Professionals' split was a good thing for the game

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Gary Player (left) Jack Nicklaus (center) and Arnold Palmer (right) play a round together in 1970.
February 11, 2009
Stan Awtrey, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

Forty years ago, it was considered by some a risky move for the guys who play professional golf to break away from the group created for golf professionals.


That's when a small percentage of players from the PGA of America ceded from the union and formed the Tournament Players Division, which eventually became the PGA TOUR.

The difference is more than just semantics. There are two distinct groups of professionals involved. There are professional golfers, guys you see every week on television, the ones who draw big galleries and make lots of money.

And there are golf professionals, guys who work hard at your neighborhood country club or municipal course, labor long and hard in relative anonymity and aren't paid nearly as much as they deserve.

Both groups are passionate about the world's greatest game; they just direct their energy in different directions. It was only practical that the two sides would eventually take different paths.

But instead of one side growing stronger at the expense of the other, each group has become more robust. The PGA of America and the PGA TOUR are both flourishing today. In fact, both are probably stronger as a result of the breakup, sort of like Sean Penn is better off today because he split up with Madonna.

The golf breakup occurred largely because of the influx of money that television had started to pump into the game. The top players (Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer among them) wanted to use the additional TV money to pump up the purses.

The PGA of America wanted to put the money in the general fund. That's when the compromise was reached, with the golf professionals and the professional golfers going their separate ways.

The PGA of America wasn't hurt, because the game's best players continued to play in the PGA Championship. And with the top players running off to chase the big money, the regular PGA member was better able to compete on the state and sectional level.

The PGA of America was able to go about accomplishing the task for which it was created: Growing the game. They did it through several smart moves, among them buying the rights to host the PGA Fall Expo golf show, purchasing the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, opening three 18-hole courses in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and creating a 35-acre state-of-the-art practice facility.

The PGA of America still has its toe in the water of big-time tournament golf, with the PGA Championship, the Senior PGA Championship, the PGA Grand Slam, and the Ryder Cup, the greatest of all golf competitions. Whoever decided to keep control of the Ryder Cup in the hands of the PGA of America should be granted sainthood or at least have a trophy named in their honor.

The guys who broke away have done pretty well, too. The PGA TOUR, so christened in 1975, is the most influential organization in tournament golf. The TOUR hosts 47 events with more than $278 million in prize money.


The PGA TOUR has had some visionary leadership over the years, starting with Joe Dey in 1969 and Deane Beman in 1974. Beman moved the headquarters from Washington to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and hired Pete Dye to craft a masterpiece out of a swampy area off Highway A1A. His decision to move to an all-exempt tour in 1983 provided more job security for the professional golfer.

The hiring of Tim Finchem as commissioner in 1994 allowed the TOUR to move to the next level. Under Finchem's watch, the purses have seen tremendous growth. More than $1 billion have been raised for charities during his tenure. The Presidents Cup started in his first year and has grown into a fabulous event. The PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup was his baby and, now in the third season, has begun to carve out a place in the public consciousness.

So which organization derived more benefit from that historic split?

The PGA of America is stronger and more focused than ever before and still hosts the sport's greatest spectacle. This year's Ryder Cup was a smashing success; even Michael Jordan keeps showing up.

The PGA TOUR puts the greatest golfers in the world on display nearly 50 times during the year. It's the only place to see Tiger Woods on a regular basis. Even Michael Jordan shows up occasionally.

So who was the winner?

The answer: Golf fans. We are the biggest winner. We get more great golf, more exciting tournaments, and more fabulous venues to enjoy. It probably would not be there today if things had stayed status quo. It was a win-win proposition.

Thanks, guys.

Stan Awtrey is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the PGA TOUR.