When British golf great Harry Vardon visited New York City in 1900, he caused such a sensation that the New York Stock Exchange closed for the day. The American appetite for this exciting, relatively new professional sport was insatiable, and Vardon, who would go on to win six Open Championships, was its reigning king. Vardon’s rise at a time of advances in printing-press technology that allowed for greater and faster dissemination of newspapers, magazines and books made him an ideal candidate for companies looking to market their products. From hawking Guy’s Tonic (a “nerve and strength sustainer of the very highest standard”) to Player’s Navy Cut tobacco, Vardon kicked off an advertising boom that has carried through to today.
Even as platforms evolved over the next 120 years, the print ad remained a marketing stalwart. Only today, with the increasing domination of digital, is it possible to look back and begin taking stock of the power, influence and art of this immensely profitable industry.
Alastair Johnston—who rose from unknown intern in the 1950s to IMG founder Mark McCormack’s right-hand man to his current roles as vice chairman of IMG Worldwide and the trusted executor of Arnold Palmer’s estate—has had perhaps the best view to this side of golf. Indeed, his role at IMG meant he was part of arranging the marriages of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods to myriad companies over the years.
In 1999, Johnston, who has also curated golf’s largest personal library of books and is one of the game’s respected historians, released Vardon to Woods: A Pictorial History of Golfers in Advertising. The book was the result of years spent collecting hundreds of ads to provide a full look at golf’s print-advertising industry from 1900 to 1999. Last year, Johnson released Arnold Palmer, Look This Way Please! 120 Years of Golfers in Advertising, an updated version of the book through the 2010s that includes more than double the ads of the earlier edition.
While companies paid untold sums to create the following advertisements, our presentation is but a celebration of them.
The following essay collection and selected advertisements compose a tribute to the profitable, occasionally strange, often beautiful, decades-long marriage of golfers and the printed advertisement.