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PGA Tour Confidential: Best Players Never to Have Won a Major, the Tour's Nonprofit Status and Where to Go South for the Winter

Ty Votaw
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The PGA Tour's Executive Vice President Ty Votaw said that Sen. Tom Coburn's proposed bill to strip the PGA Tour of its nonprofit status would have a "chilling effect" on the amount of charitable dollars raised.

3. ESPN's Outside the Lines examined the PGA Tour's charity giving program this week, concluding that major tax breaks are what allow for such healthy donations. It stated that nearly every tournament operates in ways that fall short of acceptable charitable practices and that the tournaments spend far more on prizes, catering and such than they do on charity. PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw defends the practice, saying that questioning the PGA Tour's nonprofit status is disingenuous, considering how much it has donated over the years. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) wants to remove the Tour’s tax-exempt status. Does the PGA Tour deserve its tax-exempt, nonprofit status?

BAMBERGER: Without knowing the fine points of the law, the PGA Tour is about as much a nonprofit entity as I am a hedge-fund billionaire. It does many good things. It puts on a good show. It enriches our lives and its members lives, of course. But it exists to make money. It's just structured not to show a profit.

SHIPNUCK: It's complicated. The fact is that Tour events have a ton of overhead, the bulk of which is the purse and TV costs, and the overall enterprise requires a bunch of staff. So the percentage of money that gets donated is always going to be low compared to other kinds of charities. But the total amounts are pretty staggering. If you take away the tax-exempt status, the whole business model falls apart. The government would get a slice, but the overall size of the pie would shrink dramatically. So paying the bloated salaries of all the VPs in Ponte Vedra Beach is an unfortunate cost of doing business.

VAN SICKLE: It's pretty obvious that the NFL, NHL and the PGA Tour and all of the other major pro sports are businesses. They raise money for charity, some much more than others, but they're businesses. I'd hate to see anything hurt the amount of money the golf charities receive, but Votaw is a smart guy. Take away the Tour's tax-exempt status, and surely he can figure out a way to keep the charity contributions flowing.

LYNCH: Nonprofits are not the same as charities, and I think the PGA Tour fairly qualifies as a nonprofit by the legal definition. I'd also argue that there is considerable value for charities in using the Tour as a marketing platform. Still, a prime requirement of a nonprofit ought to be transparency, but clearly the Tour doesn't think that transparency ought to extend to all areas of its operations, like disciplinary proceedings. That's more bothersome than its tax status for me.

PASSOV: I'm lucky I can get my tax returns filed on time, let alone comprehend what the implications might be for eliminating the Tour's tax-exempt status. Still, I'm inclined to agree with Ty Votaw. If we're thinking big picture, greater societal good and all that, how can there be any harm if a golf tournament winds up being able to give ANY money to a charity after expenses are deducted -- whether it's $1,000 or a $1 million? Yes, the PGA Tour deserves its tax-exempt, nonprofit status.

SENS: Does the Tour qualify by strict letter of the law? It sure seems to. Is the Tour's use of its charitable giving for marketing purposes tinged with cynicism? I would say yes to that, too. The Tour is a nonprofit in the way that the opera is a nonprofit: taking advantage of latitude in the law to provide benefits for a very privileged few. Then again, I've tried sitting through the opera. I'd rather watch a Father-Son event.

RITTER: The Tour is a highly profitable nonprofit, which is quite an oxymoron. That charity money still does a lot of good. Do we stick it to the Tour and cost charities future contributions? Do laws care about fairness? I'd like to use a lifeline and phone a tax lawyer.

4. In a recent interview with Golf Magazine, Greg Norman said they if they met in their respective primes, Norman would hold his own against Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods and "probably would have beat Tiger." If this fantasy tournament ever took place, whom would you bet on and why?

BAMBERGER: Where's Big Jack on that list? Woods could have played with Hogan's equipment. He basically did, as a kid. I'm picking Woods if the course has some room, Hogan if it doesn't. But I'm rooting for Hogan. I root for underdogs.

SENS: Tiger, because I think there's no doubt he is the best ever (dominant in golf's era of true athleticism, not golf's era of “it's only for us white guys from a couple of countries”). I'm sure Norman would hold his own, too. His own neck, that is. Denial isn't just a river in the Outback.

PASSOV: The Shark was every bit as good as Hogan or Snead at driving the ball -- or even better. I'll give him that. But what could he have possibly meant by "probably would have beat Tiger?" On one hole? For one round? When it comes to pressure putts and big shots at big times, nobody's been better than Tiger -- except perhaps Jack. Norman was a phenomenal talent, but at crunch time in the biggest events, he's dreaming if he thinks he would have taken down Tiger in his prime. If this fantasy tournament includes Nicklaus, he's my pick. If it's just these five, Tiger's record speaks for itself. Hogan may have been the best ballstriker, but even in his prime, his putter would let him down. Tiger's never did.

SHIPNUCK: Tiger. In his prime he was the most dominant athlete -- not just golfer -- of all time. Norman would've gotten his ugly hat handed to him by Snead and Hogan, too.

RITTER: I'd bet on Tiger in his prime, Hogan at the U.S. Open, Phil at Augusta, and Norman at the Shark Shootout.

VAN SICKLE: It's a cliche that the older an athlete gets, the better he was. Norman was a great player for a decade or so, but he doesn't belong in that foursome. He won two fewer U.S. Opens than Andy North, two fewer PGA Championships than Larry Nelson and two fewer Masters than Ben Crenshaw or Jose Maria Olazabal. On any given day or any given week, Norman could go as low as anyone. But he never got it done in three of the four majors. He doesn't even qualify for admission to this foursome.

LYNCH: Tiger: 14. Norman: 2. There's really a debate over who closed better in his prime?

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