It All Started in Georgia ...

The story of the 1974 Tournament Players Championship contested at Atlanta Country Club

MARIETTA, Georgia— PGA TOUR Commissioner Joe Dey always liked telling stories, and the former sportswriter turned golf administrator felt something in professional golf was missing. He thought there was a story his TOUR needed to tell. Dey, nicknamed “Mr. Golf,” wasn’t necessarily jealous of the United States Golf Association, nor did he have those feelings toward the R&A, Augusta National or the PGA of America. But Dey did feel the organization he oversaw was on the outside looking in when it came to owning and operating a significant professional tournament.

Augusta National had its tradition in the spring, as well as its nod to amateurs and regular invitations to past champions to return to play the Masters year after year. The U.S. Open was just that, the country’s national championship open to anybody who could qualify. It was also almost 100 years old. The Open Championship was older than its U.S. counterpart, and it brought players together at the home of golf. Meanwhile, the PGA Championship set itself apart by inviting club pros to play alongside the touring professionals, the guys who taught lessons for a living and kept the pro shop stocked with balls, clubs and sweaters.

That left the PGA TOUR to operate a full schedule but no truly important tournament to call its own. How to remedy the problem was the conundrum facing the commissioner, figuring out what the fledgling PGA TOUR could do to set apart the organization that had only been a stand-alone entity since late 1968.

What if, Dey mused, he created a tournament open only to touring professionals, specifically his touring professionals? No amateurs, no club pros, no qualifiers. Then, bring them all together for a championship for the players, a players championship or, say, a Tournament Players Championship with correct proper-noun usage. Could he make it happen, especially since he didn’t have intentions of seeing his idea through? Could he conceive the idea, put the pieces in place and then walk away well before the tournament ever started?

That was the 66-year-old Dey’s plan: Create a tournament, announce it and then retire.

The story of the 1974 Tournament Players Championship

In early 1973, Dey, the long-time golf executive with both the United States Golf Association and then, in the twilight of his career, as the touring golfers’ first commissioner, implemented his plan. Conscientious as ever, Dey wanted to ensure everything was in place so his successor wouldn’t be stuck with any of the heavy lifting.

Problem No. 1. Dey understood that finding a spot on the existing 1974 schedule—as well as a golf course—would be difficult. The TOUR already had 50 tournaments played over 48 weeks. How would he squeeze in another?

Solution: Instead of creating a new tournament from whole cloth, why not, he reasoned, take an existing PGA TOUR tournament and its host course, play his baby, the Tournament Players Championship, there as a one-off and then move it to a new city and venue the following year?

The TOUR could play it in the late-summer or give it a fall date on the schedule. Dey preferred a course in the southern part of the U.S. to ensure cold weather wouldn’t be an issue. Dey examined the schedule and had his answer. He went to his Rolodex—remember those?—and pulled out the numbers for Everett Millican, Jr., and Pope McIntire. Millican was the general chairman of the Atlanta Classic Foundation, the group that ran the Atlanta Classic, and McIntire, a former University of Georgia golfer, was president of the Foundation and a key figure in the formation of the Atlanta Country Club.

For the inaugural tournament, Dey had zeroed in on Georgia’s capital—the suburb of Marietta, to be specific. As his proposal went, Atlanta Country Club would put on hiatus the Atlanta Golf Classic, always a spring PGA TOUR event since its inception in 1967, with the club hosting the TOUR’s new tournament in September 1974. The Classic would then return to its traditional spring spot on the 1975 schedule, and the TOUR would take its traveling road show to another city for the Tournament Players Championship’s second edition. Same for the third year and so on.

Dey knew Millican and McIntire’s support was critical, and much to his relief, they both liked the idea. When they approached their tournament board and club members, respectively, to take their temperature, there was plenty of enthusiasm.

The trio ironed out all the details, Dey received Policy Board approval for his brainchild, and like that, the first TPC, shorthand for the name of the fledgling tournament, was on its way to Georgia.

In November 1973, Dey traveled to Pinehurst, North Carolina, for the TOUR’s annual board meetings, where he had a couple of significant items on the agenda. Dey first announced the formation of the Tournament Players Championship and its location. Dey then revealed he was stepping down as commissioner at the conclusion of his five-year contract, in February.

