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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Throughout the summer of 1964 there has been one sure way of winning a major North American golf tournament. You beat Arnold Palmer and you come in first. Since the last weekend in June this success formula has been followed five times. Tony Lema did it at the Cleveland Open, Jack Nicklaus at the Whitemarsh Open, Bobby Nichols at the PGA, Kel Nagle at the Canadian Open and Chi Chi Rodriguez at the Western Open. Last week at Oakland Hills Country Club north of Detroit the first $200,000 Carling World Golf Championship was held amid the flying of foreign flags, a message from the President, boosts from the State Department and fairways full of brotherhood. When it was over, Bobby Nichols had shown that the '64 technique for U.S. golf success works internationally as well, for he beat Arnold Palmer by a stroke and that was good enough to take the awesome winner's purse of $35,000.

Once again, as he had at the PGA last month, Palmer played some superb golf—which is only a way of saying that Nichols was superlative in beating him. To get his victory Nichols needed a two-under-par 278, the first subpar four-round score in the long history of Oakland Hills tournaments. To take the lead he had to shoot a beautiful 66 on Saturday, and to hold it on Sunday he had to beat back one chance to panic when Palmer eagled the 12th hole to tie him for the lead and another when Palmer birdied the 18th after hitting a fantastic shot that bounced off the flag-stick. It was good golf and brave golf, and it got a lavish and promising event away to a rousing start.

Putting together a new international golf tournament of such enormous specifications as the Carling is a logistical feat that ranks somewhere between Operation Overlord and Henry V's assault on Agincourt. It took the better part of a year to collect and qualify the 154 pros and one amateur who came from 15 different countries located on six continents. Forty-eight players came from outside the U.S.—some from as near as Canada, whose border is no more than a commuter's ride from Oakland Hills, and others from as far away as Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina. All but four of the top U.S. pros answered the roll call, and so did the very best from the Antipodes and the United Kingdom.

The reason for this extraordinary turnout was not hard to find. The Carling Brewing Co. of Cleveland had put up the largest purse in the history of tournament golf—$200,000. The first prize of $35,000 had been exceeded only by the $50,000 winner's purse during the brief, four-year span of the once and former "World Championships" that were staged by the late George May in Chicago during the middle 1950s. Even the booby prize for 75th place amounted to a pleasant $620, and it was also arranged that anyone who completed the first 36 holes of the tournament but failed to qualify for the final two days of play would receive $400.

The $200,000 jackpot was $75,000 more than the next highest purse on record. It was more money than Ben Hogan, the best player of the '40s and '50s, has won in all his years of championship competition. It was more money for a single tournament than the pros played for during the whole year of 1942. It was enough money to run the entire U.S. government for a full minute.

The people of Carling saw nothing extraordinary about budgeting the $450,000 it took to stage their event. In fact, they thought it made eminent sense. "Golf gives you a good image to be associated with," explained Henry E. (Tim) Russell, the golfing president of Carling breweries, who spent last week observing his company's single most extravagant public relations adventure.

"The game of golf is as clean as any sport there is."

Carling attached itself to the golf image as far back as 1953, when the pro game was first developing as a major spectator sport. Ian R. Dowie, a dynamic Scotsman, was then president of Carling, and he had been raised in Edinburgh, where golf occupies the same place in the life of a growing boy as slot machines do in Las Vegas. Dowie conceived the $15,000 Carling Open for the brewery's home town of Cleveland and found a spot for it on the PGA tour. As time went on and it took more and more money to attract the attention of professional golfers, Carling gradually raised its purses to $35,000 and rotated the tournament among most of the cities where the fast-growing company was building new plants—Boston, Atlanta, Washington, Tacoma and St. Louis.

"We grew as golf grew," Tim Russell says, with evident satisfaction. And indeed Carling grew rapidly. Fifteen years ago, when the company first introduced its "quality" beer, Carling Black Label, into the national market, it ranked 62nd in U.S. sales. Last year it was fourth, behind Budweiser, Schlitz and Pabst.

By 1961 it was getting obvious that the Carling Open had not grown as rapidly as either the beer sales or the prizes of pro golf. "It was just another tournament," Russell says, "so we decided we would have to drop it or find a way to do something outstanding with it." A steering committee was formed to pursue the idea of enlarging the tournament to intercontinental dimensions—something along the lines already achieved by the International Golf Association with its Canada Cup—and it evolved a plan that was simple to express but grand in scope: the company would offer much the biggest purse in golf and would get a representative selection of the best pros from all the golfing countries in the world to compete for it.

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