For maybe the first time ever, the golf pros last week were not complaining about anything. They all agreed that the Upper Montclair Country Club in Clifton, N.J., the site of the Dow Jones Open, was a super place, even though their No. 1 nemesis, Golf Course Architect Robert Trent Jones, designed it. The fairways, they said, weren't too squirty or too frizzy or too long or too short but were absolutely perfect, the way fairways everywhere should be. When they three-putted or missed a two-footer they did not blame the ultraslick greens or the spike marks in their line or a poorly cut cup. No, sir. They just hit a real bad putt, that's all, they would say.
What made the pros so uncharacteristically agreeable was the fact that they were playing for an all time record purse of $300,000. Dow Jones, which is a $120 million corporation, not just the computer of Wall Street stock averages, had put up the prize money—in cash, not stocks—and the winner got $60,000. In every sense the Dow Jones was the richest professional golf tournament ever played—supplanting the $250,000 Westchester Classic, which offers only $50,000 to the winner.
Considering the financial climate on Wall Street, it is amazing that Dow Jones plunged so heavily on golf. A $15,000 Monday pro-am contest, perhaps, but a $300,000 monster? It was hard to believe. One glance at the company-issued stock average, which serves as a barometer of the country's daily financial condition, showed business was bad. The Dow average had dropped to a seven-year low of 631 on May 26, and although it had climbed to 760 by the time the tournament began last Thursday, few people on Wall Street were acting bullish. The company's own stock, which is traded over the counter, has been in decline, too, dropping from a 1969 high of $70 per share to slightly under $27 last week.
However, the idea for a Dow-sponsored tournament started in the summer of 1968, when market conditions were considerably better than they are right now. "I think if the idea was generated today," admitted Edgar A. Roll of Dow Jones, the tournament chairman, "there probably would be much reluctance on the eighth floor, which is our executive suite. Even when we got the approval to have the tournament back in 1968, not everyone was sold on the idea." Roll, who played to a one-handicap when he was named tournament chairman but now is a four, always had strong support. William Kerby, the president of Dow Jones, and Buren H. McCormack, the executive vice-president, both spend their sporting hours playing golf.
Like other corporations who have gone into the golf-sponsoring business—Kaiser, Eastern Air Lines, Avco, Kemper Insurance, National Airlines, Monsanto—Dow Jones did not hope or expect to make money. "Normally, making a profit is our objective," Roll said. "But if making money was to be the reason for the Dow Jones golf tournament, then we never would have scheduled it." What Dow Jones and other corporations reckon on is the advertising value of such a venture.
"We had BBDO, one of our advertising agencies, conduct a Who-What-Why survey to find out what the public knew about Dow Jones," Roll said. "The results showed that there was little appreciation for what we were. People simply thought Dow Jones was stocks and bonds. They did not know that the company owns The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, The National Observer and three news services as well." The Dow Jones Open, then, would be one way to inform the public of the company's scope.
The tournament will cost Dow Jones about $500,000, Roll said last week. "But I think that spending, or losing, $500,000 on a golf tournament is chicken feed in terms of value," he maintained gamely. The company did not plan on being out of pocket that much. It had budgeted $900,000 for the event and estimated that it would recover $719,000 of that in revenue with an expected loss of $181,000. Figuring that would not be too bad, Dow Jones spent an additional $310,000 to advertise the company on the national television broadcast of its own golf tournament.
"When the figures got around the office," Roll said, "the first thing some people asked was, 'What's it going to do to my profit sharing?' " An optimistic man, he laughed. "When they see the net result of what this tournament means to Dow Jones," he said, "they'll be disappointed they did not get into the action. This tournament will make Dow Jones' name much better known to the American public. As things are, some people confuse us with Dow Chemical. And it has been a great thing for our advertising customers who have had a chance to meet the players. You can't place a price on that."
Corporate sponsorship of tournaments seems to be the new trend on the PGA tour. Indeed, it is not difficult to imagine, say, the 1975 tour having about 20 $300,000-or-more events. "We have a number of large companies that want to have golf tournaments," said Tour Commissioner Joseph C. Dey. The problem, though, is television. Corporations do not want to "lose" $500,000 on a golf tournament unless the tournament is on national television. The television people, meanwhile, say they are having more trouble selling time on golf telecasts than any other sport. "It is simply not a good buy for an advertiser," said Chet Simmons, director of NBC sports. ABC will telecast at least 12 tournaments nationally in 1971, but it loses money on golf, even though it televises three of the four major professional championships, and urges its sponsors to buy an advertising package that includes several tournaments, not just the three prestige events. "We try to make them take a little rum with their Scotch," explained ABC's Chuck Howard.
There is a chance that the current involvement of big business in golf might end suddenly—after all, companies must consider sponsorship worth their while. If tournaments suddenly find themselves without corporate backers to put up the $200,000-$300,000 purses, they may be forced to fold—who is going to play in (or watch) a little, old $125,000 tournament anymore?
But last week on the sprawling Upper Montclair course, golf investors were still gloriously optimistic and the market in golf futures seemed brisk. The first three days some 40,000 fans turned out, paying 57 admission daily, and they were still crowding the course on Sunday, though Palmer and Player and Casper were by then out of it. Jack Nicklaus started the final round just three shots off the pace but he, too, dropped out of contention. As it grew late on Sunday afternoon, Bobby Nichols, Labron Harris and Dan Sikes were tied for the lead at 10 under par. But Sikes gave way at the par-4 16th, bogeying the hole after leaving an approach shot in a bunker. It now became a struggle between old pro Nichols, 34, winner of a PGA Championship and seven other tournaments, and 28-year-old Harris, whom everybody calls Junior, a former U.S. Amateur champion but a relative unknown and a non-winner on the pro tour. (His father, Labron Sr. is the golf coach at Oklahoma State.)
After a fine drive at 16, Nichols played a perfect pitching wedge to the green, dropping the ball two feet past the hole. He sank the putt for his birdie and took a one-stroke lead. On 17 Nichols lagged a 55-foot approach putt to within 18 inches and made his par-3. Almost immediately he heard a roar at 18. Junior had made a birdie 4 on the 600-yard finishing hole, ramming in a 10-footer from the edge of the green. The two players were tied once again. Nichols drove down the middle on the final hole, then caught a three wood a little fat, and the ball stopped on the right edge of the fairway about 30 yards from the pin. His pitch shot, played nervously, was 14 feet short of the hole. If Nichols made the putt he would win the $60,000; if he missed and lost the sudden-death playoff to Harris, he would collect only $34,200. He studied the line and finally he stroked the putt—"the ball felt like chewing gum on my putter head," he said later. Nichols watched as the ball rolled toward the cup, sure it would stop short. It did, for an instant, but then with a one last slow-motion turn it fell in. For Nichols it was his first victory in two years. Last year he gave up the tour as a steady job, signing on as head professional at the Firestone Country Club in Akron. He now plays in only about half the PGA tournaments. "I found a gold mine at Firestone," he said after his victory, "and I'm not going to leave it." But Clifton wasn't a bad place for panning gold either.
BOBBY NICHOLS: Golf's First $60,000 Winner