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Mark Mulvoy
September 02, 1968
The battle between golfers who play for big money and the rest of the PGA comes down to this: Which group should rule the tour?
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September 02, 1968

The Revolt Of The Touring Pros

The battle between golfers who play for big money and the rest of the PGA comes down to this: Which group should rule the tour?

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The dispute between the PGA and the rebellious touring golf professionals, who have bolted the parent PGA and formed their own corporation, American Professional Golfers, Inc., has come down to one point. The players want "full and complete authority" to conduct and manage the $5.6 million PGA tour. In other words, they want the PGA to abolish its constitutional right (its own constitution, that is) to veto decisions made by the Tournament Committee. However, the PGA absolutely refuses to yield this veto power, which it has used only once in 52 years. So now, unless one side suddenly concedes, it appears there will be two golf tours next year: the APG tour, with all those familiar faces you see on television every weekend, and the PGA tour, with all the club pros from Happy Valley and Crestwood and Pine Meadow, or wherever else they may be.

This, of course, is the extreme result. Some less injurious resolution of the dilemma is still possible. Last week Max Elbin, the president of the 6,000-member PGA, presented his case to many of the 225 touring pros at a meeting before the Philadelphia Classic, and later he flew to Latrobe, Pa. for a five-hour huddle with Arnold Palmer. "Arnold and I both agreed that a split would not be advantageous to anyone," Elbin said.

Palmer, who is more of a traditionalist than many of his younger playing associates, has not yet stated his feelings about the split. In fact, he has not officially committed himself to the APG. Palmer has a multimillion dollar golf-club-manufacturing business, and his prime selling outlets are the pro shops run by the members of the PGA. If Palmer does split with the PGA, he could have trouble trying to sell his golf clubs through the pro shops, so he has a financial stake in what happens. But foremost in his mind is the future of pro golf itself, and that is why this has been a week of phone calls and meetings in Latrobe, and why the conservative Palmer refuses to make a quick decision.

"I feel," said Elbin, "that Arnold eventually will act in the best interests of all golf." And when Arnold does act, the rest of the touring pros probably will go with him.

All this interoffice squabbling began almost two years ago when the PGA's Executive Committee used its veto power for the first and only time to refuse the players' desire to schedule a $200,000 tournament sponsored by Frank Sinatra at the Canyon Country Club in Palm Springs, Calif. The Sinatra tournament would have been played within a few weeks of the established Bob Hope Desert Classic in Palm Springs. The Tournament Committee, which at that time consisted of four players and three officials of the PGA (now there are four of each), had voted 4-3 to hold the Sinatra tournament.

The Executive Committee, which is composed of three PGA officers and the chairman of the Tournament Committee (then Dan Sikes), vetoed that vote 3-1. The PGA contended Palm Springs could not support two major tournaments in one month and said that Bob Hope, in fact, had advised them he could not afford to hold his tournament if a second event were given to Palm Springs. The players clearly could not understand how the PGA could veto a $200,000 tournament, whether it was played in Palm Springs or on an aircraft carrier.

It is easy to understand the philosophy of these 225 touring professionals, who make up less than 4% of the PGA's total membership. They are entrepreneurs who can win $50,000 one week, as Julius Boros did a fortnight ago, and then miss the cut and win nothing the next, as Boros did last week. On the other hand, the club professionals really are small businessmen who run a pro shop, sell merchandise and give lessons to club members with 30 handicaps. Most of them never have played for more than a $50 Nassau.

"It comes down to this," one touring pro said last week. "We run all the risks, so why should we have a bunch of armchair club pros telling us we can't play a $200,000 golf tournament? It's all a matter of common sense." Denied the $200,000 Sinatra tournament, the touring pros immediately began to campaign for removal of the PGA's veto authority. They even threatened to boycott the 1967 PGA championship in Denver unless the Executive Committee agreed to concede seven points to them. The PGA ultimately conceded six of them but retained the veto. The touring pros played at Denver anyway.

The veto issue continued to simmer and reached the scalding point early this year when the PGA decided to use a new entry form for all its tournaments. The PGA now admits this entry form was too strong (it virtually committed the pros to do only what the PGA would let them do). However, the players' Tournament Committee, headed by Gardner Dickinson, immediately sought legal counsel and retained Samuel Gates, a senior partner in a New York law firm that occupies six floors of a Park Avenue skyscraper. Gates read the entry form and told the touring pros they should never sign it. When, indeed, they did not sign it, the PGA retreated and substituted the old, acceptable entry form in its place. Then the PGA retained William Rogers, a Washington lawyer, to discuss the veto issue with Gates and hopefully work out a settlement.

"We phoned and met a great number of times," Gates said the other day. "From the outset, I told him the PGA could simply not have final say on matters regarding the touring pros. We talked it out, and there was never any acrimony between us."

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