SI Vault
Alfred Wright
September 07, 1964
A brewery put up golf's biggest purse and pros from around the world tried to take it, but the foreigners never had a real chance as Bobby Nichols held off Arnold Palmer and won the $35,000 first prize
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September 07, 1964

Winning A Barrel Of Beer Money

A brewery put up golf's biggest purse and pros from around the world tried to take it, but the foreigners never had a real chance as Bobby Nichols held off Arnold Palmer and won the $35,000 first prize

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The previous Carling Opens had been run by H.R. (Dick) Taylor Jr., a low-pressure public relations man who now set out to prepare a study on how a large international tournament could be administered. It took him three months to get his report on paper and another two months for the steering committee to approve it and, as he puts it, "they blew the whistle in December 1962."

Some time was needed to find a summer date that fitted the PGA schedule and work out a system of qualifying that satisfied the U.S. pros—"it would have been pretty hard for any competent player not to qualify as long as he could hold on to a club," said one touring pro last week—but this was nothing to what was involved in setting up regional qualifying arrangements for the foreign golfers.

Taylor began by flying to Washington, explaining his proposition to the State Department and getting it to send letters of approval to U.S. emissaries in the 60 golfing nations that Taylor was inviting to participate. On May 1, 1963 he set off on the first of two trips on which he would visit 48 of the 60 nations, explaining the Carling World Golf Championship and learning something about the state of golf in them. On this five-week journey he covered the British Isles, Europe, the Middle East, South Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Almost everywhere enthusiasm was high, and he even found some interest behind the Iron Curtain. Through the State Department he had made contact with golf officials in Czechoslovakia. He flew into Prague on a 24-hour permit and was met at the airport by three men who approached and identified themselves by saying, "Golf." Taylor replied, "Golf," and off they went to have a chat. He discovered that there are some 400 Czech golfers, but no one with a handicap of less than five.

Another triumph of golf over international ill feeling came with the agreement of the Arab nations to be included in the same qualifying zone as the Israelis, and vice versa. On the other hand, because of the apartheid policies of the South African government, it seemed diplomatic—i.e., necessary—to include the North African and Middle Eastern nations in the same zone as the Europeans and to let the South Africans, who have numbers of first-rate golfers, qualify among themselves in their own zone.

Meanwhile, many other things had to be arranged, some of them harrowing but normal for the sponsors of any major golf event these days, and others peculiar to the Carling. First, a course had to be found. Carling wanted to play the tournament in one of its principal marketing zones. And, as Tim Russell put it, "We were determined to play the tournament on the best course we could get in the U.S. However, any course that had had a major championship within the last two years was out, because the members would have howled."

Oakland Hills—"The Monster," as Ben Hogan dubbed it after winning the 1951 Open there—was the first choice. It had been the host to four U.S. Opens, most recently in 1961, and is among the half a dozen most difficult courses in the country. The members were adept at running a major championship, and they were not averse to closing their course for a week in order to earn the $100,000 or so that accrues from such a championship.

Getting 48 golfers and another dozen or so observers from around the world was a $30,000 transportation headache to the tournament committee. It was soothed by an arrangement with Pan American World Airways, which sells Carling Black Label on many of its flights. For the past few months Carling has been working Pan Am into its TV commercials free of charge. When the final bill for the airline tickets from faraway places is presented to Carling by Pan Am, the value of these commercials will be given serious consideration in totting up the eventual charge. It just may come out all even.

It took 475 hotel rooms in the area around Birmingham, Mich. to house the contestants, press, Carling personnel and the miscellaneous cargo that attaches itself to a big golf championship. The Northland Inn, an elaborate new hotel in a suburban Detroit shopping center, was the tournament headquarters, but the manager of Northland Inn was not entirely enchanted by the honor. By mid-afternoon of the Tuesday before the tournament began, when latecomers had not yet signed into some 40 of his rooms, he sold them and thus acquired a lobby full of angrily snorting golfers, including Tommy (Thunder) Bolt, whose wrath has been known to need more space than a lobby affords.

Since not all the golfers were at home in English, interpreters were provided—two for the Japanese, two for the Chinese (one Mandarin and one Cantonese) and two for the speakers of Spanish. In addition, a Chinese golf bug by the name of Peter Lin paid his own fare all the way from Taipei to do the cooking for two Far Eastern pros, who he feared would not be able to digest the American variety of rice (they failed to make the cut, even on Lin's cooking). Carling also provided a kind of chef de protocol in the person of Peter Bennett, the head of public relations for Canadian Breweries and a onetime British foreign service officer who has done time at the U.N.

To take full advantage of its golfing image, Carling bought more television time over the CBS network than had ever been spent on a single golf event. On Friday night it staged a half-hour network show in which Tony Lema, Cary Middlecoff, Dave Marr and others described the snares and pitfalls of the six holes that would be covered by the TV cameras during the following two days—two more holes, incidentally, than have formerly been shown on a tournament telecast. The hour and a half of the Saturday broadcast and the two hours on Sunday were also a television first, both in the total length of the shows and the number of stations (208) on the hookup.

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