This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the American pro golf tour’s split from the PGA of America. It was a controversial revolt, and I was a part of its leadership. But history has proved without a doubt that it was the right thing to do.
I started the PGA Tour in the spring of 1964 after graduating from college and doing six-months of active duty in the U.S. Army. In those days, there was no qualifying school. You just decided you to play the Tour, got two club pros to vouch for your ability to play golf, and you had to have $6,000 in a bank account. To get in tournaments, you had to qualify on Mondays. The two main ways you got exempt from Monday qualifying were to win a tournament, which gave you a one-year exemption, or finish in the top sixty money winners at the end of the year, which gave you a one-year exemption the next year.
But tournament sponsors had a lot of what was called “sponsor exemptions” that they could give out to whomever they chose. Oftentimes, they gave them to several local club pros who were the best players in that area or in that state. They were members of the PGA of America–the club pro association–but not members of the Tour. In those days, the Tour was under the auspices of the PGA of America.
About the time I started the Tour, some Tour members were complaining about how tournament sponsors were giving too many of their sponsor exemptions to local club pros instead of to members of the Tour who were not exempt players. This criticism increased. There were other complaints that Tour members had against the parent organization. And the PGA of America’s leadership was not acquiescing. So, in the late summer of 1968, several leading Tour players began holding private meetings to discuss a break-away from the PGA of America.
The leaders of this protest movement included Dan Sikes–a multiple tournament winner who had a law degree–Gardner Dickinson, Bob Goalby, and Lionel Hebert. As a representative of younger players, they invited me to join their possible revolt, which I did. Right away, the group discussed a name for this new pro golf tour. I suggested the Tournament Players Association, and the group voted to use that name.
It looked like 1969 was going to be a new pro golf tour–the TPA. There was animosity on both sides. So many club pros were saying bad things about us Tour players revolting from their cherished organization–the PGA of American. But one thing was for sure–more Tour members and less club pros would be getting in Tour tournaments.
Yet on December 12, 1968, the PGA of America backed down. The two sides came to an agreement: the name of the new Tour would be changed to the Tournament Players Division. This signified it would be a division partly on its own in professional golf. Sometime after that, the new Tour was no longer under the authority of the PGA of America at all.It was also decided that for this transition to happen more smoothly, the TPD should have a commissioner as in other American professional sports, such as baseball and football. So, Joe Dey, the longtime director of the USGA–the amateur body of our sport–was asked to become the new commissioner of the TPD. Mr. Dey accepted. He was our commissioner for the next five years. After that, former Tour player Deane Beman was the commissioner for the next twenty years. Both of these commissioners were good choices. Especially Beman, who had a thriving insurance business before turning, proved himself very valuable to the Tour, which was renamed the PGA Tour.
This month’s issue of Fortune magazine is dedicated to the U.S. stock markets and corporate businesses that have been very successful. So, it has an article about the fiftieth anniversary of the new pro golf Tour that resulted from the split. This article has some interesting financial statistics about how far the PGA Tour has progressed during the past fifty years. For example, the combined purses of all the tournaments in 1969 was $5.5 million; whereas, the combined total of the purses this year were $363 million. The best part of the PGA Tour is its annual giving to charity. From 1938 to 2005, the PGA Tour raised $1 billion for charity. But in the past nine years, it has raised $2 billion for charity.
Here in the U.S., there are three pro golf tours under the PGA Tour: regular PGA TOUR, Champions Tour, and Web.com Tour. But the Tour has now branched out internationally to include the PGA TOUR Canada, PGA TOUR Latinoamerica, and PGA TOUR Series China. I remember when China didn’t even have golf since it was a communistic country. Then there is First Tee, which is for junior golfers. And the PGA TOUR is now in the Olympics.
I could go on and on with this. My point, and that of the Fortune article, is that the split from the PGA of America in 1968 was something that had to happen, and the results have proved without a shadow of doubt that it was successful. As with the United States of America’s revolution from the king of England, sometimes revolt is the right thing to do.