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The Skin Game Behind the Skins Game

November 29, 1996|LARRY STEWART

Amid all the football on television over this holiday weekend will be one of the most popular golf events of the year--the made-for-TV Skins Game on ABC Saturday and Sunday from Rancho La Quinta Country Club in La Quinta.

A lineup of Fred Couples, John Daly, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods guarantees a ratings winner, as usual. It will also be a money winner for the competitors since there is a $540,000 purse. And the producers of the event, OCC, formerly Ohlmeyer Communications Co., and Trans World International, the television arm of International Management Group (IMG), will do OK too.

TWI has been involved in the Skins Game and its offshoots, the Seniors Skins Game and the LPGA Skins Game since the beginning, ever since Don Ohlmeyer, recognized as the creator of the event, brought his idea to TWI senior vice president Barry Frank in 1983.

The first televised Skins Game was played that year, with Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Tom Watson competing.

Golfers have been playing for skins, or dollars, on a per-hole basis almost since the game was invented. All Ohlmeyer did was use the format to create a television event. But was it really Ohlmeyer's idea?

Bob Halloran, the head of sports for the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, says no.

"It was my idea, and Don stole it from me," said Halloran, a former CBS announcer and golf commentator who was the head of sports for Ceasars World before moving on to the Mirage a few years ago.

Halloran said he first got Jack Nicklaus to back the idea, then lined up Watson, Isao Oaiki, Seve Ballesteros and Lee Trevino to join Nicklaus--yes, a fivesome--to play a Skins Game in 1982.

He pitched his idea to Ohlmeyer, who was then the executive producer of NBC Sports.

"I made the pitch during a round of golf at Bel-Air," Halloran said.

Ohlmeyer, who rejected Halloran's idea, left NBC the next year and formed his own company, the Beverly Hills-based Ohlmeyer Communications Co. (OCC). Soon after that, he went to Frank and TWI with his idea of putting a Skins Game on television.

Halloran didn't take it lightly. He sued and got an out-of-court settlement.

"It was a pretty good settlement--that's all I can tell you--but needless to say I would have rather owned a piece of the Skins Game," Halloran said.

Ohlmeyer sold his company, now known simply as OCC, to ESPN in 1993 when he became the West Coast president of NBC. OCC, in conjunction with TWI, produces the Skins Game, but Ohlmeyer is no longer involved.

He calls Halloran's legal action a "nuisance suit."

"The insurance company settled because it would have cost too much to litigate," Ohlmeyer said. "To say I stole the idea of a Skins Game is ludicrous. It's been around for 100 years. I didn't invent it. It would be like saying I invented baseball.

"Did Bob Halloran buy the television time, handle the production, sell the advertising and take the risk? Hardly. The first Skins Game lost a million dollars.

"Halloran didn't have a case. He never would have won had it gone to court. In a deposition, Jack Nicklaus said he didn't even know who Bob Halloran is.

"This is really a non-story."


Ohlmeyer made news on another front this week during a lively conference call with television reporters. He touched on a number of topics, and one of them was about efforts to revise NBC's deal with major league baseball, which Ohlmeyer has criticized in the past. "You basically feel like you're in business with people who are mentally challenged," he said.

Later, Ohlmeyer, talking about baseball's labor troubles and Albert Belle's $55-million contract with the Chicago White Sox, said, "You've got a lot of people with lobotomies who are running this sport."


The Skins Game will be on ABC at 12:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The announcing team will be Vin Scully, Mark Rolfing and newcomer Curtis Strange, who has been hired to work most of ABC's golf events, including ones that he is playing in.

He was supposed to start out with last month's Tour Championship, but dropped out at the last minute when he was told he couldn't wear anything that had a Titleist logo. He is under contract to Titleist, and felt obligated to do so. Titleist has since told him that isn't necessary.

Strange has played in four Skins Games and has won $605,000, fifth on the Skins Game money list. In 1990, he had a record eight birdies.

However, Strange was shut out in his first Skins Game, when he played with Raymond Floyd, Nicklaus and Lee Trevino. He admitted it was nerve-racking and intimidating.

"But Tiger won't be shut out," Strange said. "I think the matchup everybody wants to see is Tiger and John Daly. I know I'm anxious to see who is longer."

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