problem is with the help. A golf tournament requires a labor force of between 600 to 800. "If we had to pay all those man hours, the purse would be a minus $100,000," Antram said. The answer for all sponsors is, obviously, volunteer help. Do the players recognize this?

Ted Mingolla, chairman of the Bank of Boston tournament, doesn't think so. At a dinner meeting at the Westchester tournament recently, Mingolla explained the financial problems of a sponsor to a group of about 40 players who showed up. That was fewer than one-third of those in town.

Mingolla's tournament, a fall event with no television, has a purse of $400,000 and his committee furnishes courtesy cars for the players. Yet, he has a hard time getting the best players because by that time, someone who has made $200,000 doesn't want to play anymore. "If you play only once in three years, I'll be OK," he told the pros. "It's your organization, get involved."

"It was a healthy discussion," Beman said of the Westchester meeting. "The sponsor asked, 'How do I compete? How do I keep my volunteers?' "

If Beman does find a solution to the problem, he said, "90% of the players probably will accept it. The 10%, who are the most successful and most influential, are the problem. They are reluctant to give up their freedom."

Designated tournaments, events the players were required to play in, were tried a few years ago and abandoned. "They did more harm than good," Beman said. "They hurt other tournaments more than they helped the designated one. It was overkill. One tournament did not need all the players."

Commercial sponsorship has helped save the tour, as it has other games. But it also has caused some problems, mainly due to the reluctance of some members of the media to use the sponsor's name. When the television networks balked at calling a tournament by its commercial name a few years ago, Beman won the argument by threatening to sue.

Recently, Beman and the PGA Tour came under fire from the press and fans--but not from the players--when Bing Crosby's widow, Kathryn, withdrew the Crosby name from the tournament and accused the commissioner of turning The Clambake into another corporate sideshow. AT&T; was willing to pay $750,000 to get its name on the tournament.

"I did not know of the discussion between AT&T; and the Pebble Beach Foundation (which has run the tournament)," Beman said. "I heard that Kathryn Crosby agreed to the new arrangement, then changed her mind. My role was to see that the foundation did what was in the best interests of the tournament. That's the only way I was involved. I think she was wrong. It was most unfortunate. . . ."

Tournaments have the right to sign corporate sponsors for any fee they can negotiate; the PGA Tour has the right to approve the sponsor. All tournaments, including the Masters, have corporate sponsors today. Some just don't get their names on the event, even though they put up a lot of money.

When Beman gets the time, he and Judy pack their blue jeans and motorcycles, find an attractive place and ride away from his problems. He doesn't play golf when he's on vacation. "My intention was to play more this year, but it hasn't worked out that way," he said. Still, he loves the game and has set high standards for it.

"I like the people in golf; they are nice people," he said. And I like what the game stands for in the community. It brings a lot of people together. The game has a great image."

In truth, compared to such sports as baseball, football, basketball and tennis, golf does have a good reputation. It is free of scandal and, in the city where the tour stops each week, it is an event of major importance. Lacking a dominant star, it showcases more talent, bland or not, than at any time in history.

But like other sports, golf today faces a major problem, the administration's tax-reform bill. "Sports definitely will be hurt by it," Beman said. "We must convey to our leaders that golf is different than other sports. It contributes millions of dollars to charity. It is run by volunteers; there are no private franchises. We should not get painted with the same brush as other sports."

The tax bill, it seems, is just one more reason why Deane Beman wouldn't stay on his job one more day if he didn't like it so much. "You really have to enjoy this job," he said.

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