Pga Tour Has Become Logoland Professional Golfers Who Eschew Advertising On Their Clothing Are Rarer Every Week.

Posted: June 06, 1999

BETHESDA, Md. — If you picked a nice spot last week at the Kemper Open, you could sit and watch the walking billboards - er, ah, players - go by all day.

There went Tom Kite with a Titleist logo on the front of his hat, FJ (for Foot-Joy shoes) on the side and another Titleist logo on the back. His sweater was devoted to Chrysler (front) and Fairway & Greene (sleeve). Tasteful and subtle, all of the logos, but nonetheless five of them.

Richard Coughlan, a struggling young pro from Ireland, was a little more, well, flamboyant with his advertising. He wore a standard-issue Ping hat with no fewer than four of the equipment company's logos occupying the front, back and sides of his headgear. His shirt, however, was the real eye-catcher: logos for Sportsmaster Apparel, which he represents, on the sleeve, the back of his shirt - positioned at the newly popular spot just under the collar - and on the front of his collar.

The leader in the clubhouse - logo-wise, anyway - seemed to be Paul Azinger. Azinger was cruising the fairways with no fewer than seven logos - three for Callaway and Big Berthas, three for the Haggar clothing company, and one for Florida Hospital - occupying pretty much every prime spot of his person.

The ``NASCAR effect'' is what some people in golf are only half-jokingly calling the logoization of professional golfers. Granted, that's a bit of an exaggeration, because virtually no golfer on any tour anywhere is as garishly turned out as professional drivers. Along with their cars, they truly have become a patchwork of advertisements.

``Personally, I'd hate to see golfers look like race car drivers, where they've got logos plastered all over them,'' Jeff Maggert, whose Ping hat and tiny logos on his shirt for The Woodlands and TeamGolf Corp. are positively understated, said last week at the Kemper Open.

But for the comparatively staid and discreet world of golf, the growing trend of corporate marketing via the players' wardrobes is at least worth watching and maybe worth worrying about. With advertising popping up virtually everywhere around us these days, it's impossible not to wonder where it's all headed.

Are we one day going to see a player trudging up the fairway on Sunday afternoon with a large 1-800 number or a logo emblazoned across his chest?

``Yes, yes we will,'' Mac Barnhardt, who is Justin Leonard's agent, said last week as he watched his prized client hit practice balls.

``I think one of the lower players will do it, and I'd say in not more than two years, before somebody is really testing the limits of putting a billboard on a guy. It's definitely coming, and it won't be long.''

So far this NASCAR effect has not become a hot topic of discussion, not with the players and not with officials at the PGA Tour.

``We've not had anybody raise it as an issue,'' said Tour spokesman John Morris. ``If it were, it would be brought before the players' advisory board.''

Despite the common belief among players that the Tour has no rules or regulations, it does. But they are deliberately vague.

``Logos or other words on articles of clothing, including head wear, must conform with acceptable standards of size and good taste so as not to detract from the professional image of the PGA Tour and its members,'' says the regulation.

It's a touchy subject with the players themselves. Not only do they point out that they are independent contractors with the right to place whatever ads they please on themselves, they also note that without endorsement deals many marginal and even midlevel players could probably not afford the cost of living on the Tour.

Of course, only the lowest, no-name rookies on the Tour get by without a deal with an equipment company and clothing company. And most every player who has even the least amount of name recognition also has some other kind of deal - with a resort or golf club back home, or maybe a hotel chain, financial institution or other sort of corporation looking to tap in to golf's popularity.

Still, even among the players, there are disagreements over what is too much.

``That's a tough question, what is too much,'' Maggert said.

``Corporate dollars are what supports sports now, and you have to give them the opportunity to get their name in front of the public - that's why they pay the money to support the Tour. And it's good for the players because it's bringing in a lot of new money to our Tour from non-golf companies. But as far as logos all over the back and chest, I'd hate to see that.''

Big-name players such as Maggert, Leonard, Tiger Woods, David Duval, Lee Janzen and Davis Love 3d are the most fortunate and generally the least, well, decorated. Their success on the golf course translates into big-dollar deals with major corporations who seek nothing if not subtlety in placing their logos.

Janzen, for example, wears a hat from his equipment company (Taylor Made) and a shirt with the same simple Fila logo that even recreational players might wear. It's likely to stay that way.

``We turn down things all the time,'' Janzen said.

``We always let Fila and Taylor Made agree to what we are going to do. They were the ones who were there in the beginning, and they get to agree to what comes in next. I think a player has to really look at that when he puts a logo on his shirt. You put too many on there and you're going to upset somebody who's already on there.''

Of course, given the dollars pouring to Janzen's bank accounts from Fila and Taylor Made, that's an attitude the two-time U.S. Open champion can afford to have. Not so with Coughlan, a young Irishman who lost his Tour card after his rookie season last year. After that, he said he was grateful to keep his deal with SportsMaster, an apparel company whose president he met through a friend.

``I don't think there is too much,'' he said. ``I think it certainly benefits these companies to put these logos on as many places as they can.''

If becoming a walking billboard is what it takes to finance his dream, fine.

``[Endorsement] deals are important if you're low down on the money list. If you're Justin Leonard or Davis Love, it doesn't matter. But if you're not making money consistently, you're wondering when this company is going to let you down and say, `We don't need you anymore.' ''

Frank Nobilo is one successful player who sports a minimum of logos, finding them a bit distasteful. He and other players do notice when somebody is a bit over the top, and they might even razz the player a bit. But he nonetheless understands what guys like Coughlan are up against.

``If a young kid can't afford to be out here any other way, I don't think he's going to receive a lot of flak,'' Nobilo said.

``Having to have five or six logos to get the same kind of money that somebody else gets for an insignificant patch, it's hard to pick on that. But should a top player put another patch on just to get another six-figure deal, that's little different.

``It's very much a personal thing. I don't think any player wants to be a walking billboard. It's a fine line between giving the sponsor the exposure they want and giving the game the respect it deserves.''

Nobilo himself never even wore a hat until last year, when an errant ball cost him 30 stitches to the head. Even then he didn't look for a hat deal, he simply began wearing a Callaway for free because he already had a bag deal with Callaway.

``Some people think that's stupid, but they've always been good to me with my bag deal, and I feel I have an obligation.''

Wearing a Callaway hat for free may not be stupid, but it certainly is costing Nobilo money - the front of the hat is golf's equivalent of prime-time exposure. The front of the hat can earn top players such as Leonard more than $1 million a year.

``The front of hat is No. 1,'' said Barnhardt, the agent. ``Anywhere on the hat is big.''

The side of a player's hat and the front of his shirt are worth about half what the front of his hat is worth. Shirtsleeves are worth about one-quarter.

Not surprisingly, Barnhardt said, he has heard of companies studying videotape of tournaments to see which other spots on players' clothes have advertising potential.

``We've had conversations about the lower cuff of the pants,'' he said. ``You see that sometimes when players are putting.''

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