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If you see golf great Gary Player shank a shot on the seniors’ Professional Golfers Association tour, blame it on a bad business deal. Player is one of two world-famous golfers teed off at dot-coms they say owe them money. Both are taking a swing at the companies in lawsuits filed in Palm Beach Circuit Court. Player and Greg Norman, who have homes and offices in Palm Beach County, Fla., say the respective companies reneged on licensing or marketing deals with them. They are seeking to recover damages. In Player’s case, the lawsuit is complicated by the fact that he and his son have an ownership interest in the company he’s suing. Player, 65, says Gary Player Golf Inc. — formerly Gary Player Golf.com — has stolen his name and damaged his game. “I have been heckled by fans who stated that they did not receive Gary Player golf equipment ordered from Golf.com or its predecessor company,” Player said in an Aug. 27 affidavit. “When this has happened, I have tried to explain to the fans that I was not responsible for the manufacture or shipments of such equipment. However, many of the fans could not understand this, and they usually became upset and belligerent. The heckling ruined my concentration during tournaments and disrupted my family, friends and fans who came to watch me play.” Player, whose distinctive trademark is all-black attire on the golf course, is seeking a temporary injunction prohibiting Gary Player Golf, based in Grover Beach, Calif., from continuing to use his name and likeness. His complaint recently was transferred to Judge Kenneth Ryskamp in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach at the defendant’s request, since some of the allegations entail federal trademark and intellectual property violations. Player and World Services Establishment (WSE), a Liechtenstein corporation that holds his licensing rights and can sublicense those rights, entered into an agreement in February of last year to allow Gary Player Golf to sell products bearing Player’s name, likeness and his Black Knight logo. WSE was to receive $262,500 a year and Player was to be paid $87,500 a year. Those payments stopped in February of this year, the complaint alleges. The South African-born Player has won 21 tournaments on the regular PGA tour, including three prestigious Masters trophies, and 23 tournaments on the senior tour. He has offices in Palm Beach Gardens. ‘COMMON THIEF’ In July, Player and WSE notified Gary Player Golf that they were immediately terminating their licensing agreement. By then, they allege, the defendant was $175,000 in arrears in payments. But they contend that the company continues to sell products with Player’s name and likeness over the Internet. “Golf.com is nothing more than a common thief selling someone else’s property,” states Player’s motion for an injunction. Gary Player Golf’s attorney, Thomas Gallagher, a partner at Gallagher Briody & Butler in Princeton, N.J., did not return a message seeking comment. But in a letter to Player’s agent, Gallagher denied Player’s assertion that his client has been slow in processing customer orders. He said that “every customer who has ordered and paid for a set of golf clubs, irons or woods has received those products promptly and … [e]very customer who has returned his or her clubs to the company has received a full refund within five working days of the return authorization.” Player also complains that the defendant is thwarting his ability to enter into other licensing deals. Less than two weeks after Player terminated his licensing deal with Gary Player Golf Inc., Callaway Golf Co. of Carlsbad, Calif., issued a press release saying it had just completed an agreement with Player to endorse its products. The next day, Gallagher wrote to Callaway saying Gary Player Golf held exclusive rights to license Player’s name and likeness, and that Callaway risked violating those rights if it went forward on its deal with Player. Player’s attorney, Kevin Rynbrandt, a partner at Varnum Riddering Schmidt Howlett in Grand Rapids, Mich., declined to say what the status of Player’s deal is with Callaway. “We’re still in discussions on all of that,” he said. Peter A. Sachs, a partner, and Roberto Vargas, an associate at Jones Foster Johnston & Stubbs in West Palm Beach, have joined Rynbrandt in the case. The chief executive of Gary Player Golf is Edward Tracy, former president and CEO of the Trump Organization, which oversees Donald Trump’s hotels and casinos. Further complicating the issue for Player is that his son Marc, until recently, was chairman of Gary Player Golf’s board of directors. And Gary Player is still a part owner. When Player entered into the licensing agreement with Gary Player Golf, he, his son and another of Player’s companies, Gary Player Group Inc., became shareholders of Gary Player Golf, which in turn assumed more than $1 million in outstanding liabilities of Gary Player Group Inc. “It’s obviously a great concern to [Player] that [Gary Player Golf] is not doing well,” Rynbrandt said. In a letter he wrote to Player’s agent in July, Gallagher acknowledged that Gary Player Golf was experiencing “financial difficulties.” But, Gallagher added, the company was negotiating with an Internet company “to consummate a transaction that it believes will bring [Gary Player Golf] financial stability.” That Internet company, Visual Data Corp. of Pompano Beach, Fla., produces, markets and distributes original broadband video and audio content for the Internet, and eventually interactive television. But Rynbrandt says Gary Player Golf has not yet consummated that deal. STIFFED BY BRITANNICA? Greg Norman’s lawsuit is less convoluted. His breach of contract complaint, filed by Greg Norman Interactive against Britannica.com on Sept. 18, alleges that the encyclopedia company’s Internet arm owes Norman $70,000. Norman’s company and Britannica.com entered into a co-marketing agreement in March 2000 under which Britannica agreed to pay Norman Interactive $60,000 immediately, followed by quarterly payments of $35,000 for a total of $200,000. The deal called for Britannica to be one of the sponsors of Norman’s Internet site, and for the site to run banner ads promoting Britannica.com. Norman Interactive says it received the $60,000 and the first two quarterly payments, but neither of the last two quarterly payments. A spokesman for Britannica.com, based in Chicago, says the company hadn’t seen the lawsuit, and could not comment. Norman’s attorney, Gene Lipscher, a partner at Alley Maass Rogers & Lindsay in Palm Beach, did not return a phone call seeking comment. The Australian-born Norman, 46, nicknamed “Shark,” has won 18 PGA tournaments. He lives on Jupiter Island and has offices in Jupiter, Fla. Under the contract, Norman was to provide editorial content to Britannica.com, including four exclusive interview stories pegged to the four major golf tournaments: the Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open and British Open. He also was to produce two articles in conjunction with two tournaments that he sponsors. The agreement also guaranteed Britannica.com executives some nice perks: two guest spots at a corporate golf day hosted by Norman, and coveted access to the private Medalist Golf Course he co-designed in Florida’s Hobe Sound for 18 holes of golf for up to 12 people. Since then, Britannica.com brass have been taught a lesson learned by Florida beachgoers: Sharks bite.

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