Deane Beman, for 12 Years His Sport's Top Executive, Has Marketed the Game From Tee to Greenbacks : He Has Put Golf on Its Course

June 17, 1985|BILL SHIRLEY | Times Staff Writer

PONTE VEDRA, Fla. — Judged by his authority, work habits and life style, Deane Beman fits the image of a typical president or chief executive officer of a big corporation. All he really lacks is the title.

He has a large staff and a big office, reports to a board of directors, helps set policy and runs the day-to-day business of his company, often rushing from city to city in a private plane. He is seldom home, and the rare times he is, he usually gets telephone calls at all hours.

And, oh yes, he likes to play golf.

On the course, however, Deane Randolph Beman does not act like the typical corporate executive whose skill with a driver or 9-iron would remind you of Gerald Ford or Spiro Agnew. Beman, when he is on his game, can shoot 66 from the back tees at the PGA Tour's Tournament Players Club here at Sawgrass. Riviera, Pebble Beach and L.A. North are easier courses to do that on, to give you an idea of how good he is.

Beman's company, while owning the Sawgrass course and operating six others like it today in Florida, Connecticut, Colorado and Texas, is better known for the 72 golf tournaments it runs. He is commissioner of the PGA Tour.

A former amateur champion and a four-time winner on the tour, Beman has labored in semi-obscurity for 12 years as golf's No. 1 executive. His job is largely misunderstood and, in fact, his organization isn't understood too well, either. Tour golf is not like other sports, and Beman's job can hardly be likened to the work of commissioners who run other sports.

Beman runs a sport for about 500 independent contractors who receive no salary or expenses and can decide on their own when and where to play. His players make their own rules; it is their company. At their request, Beman administers their rules, markets their game on television and sets up tournaments for them. He is hired by a board of directors, the Tournament Policy Board, which includes four players among its 10 members. Three executives of the PGA of America and three independent directors compose the rest of the board.

The world hears frequently about such media favorites as Pete Rozelle and Peter Ueberroth, but, in truth, the sporting press pays about as much attention to the fellow who runs major league golf as it does to David Stern and John Ziegler, who, in case you didn't know, run the National Basketball Assn. and the National Hockey League, respectively.

To understand Beman's job, one must first understand that the PGA Tour and the PGA of America, known simply as the PGA, are not the same thing. The Tour is Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and the 72 tournaments. The PGA of America is one tournament, the PGA Championship, and hundreds of teaching and club pros. But the goals of the tour players are different from the club pros'. One is wholly competitive, the other is a teacher and business man. The two organizations have close ties but little else in common.

Once, pro golf operated under one umbrella, the PGA of America, starting in the early 1920s. By the late 1960s, however, as a result of a long-simmering disenchantment among the pros who played the tour for a living, controversy had begun to split the poorly run organization. The controversy was virtually boiling over when Beman came onto the tour at the age of 30 in 1967.

"The players thought they would be better off and have more direct control of their own destiny if they had their own organization," Beman said. The upshot of the players' disenchantment was that a Tournament Players Division, the forerunner of the PGA Tour, was formed with Joseph Dey, who had been the executive director of the United States Golf Assn., as its first commissioner. Beman supported the split.

As a rookie, Beman was not eligible to serve on the Tournament Policy Board, which sets the rules for the tour. Nevertheless, he was asked by his fellow pros, who were impressed by his business expertise, to advise them. He had a degree in business administration from the University of Maryland and ran, with a partner, his own insurance brokerage firm that did business in more than 20 states.

His credentials as a golfer were equally impressive. He won the British amateur championship in 1959 and twice won the U.S. amateur championship, in 1960 and 1963. He represented the United States in the Americas Cup, World Cup and Walker Cup competitions several times between 1959 and 1966. He won four tour tournaments between 1969 and 1973, overcoming severe health problems and an inability to hit the ball as far as most pros.

In 1972 he became a voting member of the tour, and to take greater advantage of his business acumen, the players immediately elected him to the policy board.

At one of the board's quarterly meetings that year, Dey stunned Beman by telling him that he was retiring and that he and the board wanted Beman to be the next commissioner.

Beman said the news came right out of the blue. It also came at the wrong time for him.

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