It wasn't long ago that Tour players actually drove from tournament to tournament. Nowadays not only is flying de rigueur, but the upwardly mobile Tour pro also commands his own plane. Whether it's David Edwards and his puddle-jumping Cessna or Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman and their sleek Gulf streams. more and more pros are joining the PGA Tour air force.
The list is long enough to fill the first-class section of a 747: In addition to Nicklaus and Norman, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd, Nick Price, Chi Chi Rodriguez and Jim Colbert own jet aircraft. Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Davis Love III, Steve Elkington and Paul Azinger have time-share arrangements. Payne Stewart leases his plane, while Fuzzy Zoeller is part owner of a King Air turboprop. Like Edwards, Bill Glasson lives to get behind the controls of his prop plane, and several players, including Jeff Maggert and Phil Mickelson, are working toward getting pilot's licenses.
"For what we do, it's the only way to travel," says Glasson, whose plane allows him to make one-day appearances between lour events. Other advantages are obvious: no lines at the ticket counter, no lost luggage, no waits for connecting flights, no cancellations and, maybe best of all, no airline food. Having your own plane is also a practical matter for some of the game's heavy hitters.
"It's the best business tool I've got," says Nicklaus, whose Gulfstream IV-SP allows him to travel, with only one stop for fuel, from his home in West Palm Beach. Ma., to Cape Town, South Africa, to check out a course he is building. His flight crew prepares meals on board, and he can sleep, take a shower and hit the ground ready to put in a full day of work. The G-IV-SP cost $27.5 million, but when you're in Nicklaus's tax bracket, a jet that costs eight figures makes a wonderful write-off.
Planes like Nicklaus's have long been used by business tycoons and movie stars. Bill Cosby, for example, has two G-IV-SPs at his disposal. John Travolta pilots his own G-II, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is notorious for buzzing sets in his G-III. Nicklaus has been flying in Gulfstreams for eight years and now represents the company. The G-IV-SP has a range of 4,700 statute miles, about the distance from New York to Madrid, and has a cruising altitude of 45,000 feet—10,000 feet higher than commercial aircraft. The plane, equipped with a satellite communications system that allows Nicklaus to contact anyone in the world, is basically an office in the sky.
Some say Nicklaus's rig left Norman with a severe case of jet envy—the Shark traded in his G-III after the U.S. Open for a brand-new G-IV-SP that, along with a Bell LongRanger helicopter, gave him the most airpower on Tour—but he disputes that notion. "My plane and my helicopter are the furthest things from being toys that you could ever imagine," Norman says. "People who say that don't know what they're talking about. It gives me the opportunity to do more, and that's what life's all about: being busier and getting better."
Norman and Nicklaus have created separate aviation companies, and although they both know how to fly, they have hired pilots to do the actual aviating. Edwards and Glasson are at the other end of the hangar. They fly their own prop planes, and while they need more time to get where they're going, they spend a lot less money than the $1 million-plus Nicklaus and Norman shell out annually in operational costs. To go 800 miles, Edwards spends little more than the $320 he pays for a tank of fuel. His twin-engine, piston-powered Cessna cruises at 230 miles per hour, or about 300 mph slower than the Gulfstreams. "It's a little more expensive than flying commercially," Edwards says, "but for convenience it's totally worth it."
Glasson buzzes around in a high-tech Raytheon Starship, whose wings and fuselage are made from the same plastics and carbon fiber used in America's Cup yachts. The Starship's two turboprop engines are mounted in the rear and push the plane to a cruising speed of 370 mph. He refuses to take the controls of anything fancier. "My theory is you should never fly in anything better than what you have because you'll want it," Glasson says. "It's a strange disease. You always want to go higher and faster."
Palmer is proof of that. His first flights were in a rented Cessna 172, which he piloted to exhibitions in 1956. He bought a prop plane—an Aero Commander 500—for $26,000 in 1961 and eventually worked his way up to Learjets. In 1976 he and three other pilots established a world record for aircraft in the 17,600-to-26,400-pound weight class by flying around the world in 57 hours, 25 minutes and 42 seconds.
Palmer's next step was to Cessna Citations. Later this month he takes delivery on a $15 million Citation X, billed as the fastest non-military aircraft in the world. While it doesn't have the comforts or the range of a Gulfstream, the X can travel at speeds in excess of 600 mph—90% of the speed of sound. Last fall Palmer and Russ Meyer, the chairman of Cessna, set a speed record for the jet's weight class by traveling 3,010 nautical miles (from Latrobe, Pa., to St. Andrews, Scotland) in five hours and 58 minutes.