SI Vault
Mark H. McCormack
April 06, 1964
No one is better able to assess the promotional value of major golf championships than Mark McCormack, business manager and legal adviser to the game's big three—Palmer, Nicklaus and Player. Here he discloses that the Masters is the most lucrative event of all, the one where you...
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April 06, 1964

Shoot For A Million

No one is better able to assess the promotional value of major golf championships than Mark McCormack, business manager and legal adviser to the game's big three—Palmer, Nicklaus and Player. Here he discloses that the Masters is the most lucrative event of all, the one where you...

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Next week another Masters champion is going to be crowned at Augusta, Ga., and golf followers everywhere will be impressed by the fact that the winner will receive a check in the neighborhood of $20,000. What most spectators at the course and people watching on national television do not know is that winning the Masters can mean so much more than $20,000 that a competitor would be perfectly justified in lapsing into a nervous shake that would unscrew the cleats from his shoes, for the Masters is the biggest money tournament of them all. It may, in fact, be the most lucrative event in all of sports.

Exactly how much in nonprize money the Masters champion can earn depends, of course, upon his current stature as a tournament player, the status of his various contracts and the intelligence he uses in capitalizing on his victory. But I know from experience that under the best of conditions it is possible for a single victory at Augusta to be worth more than $1 million. I saw it happen to Gary Player in 1961, and I was fortunate enough to help make it happen.

There is one big reason that the Masters has a value in the United States that comfortably exceeds that of the U.S. Open Championship, which is the next most important golf tournament in the world and the one people normally think pays the biggest dividends to its winners. The reason is that the Masters is played in early April. It is the first major outdoor sports event every spring. It takes place two months ahead of the Open, an important two months since the Masters champion is the only major sport winner who can be promoted during this period. And look at the Open. It is followed in two weeks by the British Open, and usually one week after that comes the National PGA Championship—the fourth and final leg of what is considered the modern-day Grand Slam of golf. Therefore, three of the four top championships follow each other rapidly while the Masters is back in April, all alone. This is advantageous to the Masters winner for many reasons: an equipment company has five months in which it can easily put an autographed club line on the market bearing the name of the Masters champion for the next selling season, which begins in the fall; an apparel manufacturer can get out an autographed clothing line for the Masters winner; a publisher can have a book ready for the Christmas season under the byline of the Masters champion; a TV show can be packaged and sold for the winter television season featuring the Masters champion; and, finally, country clubs which plan golf exhibitions generally schedule them in April, May and June for play in July, August and September, and the Masters champion is the most wanted candidate for these—his fee increases by as much as 500% with the victory.

All of the above can happen to the U.S. Open champion two months later, but in each case the time available for entering into negotiations and putting together sound contracts is very limited. The PGA champion is even worse off. He misses most of the summer exhibitions, the fall lines of goods and the TV possibilities. By the time the next year rolls around, his PGA win is ancient history, for there is a new Masters champion in the public eye. As a matter of fact, the PGA Championship is so insignificant in comparison to the Masters and U.S. Open insofar as nonprize money is concerned that it is hardly worth mentioning, and yet it is the tournament that would complete a Grand Slam.

Golf fans may wonder if there is any promotional value in some of the other better-known tournaments on the tour, many of them classics in their own right. Let's pose a situation. A golfer fails to win one of the big four this year but he does capture six or eight other championships. What is that worth, above the prize money? I am afraid that any effort to promote those successes into something more would be fruitless. I have found this to be one of the hard facts of golf life. So the four major titles are everything, and in the United States the Masters can be worth almost as much as the other three put together.

Most players who have not won a major championship cannot conceive just how tremendous a thing a victory in the Masters has become. No sooner has the last putt dropped than the winner is confronted by offers of television appearances and contracts, foreign appearances and contracts, exhibition offers, speaking engagements and numerous clothing and equipment contracts that would not have been possible without the victory. In addition, no matter who he is, there are rewards such as bonuses from his equipment manufacturers that range from $500 to $1,000 for an unknown, and up to $20,000 for a top name; an invitation to the World Series of Golf; a lifetime invitation to the Masters; and, of course, being immortalized as one of golf's best players.

Take the case of Gary Player. Gary was a well-known star before he ever won at Augusta, but it was the Masters championship in 1961 that changed his life forever. In fact, it is doubtful if any golfer has ever derived more benefit from a single victory. Gary today is still capitalizing on that championship, and he will be for years. Here is how his victory hits the million-dollar class:

His first $5,000 was automatic, because that was the bonus the First Flight company guaranteed him if he won any major title while using its clubs. Then you may recall that shortly after he won the 1961 Masters he appeared on the Perry Como TV show—doing an imitation of Elvis Presley. That particular appearance was initiated two days before the tournament ended and was predicated on Gary's winning. The exploitation of a Masters victory, you see, begins at once. Within another month Gary was involved with all kinds of things—gloves, grips, even a fee for eating raisins from the California Raisin Advisory Board. (One of the stipulations in that contract said, "You will eat raisins whenever possible.") He endorsed a driving net, a vitamin pill and wheat germ, and he signed a one-year contract with a country club near Jacksonville. But these things were small in comparison to what developed later, almost all because he was a Masters champion. Within months the First Flight company introduced a line of Player equipment, and this arrangement was eventually worth more than $100,000 to Gary. He soon embarked on a world exhibition tour with Arnold Palmer. To date, 32 matches have been played and the gross income has run as high as $12,000 per match. In addition, immediately following the Masters, Gary's apparel company, which until that time had made only a Player jacket and shirt, undertook an overall apparel program that guaranteed him more than $100,000. Slightly over a year later, and still as a result of the Masters, Gary became Arnold Palmer's partner on television's Challenge Golf, a contract that dwarfs those of all other TV golf shows. Finally, the 1961 Masters was primarily responsible for Gary entering into a long-term arrangement with the Shakespeare Company for use of his name in connection with a line of clubs (the Black Knight model, which Gary had considered calling the Black Panther), golf balls and Fiberglas Wondershafts. This contract alone will almost certainly mean more than $1 million to Player over a period of years.

With all of the sound investment opportunities that arrive with a Masters victory, there are just as many unsteady ones. I have heard my share. Overnight, it seems, the champion is besieged with requests to put his name and money in various promotions and products and, if he is too eager to capitalize, there can be some real adventures. I like to think that I have helped Palmer, Nicklaus and Player weed through the opportunities and have managed to guide them in the most desirable direction. We investigate every opportunity, naturally, whether it be an African safari (Palmer was once offered a couple of thousand dollars just to go along for some mysterious reason) or a Jack Nicklaus marshmallow candy bar (being considered) or Gary Player's raisins.

But caution is crucial for a newly crowned Masters champion. He hardly has his green jacket on before he is offered such things as the following, all of which have actually been proposed: a putt-well mechanism, a transistor to measure the velocity of tee shots, a swing trainer, a dozen different golf parlor games, a chance to have his likeness enshrined in wax, a secret theory that will insure the Masters title every year, an electric light device that will groove the swing and even a compound that will decancerize cigarettes for the chain-smoking Masters winner. We still receive an offer of one invention a day.

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