All kinds of golfing intrigue enlivened the ancient sporting grounds of Europe last week as promoters went one-on-one and a bunch of Americans, vacationing from their own PGA Tour, headed for the bank with expensive wine labels pasted on their foreheads.
The golf shots that happened to be struck were more or less incidental to the dark mysteries surrounding St. Nom la Breteche and Walton Heath, in tournaments called, respectively, the 9�me Troph�e Lanc�me and the European Open. In short, professional golf went to Paris and London, and personalities like Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Severiano Ballesteros and Bobby Wadkins—as well as men with names like Gaetan Mourgue d'Algue, Sven Tumba and Mark McCormack—had varying reasons to be smiling on the banks of the Seine and the Thames.
It is a complicated story, and one might as well begin with this man Gaetan Mourgue d'Algue, who is not a character in a Sabatini romance but a golf nut. A French golf nut. He has more or less devoted his life to hanging around the sport, mostly as an amateur competitor in a country where golf has been about as popular as California wine. Mourgue d'Algue was once France's best amateur player, which isn't all that difficult in a country where even today there are only 40,000 golfers. The hard-core European trivia expert might recall that he once represented France in World Cup competition.
Mourgue d'Algue had always wanted to improve the level of golf in France and the rest of Europe, so it was only natural that one day several years ago he would make the acquaintance of Mark McCormack. At the time, McCormack was a player's agent with an office in Cleveland and only Arnold Palmer and a few other golfers in his stable. Today, of course, he has golfers, tennis players, fashion models, broadcasters and who knows what else, plus offices in Cleveland, New York, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, Paris, Christchurch, Rio, Toronto and Brussels.
Mourgue d'Algue knew everybody in Europe. McCormack had the players and the muscle and the salesmanship to make things happen for golf in Europe. The first result of their friendship was the annual Lanc�me event, which was staged for the ninth time last week just outside Paris, but the collaboration involves much more.
Thanks in most part to McCormack, Mourgue d'Algue has practically taken over European golf. Does this mean that McCormack, an American, runs golf in Europe? Certainly it does. But in a sense he was running it anyway, and not necessarily for the worse, considering that not much was going on before he got there. Last week's Lanc�me does not represent much more than one dimple on a Dunlop 65 compared to the things McCormack and Mourgue d'Algue are up to at present. Essentially, the two are partners in a company that now runs the Swiss Open, the Italian Open, the German Open, the Belgian Open and the Portuguese Open, along with some lesser events.
"Most European tournaments are run by a bunch of dentists from D�sseldorf," McCormack was saying last week. "They want to come in and put on their blazers and have their pictures taken with Gary Player. Somebody has to raise the purse and put the sticks in the ground."
Mourgue d'Algue has learned how to string the gallery ropes, and McCormack already knew how to find a sponsor like Lanc�me. You dangle an Arnold Palmer in the air, and another Lanc�me appears. Next year the European circuit will feature such tournaments as the Paco-Rabanne French Open, the Braun German Open, the Laurent-Perrier Belgian Open and the Tourist Board Portuguese Open, with a number of events dedicated to the likes of Hennessy or Mo�t et Chandon on the side. This is nice for the players, of course, but why was it so good for Mark McCormack and Gaetan Mourgue d'Algue?
McCormack explained. "These tournaments are all part of the British or European tour, which is like our tour. The British PGA [which has more clout than any other organization in European golf] wants the German Open to guarantee a purse of, let's say, $50,000. So we say, O.K., we'll guarantee the purse. Then we go out and sell sponsors. Whatever we sell over $50,000, we keep."
With all sorts of golfing stars beholden to him for exhibitions and outings and guarantees of their appearances in the tournaments, it is not difficult for McCormack to raise the purse money—and more. Which leads to the next question: Why wouldn't the people who run the British PGA ask McCormack to raise larger purses for the players, thereby leaving less for himself and Mourgue d'Algue?