By Alison Kruse,
Sports Business Writer
Caddies on the PGA Tour are tired of being used and they’ve spoken loud and clearly through a $50 million lawsuit filed on February 3, 2015. Their major complaint: the PGA Tour compels caddies to wear bibs with logos and other corporate brands without sharing the annual advertising revenue the Tour makes from this practice.
Let’s take a step back and talk about the relationship between a professional golfer and their caddie. Caddies are golf course experts; most Tour players rely heavily on their caddies’ advice and that advice can make the difference between winning and losing. The complaint says that “caddies also service as coaches, strategists, general assistance, cheerleaders, counselors and friends.” Caddies, however, are still treated like second-class citizens and this lawsuit is the first step to change that.
For example, at the Sony Open this year, there was a sign on the Clubhouse that said no caddies allowed. Kenny Harms, who has caddied for 25 years and currently is on Kevin Na’s bag (ranked 29 in the world) says, “What we’re looking for is fairness. It’s a big family … out here. Unfortunately the Tour doesn’t look at it as the caddies being part of that family.”
The relationship between the golfer, caddie, and Tour is interesting. Golfers employ caddies, the Tour does not. Caddies nonetheless must follow Tour regulations in order to participate in tournaments. They are expected to wear bibs which have logos of companies paying the PGA Tour but not paying the caddies. Caddies are tired of being free billboards.
Over 80 professional caddies filed against the Tour last Tuesday. Spearheading the lawsuit is Mike Hicks, who has caddied for Payne Stewart and Greg Norman. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Claims are raised under antitrust law, intellectual property law and contract law.
The caddies are petitioning the court to certify Hicks v. PGA Tour as a class action on behalf of all caddies in the United States who, without pay, have worn bibs bearing the logos of the Tour’s sponsors during tournaments. This includes over 1,000 caddies and should they prove victorious, threatens the PGA Tour with millions of dollars in damages.
The lead attorney for the caddies is Eugene Egdorf. “Over the years,” Egdorf says, “the PGA Tour and its sponsors have received literally hundreds of millions of dollars in value from endorsements from the bibs the caddies are forced to wear without any compensation whatsoever.” Egdorf is the Managing Attorney at the Lanier Law Firm; he heads the firm’s commercial litigation and sports law practice groups. Egdorf goes on to say, “The PGA Tour imposes all sorts of restrictions on caddies for its benefit, yet refuses to provide the most basic of benefits … the caddies want their fair share of the value they provide.”
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem addressed the lawsuit, saying the caddie/player relationship “goes a long way back” and that “we would like to continue that system and let it go on. We just have to see what happens with this litigation.”
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 10th print edition.
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