Three months later, Dey was home his Locust Valley, New York, enjoying retirement, and former TOUR player Deane Beman, Dey’s successor, was in Atlanta proselyting and promoting the Tournament Players Championship, the PGA TOUR’s newest, and what turned out to be, its most important tournament.

For the longest time, Darren DeVore and Dave O’Haren felt something was missing inside the Atlanta Country Club clubhouse. The building was full of plenty of memorabilia most notably associated with long-time club member Larry Nelson.

Want to see Nelson’s 1983 U.S. Open trophy? Walk through the front doors and keep walking. The showcase is to your left. Care to see things associated with Nelson’s World Golf Hall of Fame career highlighted by 10 PGA TOUR wins, including that Open, two PGA Championships, 19 PGA TOUR Champions titles, seven other worldwide wins and photos of him playing on three winning U.S. Ryder Cup teams? Make an immediate right as soon as you walk in the door, and you’ll find yourself in the Larry Nelson Room.

It's pretty impressive.

How about artifacts from the Atlanta Classic, the PGA TOUR tournament the club hosted 30 times from 1967 to 1973 and again from 1975 to 1996? Wander around and you’ll see lots of cool stuff from those tournament years, as well.

But what of the 1974 Tournament Players Championship, and how come there was nothing on display?

Good question. DeVore, the club’s current president, wondered the same thing. He poked around the club’s closets and storage areas and found nothing. He spoke to some of the club’s older members who were around back in the day. A few remembered pieces of memorabilia they might have in boxes, a tournament program here, a signed hat there. “We’ll have a look and see,” they would tell him.

Little turned up. Admitted DeVore, “We didn’t have much of anything.”

DeVore and O’Haren, a past club president, knew they had a problem. Their club needed to tell the story of 1974, how Dey, followed by Beman, and Millican and McIntire, came to locate the Tournament Players Championship—a name changed to THE PLAYERS Championship in 1988—at a certain club in suburban Atlanta.

Explains DeVore, “For Atlanta Country Club to have a connection with the PGA TOUR as the inaugural host to the Tournament Players Championship is something I think our club is probably most proud of as it relates to our history. We’ve just never properly told the story.”

For Atlanta Country Club to have a connection with the PGA TOUR as the inaugural host to the Tournament Players Championship is something I think our club is probably most proud of as it relates to our history.

Darren DeVore, Atlanta Country Club President

In 1966, Thomas O’Haren and his wife, Virginia—known as Ginny—moved their family from Houston to Marietta, Georgia, where Thomas opened an agency office for Connecticut General Life Insurance. The O’Harens bought the home at 280 Pine Valley Road, located on the 15th fairway of the relatively new Atlanta Country Club, the house also conveniently across the street from the course’s 17th green. It was no accident Thomas purchased where he did. He loved golf, and a year later, somewhat serendipitously, the PGA TOUR arrived, with the first playing of the Atlanta Golf Classic.

The O’Harens’ timing couldn’t have been better.

The family embraced the tournament. It became an O’Haren tradition to always be a part of the event. The kids even, on occasion, skipped school. Dad eventually served a term as club president, and he would annually serve as a marshal on the 17th hole. Meanwhile, the O’Haren boys—Tim, Terry and Dave—had a run of the place.

“We would typically go and sit around and watch players come through 17, and then we would walk up 18 to get autographs and stuff because it was all right there by our house,” says Dave. The three O’Haren boys would also head back and drop by the family’s strategically located kitchen, the one with the fully stocked refrigerator, whenever it became necessary to pick up provisions. Dave O’Haren’s first memories of the Atlanta Golf Classic are from 1969. He was five.

All the way through high school, the PGA TOUR coming to “his” course was a part of O’Haren’s upbringing. After high school, O’Haren left home to attend the University of Notre Dame, graduating in 1985. However, he immediately returned to Atlanta, his bachelor’s in accounting in hand, to work at Arthur Andersen. He joined ACC and eventually, like his father, became the club president, serving from 2010-12. He fondly remembers the Classic, and he has the same warm feelings for the Tournament Players Championship’s one foray into Georgia.

