RBC Heritage

Harbour Town Golf Links



From The Archive

We studied 50 years of tour player ads—revealing where golf has changed the most

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Lillian Northrup

On the 50th anniversary of The Players Championship, one way to commemorate how golf has changed is to take a deep dive into our Golf Digest Archive to see how golfers have doubled as pitchmen over the years.

As long as golfers have been paid to play, we’ve seen them in ads in everything from golf clubs to golf clothes to luxury automobiles. Some of the greats even carry over from decade to decade because of their massive imprint in the game.

Throughout this journey of going through the archived magazines, I discovered a few trends. One was Arnold Palmer, who was appeared in advertisements in almost every decade. Different products were also more popular at certain times. The 1990s were almost entirely car advertisements. Watches seemed to become very popular in the first part of the new millennium. The golf attire and the way golfers dress has certainly changed with time as well.

I picked some of the best in each decade since 1974 when The Players Championship first began all the way up to this year to see how golfers in advertisements have changed. Here’s what I found.

1974

These three advertisements show off travel, clubs and attire. Arnold Palmer made an appearance working with United Air Lines. There’s often more text in the earlier decades. Gene “The Machine” Littler, was on the Aldila golf club advertisement. They used him here as their representative of their club shaft in the PGA Tour. Finally for 1974, we see Dave Marr and Tommy Jacobs wearing Jantzen for their golf attire. Jantzen had advertisements throughout much of the early decades as one of the popular golf clothing brands.

Watch our video on TPC Sawgrass' 17th hole

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1984

In 1984 we see the emergence of bankings ads through this one with EF Hutton featuring Tom Watson. There are significantly less words here and the focus is more around the golfer. Next, we have one of the greatest golfers of all time, Jack Nicklaus. The Muirfield Collection by MacGregor was an ad for his golf clubs, which were called Muirfield since that’s where Nicklaus won his first Open. Our last advertisement in 1984 is of Seve Ballesteros with Rolex, a brand we'll hear more from in future decades.

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1994

Arnold Palmer endorsed many products in his time, but the above caught our eye. The Backtech machine—which appears to be akin to at-home chiropractic bench—is an example of how health and wellness became important to golfers in this decade. We also found a bunch of Greg Norman in the 1990s. Not surprisingly, Cobra’s ad for new drivers features one of the best drivers of his time. Also interesting is Payne Stewart boasting an Ebel watch for Neiman Marcus. While companies like Rolex were mainstays in golf advertisements throughout our archives, the 90s boasted more lesser-known brands starting to make entry into luxury items in golf.

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2004

The ad pages featuring Palmer, golf’s most prolific spokesman, begin to take on a different look in the 2000s as his playing days wound down. That’s evident with this advertisement from Rolex takes on a different look, highlighting the entirety of his career. We also continue to see Nicklaus featured prominently in ads—this was an iconic shot to advertise his company’s golf clubs. And quite obviously, Tiger Woods becomes the most sought-after spokesman for any brand, and one of the most companies that hired Woods was TAG Heuer, a long-time partner of the 15-time major champion.

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2014

Rory McIlroy’s off-course earnings skyrocketed in this decade with his mega contract with Nike, but also large deals with companies like Bose. Music on the golf course was a touchy subject in 2014, so this ad from Bose might’ve made some traditionalists cringe just 10 years ago. Though the ads featuring Arnold Palmer slowed down leading into 2014, there are still a few, evidenced by this Insperity ad. And we just love this ad with Webb Simpson, which screams mid-2010s.

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2024

And here’s a look at some of our most recent ads. The latest ad pages feel emblematic of the advanced technology in golf equipment with the bold graphics and smart use of space. Another advancement in our pages is the prominence of more women brand ambassadors for golf companies. Brooke Henderson has become a mainstay in ads on our pages, particularly for her partnership with Skechers. Lastly, we’re seeing a lot of Hideki Matsuyama on advertisements in recent years—as he capitalizes on his global star status following his 2021 Masters victory and continued success on the PGA Tour.