Thursday, May 25, 2000
It is without question one of the world''s premier golf tournaments, and for the 156 top professional and amateur golfers who will tee off on June 12 at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the stakes couldn''t be higher.
But there''s another, less public drama playing out in the merchandise tents beyond the fairway. Book publisher and editor Dave Burgin is accusing the Pebble Beach Company of censorship because they''re refusing to sell his company''s just-released biography of golfer and defending U.S. Open champion Payne Stewart, who was killed last October in a freak airplane accident in South Dakota.
Titled The Payne Stewart Story, the biography is a journalistic account of the golfer''s career written by noted Orlando Sentinel newspaper sports columnist Larry Guest, who knew Stewart personally. A foreword penned by no less a celebrity than former President George Bush makes it an editor''s dream.
Burgin, who served as editor of such respected newspapers as the San Francisco Examiner and the Oakland Tribune before founding the Emeryville-based Woodford Publishing, Inc., says the logic of Pebble Beach Company''s decision eludes him.
"It is some form of madness to leave out the story of the fallen defending U.S. Open champion by a known newspaper columnist in a book for which a former U.S. president wrote the foreword," he fumes, adding, "If what Pebble Beach is doing isn''t illegal, it sure as hell ought to be. Arrogance is the only word I know to describe this behavior, and the bottom line is they banned our books, and that''s no different from banning a newspaper or a microphone."
Whether the Pebble Beach Company is in fact guilty of censorship is a question open to interpretation, according to Terry Francke, general counsel for the California First Amendment Coalition.
"There can be censorship in a broad sense even if you''re a private company," he explains. "If a bookstore for some reason gets competing biographies and says they like one because it''s more generous to the [subject''s] memory, I suppose you could call it censorship by trying to interfere with communication based on content. It''s not governmental censorship, or prior restraint or a First Amendment issue, just a market decision."
Although Burgin''s book may not be for sale at the Open, it turns out another biography of Stewart will be.
That book, titled Payne Stewart: The Authorized Biography, is due out June 1 and was written by none other than Stewart''s widow Tracey, who will be on hand during the Open to lead a special memorial tribute to Payne. In addition, a small merchandising tent called Payne''s Place will feature Payne Stewart memorabilia and golf-related items for sale, with proceeds going to the Payne Stewart Foundation in Orlando.
Speaking for the Pebble Beach Company, Mark Verbonich, vice president for community affairs, says the decision not to carry Burgin''s book came down to nothing more than a lack of space coupled with the feeling that Tracey Stewart''s biography was a more fitting tribute to Payne.
"We selected her book as a way of honoring Payne''s championships here," explains Verbonich. "We felt all things considered it was a fitting way to commemorate Payne."
What Verbonich and other Pebble Beach Company officials may not be aware of is the months-long and rather rancorous struggle between Tracey Stewart and her representatives on one hand and Burgin and author Larry Guest on the other over who would control the memory of Payne Stewart--and who would reap the financial benefits of what promises to be a highly lucrative story.
According to Burgin and Guest, Tracey Stewart and her attorney D.J. Snell made a concerted effort to place impediments toward publication of their book, sending litigious letters and asking many of the top names in golf not to cooperate with Guest or give interviews.
Guest says Stewart''s behavior came as a surprise given the fact that she initially agreed to cooperate with his book and is in fact quoted liberally in Guest''s book.
"Payne and I had been talking about doing a book over the past year and half, and as recently as 10 days before he died he indicated he was warming up to the idea," recounts Guest. "I covered him for 15 years and although our relationship was primarily professional, we socialized and were friendly.
"After Payne died I approached Tracey and invited her to join me in some way she felt comfortable in doing the book. I said I would split the proceeds and allow her to edit the book. I wanted it to be a sweet tribute to him, to the champion he became on and off course, even though it does show what a jerk Payne was early in his career, but what a commendable embraceable guy he became later in his life and the forces that caused that."
Neither Stewart nor Snell responded to repeated requests for interviews from the Weekly.
Despite Stewart''s apparent willingness to cooperate, things apparently fell apart once Guest approached her and Snell with a firm offer from Burgin''s publishing company.
"When I got an offer from [Burgin], I took it back to Tracey and her advisor," explains Guest. "When they got back to me they said they didn''t want to split the revenues. They wanted all the revenues even though it was my project."
As far as the two different bios are concerned, Burgin says Guest''s book takes a more serious journalistic approach to Stewart''s career and features some startling revelations about the jet crash that took Stewart''s life. As far as Stewart''s "authorized" biography goes, Burgin expects the book, published by Broadman & Holman (a publishing company specializing in Christian-based books and instructional materials) to be an uncritical look at Stewart''s life focused more on his highly publicized embracing of Christianity.
"I have trouble with something being called ''authorized,''" says Burgin in defending his right to have his book made available at the Open. "Our book is honest, ours is journalism. When you drag in Christianity it has a heavenly imprimatur. I''m sure [Pebble Beach Company] will say I''m a screaming asshole but I wasn''t. I had my hat in my hand trying to sell books.
"Anybody who gets in a fight with a bereaved widow will lose," says Burgin. "[Tracey] beat us to death, and it was a sobering experience."