With the championship celebrating its 50th playing in March at venerable TPC Sawgrass in Northeast Florida, there have been lots of reminders of the tournament’s Georgia roots as the anniversary approaches. O’Haren has done his part to beat that drum.

He says in his mind memories of the Atlanta Golf Classic and the 1974 Tournament Players Championship sometimes conflate, but he does remember specifics of that tournament—even as a 10-year-old—because of the weather. That year, it rained and rained and rained, eventually forcing a Monday finish to the tournament.

“Yeah, we’re known for our storms here that can kind of mess things up, weather-wise,” O’Haren says.

Fifty years ago, the sky opened up and the rain fell. Boy, did it fall. During Thursday’s opening round, Julius Boros joked that he saw a three-pound crappie swimming in one of the bunkers, and Jack Nicklaus, the tournament’s inaugural winner, said he was so wet when he was playing that his toes began growing together.

As luck would have it for a 10-year-old, the TOUR had established a certain Pine Valley Road home as a “safe house,” where players, caddies and volunteers could safely assemble in the event of a delay. During that first round, with lightning flashing in the sky, tournament officials blew the horn halting play. O’Haren scampered home, and he was thrilled to walk into his house and see Hubert Green and David Graham in his basement. They were playing billiards on the family’s pool table.

“They just went down to hang out, and my mom had put out some food. As a kid, I just remember how incredible they were at pool. I thought of them as pool sharks,” O’Haren says with a laugh. Pretty good at golf, too.

That week, the duo played well enough to finish sixth (Green) and 12th (Graham). What they couldn’t do was catch Nicklaus, who had to wait an extra day to dispatch J.C. Snead to win the inaugural tournament. It turned out to be the Golden Bear’s 54th career TOUR title.
Highlights from Jack Nicklaus’ victory in 1974 at Atlanta Country Club

Because of Thursday’s delays, the opening round finished Friday morning. It sprinkled most of Friday, but there was no stoppage of action. Saturday was the only clear day, with Atlanta’s famous humidity coming in behind all the rain and blanketing the course. Sunday was much like Thursday. Play stopped for a little over an hour when a lightning storm hit the course in the early afternoon. After players returned from the delay, they were only able to play for about 90 minutes when officials again blew the horn, at 3:50 p.m. The players returned to the course and played for 41 additional minutes when another downpour came, forcing a suspension until Monday.

ABC Sports was onsite to broadcast the tournament’s final 36 holes, as was common back then. A Monday morning live telecast of the playoff, though? That was never a thought. ABC was not about to pre-empt the showing of “All My Children,” “One Life to Live, “Let’s Make a Deal” and the “Newlywed Game”—angry soap opera fans with proverbial torches and pitchforks lighting up the New York switchboard a mitigating factor.

In other words, even at the height of his powers, Nicklaus was no match for stalwart Erica Kane and the rest of the “All My Children” characters. Nor could the Golden Bear match the often risqué answers uttered by husbands and wives to Bob Eubank or the contestants dressed as Raggedy Ann and Andy hoping for a deal but, instead, finding a donkey behind Door No. 3.

What the network was willing to do was put together what turned out to be taped highlights of all the key shots, along with interviews, that it would show later in the day. The fact Monday was a federal holiday, Labor Day, certainly helped matters, network executives knowing lots of potential viewers would be home instead of working.

Nicklaus, as he was wont to do, still provided good TV. He had begun Sunday’s final round three strokes behind Snead. He fell five strokes behind before narrowing Snead’s lead, catching him and eventually passing him by the time the officials halted play.

Providing ABC Sports commentary were Jim McKay and Dave Marr, in their patented, network-issued yellow blazers, explaining the significance of the new tournament.

McKay reminded the viewers “it’s not for the club pros, it’s not for the amateurs. It’s only for the top-144 players this year. They all came and took their shots.”

Marr, the 1965 PGA Championship winner, was eligible to play in the first TPC but chose to commentate rather than compete. By Monday, Marr seemed relieved the tournament would finish, and said as much. “It was quite a week for the first championship and everything. To go through all the trouble they had and still get the tournament over with is really quite a feat.”

