Meet the commissioner. He’s part business tycoon, part carnival barker, and part self-promoting publicist. From 1974 to 1994, Deane Beman presided over the growth of the PGA Tour. During his tenure, the circuit grew from $8.2 million in total purses to $56.4 million. What started as a loosely strung circuit of small-town events morphed into a nationally televised chain of big-city tournaments under major corporate sponsorships.
Former Golfweek senior writer Adam Schupak has done his homework. The result is an exhaustively detailed account of the deal making, backroom politicking and savvy – sometimes crackpot – vision by which men’s professional golf became a major business.
Business history is a notoriously difficult genre to make interesting. It helps here having a strong personality such as Beman, whose short-hitting, scrappy style of play afforded him only modest success as a PGA Tour journeyman after a stellar amateur career. But his business acumen – he had built an insurance agency before turning pro – gave him a leg up when dealing with players who did not share his capacity to see the long run.
The book excels in its account of how Beman beat back efforts by the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer; the commissioner insisted on franchise corporate sponsorships and deals that benefited all players.
Where some players saw only a swamp, Beman saw 415 acres that would become PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and home to stadium golf at The Players Championship.
As a data mine of how to brand a sport, Beman’s story is fascinating. But as a piece of sustained storytelling, there’s something unsettling here, namely in the lack of distance between Schupak and his subject. The occasional references to facial gestures and what people were thinking at meetings held in the 1970s suggests that what we have here is a bit too much stenography. Turns out that stylistically, it’s Beman’s book as told to Schupak. And yet despite this, there’s much here that makes this volume a worthwhile reminder of what it takes to convert a great game into a big business.