Originally, a group of vagabond club professionals drove from city to city looking for an opportunity to compete. Most of them held jobs as the head professional at a club to subsidize the pursuit of their dream.
Eventually, their travels were somewhat coordinated by Fred Corcoran who was basically a promoter, player manager/agent and fantastic marketer. He improved the tour by guiding tournament organizers into a more synchronized schedule that reduced travel and allowed the competitors to follow the sun in a more productive manner.
Next came Joe Dey who provided a cohesive set of rules to allow the touring professionals to establish their own association after they parted company with the club professional entity, the PGA of America. He served for five years as the head of the new group that would officially become the PGA Tour and it gained ground.
Over 20 years, beginning in 1974, a past player of the PGA Tour, Deane Beman, took the reins. It was Beman who brought great business sense to the table. He built stadium courses to host the tour events owned by the PGA Tour. In the 51 weeks surrounding the event the courses are pay-as-you play generating millions into the PGA coffers.
He negotiated huge TV deals, players’ pension plans, medical/dental plans and other extremely beneficial offerings to the players. He also brought a form of organization and discipline that was created out of the players’ policy board. Beman also developed the concept of PGA Tour events raising money for charities.
Beman handed off to Tim Finchem, who, after a 22-year tenure, has just retired. Finchem’s timing and skills were perfectly adaptable to the needs of the PGA Tour.
From a timing perspective, he ‘lucked’ into the finest marketing opportunity anyone could ask for, that being the career of Tiger Woods.
However, it was Finchem’s skill set that saw him negotiate three monster TV deals, take over the operations of development tours in Canada, China and Latin America integrate them with the PGA Tour and the Web .com Tour, which has provided playing/qualifying opportunities for aspiring golfers around the world and stepping stones to the PGA Tour.
Tim Finchem is also a strong advocate for the First Tee Program and golf in the Olympics.
Together, the efforts of these men, combined with support from hundreds of extremely capable people, they have assembled one of the finest business organizations in the world. They are a force in golf in almost every country in the world, but will it remain that way?
According to numerous business publications, the golf industry is failing into oblivion because Tiger Woods’ career stopped ascending. Apparently, this will reduce the TV revenue and the ability to generate vast sums for charity and limit the funds available for prize money.
Another consideration to think about is the development of the Asian golf market. As countries around the world sign trade agreements, economies will get stronger and a higher standard of living will emerge, filtering down into the general population.
That, in turn, will provide an increase in disposable income and spending on things like recreation, including golf and TV.
We are just witnessing the leading indicators of this now as the Korean players enter the international scene, particularly on the LPGA Tour. Not only is the population base large enough to sustain a Chinese/Asian PGA Tour stronger than the PGA Tour, the economy in that part of the world is as well.
Further to that same point, the PGA Tour has no hold on the European Tour. Until recent years, any player wishing to compete for big money had to travel to the United States. Sponsors of the European Tour events were available, but seemingly, felt the product didn’t compare to the American product, restricting the amounts of money they were willing to contribute.
That pendulum started swinging in a different direction when the European Ryder Cup Team clobbered the USA in recent years.
Advertisers discovered they could paste their logos on European players for a little less money and while they might not get exposure to lucrative American TV watchers, they did get exposure from other markets around the world other than North America.
The result has been a gradual increase in available funds for the European Tour.
Enter Canadian Keith Pelley as the new chief executive of the European Tour. He has just released news that the 2017 European Tour schedule will include a seven-tournament stretch with prize purses with at least $7-million.These are equal to and more than many on the PGA Tour.
Golf fans around the world are becoming aware that champions are actually developing in countries other than USA. Rory McIlroy is Irish, Henrik Stenson is Swedish, Bernhard Langer is German, Hideki Matsuyama is Japanese and Mackenzie Hughes is Canadian, not to mention how dominant countries other than the USA are prominent on the LPGA Tour.
Is Pelley’s intent to keep European Tour players at home, or is it to attract American players who love big money events? There is another consideration.
What if the European Tour is looking beyond today to times that they can coordinate interest in the European Tour with a burgeoning market in China/Asia and develop a World Tour outside the USA?
We’ve all heard of the “Race to Dubai.”
Could there be a race to a World Tour not owned by the PGA Tour? Will there be a $20-million purse with $10-million to the winner on a tour holding a world-wide 12 event schedule not played on American soil?
Think back to the vision of Greg Norman who suggested a similar concept. He was shot down by the PGA Tour because they would not own the rights to this new world tour.
Why not have a world-wide tour with astronomical purses? Major League Baseball players and National Basketball Association players earn $25-million a year even if they get injured.
Given the marketability of professional golfers, male and female, and the demographic they appeal to, once merging economies begin producing golfers, who knows what might happen? If and when that happens, will the PGA Tour be poised to capitalize or will that boat have already sailed?
Jay Monahan has just become PGA Tour commissioner. How will he continue the legacy he has been handed? According to the success of his predecessors, he should do very well, but the challenge isn’t as much from within the tour as it is from outside.
It might be that the strongest tour in the world is the PGA Tour right now, but is the infrastructure in place to keep the ball rolling? Has the PGA Tour been passed on the inside rail because they couldn’t foresee a world-wide tour that included markets around the world?
Only time will tell.