The first shot ABC showed was Nicklaus beginning Monday’s play on the 14th tee, where he eventually made birdie, canning a 24-foot putt. Snead, a hole behind Nicklaus, could never cut into his deficit, eventually losing by two shots and earning the ignominy of not only finishing second to Nicklaus at the inaugural Tournament Players Championship but coming up short a year later, the runner-up at the TPC’s second edition played at Fort Worth’s Colonial Country Club.

The crowd roared with delight when Nicklaus putted out on 18, the best player in the world winning the inaugural tournament.

“I’m obviously delighted. We play a lot of other major championships that are not our own tournaments. This is our own tournament, the Tournament Players,” Nicklaus said following the victory. “We want to build it as big as we possibly can.

“Winning this for the first time,” the Golden Bear continued, “makes me, obviously, feel very proud. This year hasn’t been my best year. We all go through times going up and down. I’ve come off a couple of pretty good years, so I guess it was time for a little bit of a down. I’ve been back working at it a little harder lately, and I guess it’s paying off.”
Jack Nicklaus winning interview at the 1974 Tournament Players Championship

It’s late October in Marietta. Inside the Atlanta Country Club clubhouse, DeVore took some time away from the office to sit down to view the grainy video of the ABC Sports telecast for the first time. PGA TOUR Entertainment shared the 17-minute video with him, which he watched on a computer. If DeVore saw the 1974 broadcast as a 10-year-old on the family’s RCA, he doesn’t remember. He could only smile as he listened to McKay and Marr describe the action.

As the video ended, DeVore reached over, turned off the computer and gave thought to what that tournament still means to the club he oversees today.

“Atlanta Country Club has a long and storied history with the game of golf. Underscoring that is our partnership with the PGA TOUR,” he said of the 30-year partnership with the Atlanta Golf Classic. “We’ve hosted a number of USGA events and other amateur events that we’re really proud of. But I think I would speak for all members when I say that the thing the club’s most proud of is being the host of the inaugural Tournament Players Championship.”

With Nicklaus objects from his Atlanta Classic win in 1973 on display but nothing from 1974, DeVore and O’Haren worked with the PGA TOUR to make replicas of some of the memorabilia located in the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse. ACC members also donated what they found, and the TOUR gifted some artifacts. In addition, DeVore contacted Nicklaus himself, arranging to produce a replica of his original Joseph C. Dey Trophy—on permanent display at his museum on the Ohio State University campus. The exact reproduction is now in the ACC clubhouse along with a tournament program, an original scoresheet, photos and some newspaper clippings, among other pieces. There’s even a copy of the original Bart Forbes painting that depicts Nicklaus and his caddie, Angelo Argea, walking up the 18th hole on their way to the inaugural win.

The club—finally—has Tournament Players Championship “stuff” to show off.

“Atlanta Country Club was founded, basically, to be the best club in the city of Atlanta, among the best in the Southeast and among the best in the country,” DeVore says. “We tell that story to our membership consistently that championship golf is part of our fabric; it’s a part of who we are. When we look at that, at what our club’s accomplished, hosting the first PLAYERS Championship is what underscores our entire foundation of championship golf.”

Yes, club members are proud of their club’s place in history.

Today, O’Haren, in a bit of irony, while still a member at Atlanta Country Club, lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. His home is so close to TPC Sawgrass that he annually attends THE PLAYERS Championship. To avoid traffic issues, he and his wife, Brandi, ride their bikes to the course.

We tell that story to our membership consistently that championship golf is part of our fabric; it’s a part of who we are. When we look at that, at what our club’s accomplished, hosting the first PLAYERS Championship is what underscores our entire foundation of championship golf.

Darren DeVore, Atlanta Country Club President

O’Haren is no longer the mop-top grade-schooler, running between holes, hoping to chase down a player and get a prized autograph or two. Yet his sense of wonder hasn’t necessarily dissipated. The 2021 PLAYERS is a good example. He smiles at the memory.

“We rode into the course Sunday afternoon, and just coming in the gates and seeing all the people in the stands illustrates the bigness of the event. We caught up to Justin Thomas and followed him on the back nine and watched him win the tournament. It was just so cool to be a part of it. You could feel the energy of his win throughout the crowd. It was awesome.”

Just like in 1974.