It was somewhat gratifying to see, last week, an announcement from the PGA of America that their Distinguished Service Award will be bestowed later this year on Deane Beman. I say “somewhat” because I think this honour is being made about two decades later than it should have been.
Nonetheless, the recognition and homage are, I’m sure, humbly appreciated by Mr. Beman. Most of you will remember that Deane served as Commissioner of the PGA Tour for 20 years, from 1974-94. Prior to that, he was one of the finest amateur golfers in the world, winning the U.S. Amateur twice and the British Amateur once. He might have won a third U.S. Amateur, in 1966, had he not lost in a playoff to our own Gary Cowan.
Deane turned pro in 1967, won four PGA Tour events in the next seven years, before accepting the job of Tour Commissioner when the redoubtable Joe Dey retired in 1974.
Deane’s appointment at that time took no one by surprise… only 36 at the time, he had already earned great respect among his peers as a sportsman, but also as a bright, mature, level-headed guy who could sit comfortably in any Board Room (or Oval Office) anywhere. (For those of you too young to remember Deane Beman, I would say the best comparison to a modern-day player would be Matt Kuchar… although Deane would be about a foot shorter than lanky Kooch!)
Considering the multibillion-dollar behemoth of an organization that the PGA Tour is today, it seems like a century ago that Deane took the helm of a pretty small enterprise. It had only been six years since the PGA Tour had broken off from the PGA of America, and formed a separate entity to manage professional tournaments. There was no “brand” then, just an office that liaised between players and sponsors, worked with TV networks, and applied the Rules of Golf inside the ropes.
By the time of his early retirement at age 56, Deane had grown the affairs of the PGA Tour into a sports juggernaut. Under his watch and infusion of energy, the Senior (now Champions) and Hogan (now Web.com) Tours were established; the whole concept of “stadium golf” was created (best exemplified by Beman’s vision and building of the Tournament Players Course at Sawgrass); television rights fees were multiplied to unheard-of levels, which in turn increased tournament purses and made millionaires of many young men who might never have graduated from flipping burgers for a living. And perhaps Beman’s greatest legacy was the strategy of aligning PGA Tour events to charity, a policy that has, over 40 years, generated more than $2 billion in donations to worthy causes in the U.S., and internationally.
During my brief time at the Canadian Open in the early 80s, I had the pleasure of meeting and visiting with Deane and his wife, Judy, in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, where he had established Tour headquarters. At the time, and until he retired a dozen years later, there were certainly a few people who weren’t enamoured with the Beman era. They called him a little Napoleon behind his back, and some sneered at what they considered his imperious manner, and imperial salary and perks.
From my humble perch, I really couldn’t understand the criticism. I can say that both Deane and Judy were very nice to me when they could’ve easily looked over my shoulder to see if somebody far more important had entered the room, which they didn’t do. More importantly, I saw the scale of the empire Deane was building, and equally impressive, the efficiency of the operation and loyalty of the staff beneath him. So what if he might have been a bit of a dictator… thousands of people owe their good fortune to this guy, to this day. And no professional sport was, or is, better managed than the PGA Tour.
Whether Tim Finchem appreciates it or not, the empire that he’s been running and growing since he took over from Deane, his mentor, in 1994, was created, shaped and nurtured by Deane Beman. To me, Finchem has been more of caretaker and cultivator of Deane’s legacy, whereas Deane took over a mom-and-pop shop from Joe Dey and built a multinational corporation.
Deane will probably never see this column, and I’m sure it’ll be only one of several written about him on the occasion of the Distinguished Service ceremony in November. Nevertheless, I’m happy to have had this opportunity to pay my respects to one of the true giants of the game of golf of the 20th Century. Bravo, Commissioner!