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Despite a string of legal victories in federal court in West Palm Beach, Fla., golfing great Gary Player’s licensing agreement with failed online marketer Gary Player Golf.Com continues to haunt him. The now-bankrupt, Grover Beach, Calif.-based dot-com is suing Carlsbad, Calif.-based equipment maker Callaway Golf, with whom Player, a Palm Beach Gardens resident, has an endorsement agreement. In its tortious interference lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, the dot-com has alleged that Callaway stole Player’s endorsement. If the dot-com prevails in its California suit, Player would have to reimburse Callaway for damages the equipment maker pays to the Internet marketer, said Player’s attorney, Kevin Rynbrandt, a partner at Varnum Riddering Schmidt Howlett in Grand Rapids, Mich. “Since Gary Player Golf.Com owes damages and lawyers’ fees to [Player], Gary could end up collecting his own money as payment.” Callaway’s lead counsel, Edwin Woodsome, a partner at Howrey Simon Arnold & White in Los Angeles, was out of the country and unavailable for comment. Callaway corporate spokesman Larry Dorman describes the suit as “primarily a battle between the Player companies and [Gary Player] Golf.Com.” Counsel for Gary Player Golf.Com in the California suit and in the Palm Beach Circuit Court proceedings both referred questions to Tom Gallagher, a partner at Gallagher Briody & Butler in Princeton, N.J., who is representing the company. Gallagher did not respond to calls seeking comment. BLACK KNIGHT The South African-born Player, 67, whose distinctive trademark is all-black attire on the golf course, has won 21 tournaments on the regular Professional Golfers Association tour, including all four of the majors, and 23 tournaments on the senior tour. He has a home and offices in Palm Beach Gardens. But it hasn’t been easy for the links legend to play out of this rough. As described in court documents and in a series of Player’s Internet-posted open letters to the public, the history of Player’s involvement with Gary Player Golf.Com, subsequently renamed Gary Player Golf Inc., began in February 2000. That’s when Player, his Palm Beach Gardens corporation Gary Player Group, and World Services Establishment, a Liechtenstein corporation with a share of world licensing rights to Player’s name, sold those rights to Gary Player Golf.Com in exchange for fees, stock in the online company and the marketer’s assumption of certain Gary Player Group debt. World Services Establishment was to receive $262,500 a year and Player was to be paid $87,500 a year. The chief executive of Gary Player Golf.Com was Edward Tracy, former president and CEO of the Trump Organization, which oversees Donald Trump’s hotels and casinos. Marc Player, the golfer’s son and CEO of Gary Player Group, initially served as chairman of the dot-com’s board of directors. According to Gary’s open letter of Oct. 10, 2001, while the Group and the dot-com “worked together on the administrative level, with staff at the Group performing certain administrative functions relating to sub-licensees,” Marc “tried to positively influence the direction of Golf.Com.” BOILER-ROOM FUNDING But the golfer’s son was facing some dangerous hazards. Funding for Gary Player Golf.Com came from members of a notorious Bangkok-based boiler-room operation called the Brinton Group. According to a report in the Nov. 19, 2001, edition of Time Asia, Marc Player made a first deal with Brinton in late 1999 to sell shares in an earlier Internet venture, Gary Player Direct, to investors in Asia and Australia. When that company folded, Brinton began steering investors toward Gary Player Golf.Com. Attorneys for Gary Player say that royalty payments from the dot-com ended sometime in the fall of 2000. They say the dot-com was more interested in selling shares in the venture than in actually marketing golf equipment. In an affidavit filed in the court action that followed, Player complained of being heckled on the senior pro golfer’s tour by fans who said they’d never received equipment they’d ordered online. “Gary got a lot of angry e-mails from investors,” Rynbrandt says. “He had to explain he lost major dollars, too.” But Gallagher insisted last year in a letter to Player’s agent that Gary Player Golf had promptly delivered its golf clubs to customers who ordered them. On July 26, 2001, Brinton’s Bangkok offices were raided by agents of Thailand’s securities regulation agency, the Australian federal police and the FBI. In an open letter posted on Gary Player Group’s Web site shortly after the arrests, Gary Player stated he had “no idea what the Brinton Group is doing, and I am gravely concerned about what has been reported.” Marc Player has said publicly that he believed the Brinton Group to be a legitimate operation. This past July, fraud charges against the Brinton executives were dropped for insufficient evidence, though charges of operating an unlicensed securities firm are still pending. Several weeks before the Brinton Group arrests, on July 5, the Player Group severed its ties to Gary Player Golf.Com, claiming that the Internet company had failed to make its agreed royalty payments. Player alleged that Gary Player Golf.Com was $175,000 in arrears in licensing payments to him and one of his companies. Then, on July 18, Player and Callaway Golf issued a joint news release announcing an agreement under which Player would endorse Callaway’s equipment. Gary Player Golf.Com immediately threatened suit to block Player’s agreement with Callaway. Player responded by filing suit in Palm Beach Circuit Court on Aug. 2 for trademark violation against the dot-com. The two parties attempted to negotiate an out-of-court settlement. But talks dragged on until Sept. 4, when Callaway gave Player one month to finalize his agreement with them. Player filed for an injunction against Gary Player Golf.Com in Palm Beach Circuit Court two days later, and at the same time Marc Player resigned from the dot-com’s board. On Sept. 21, the dot-com successfully petitioned to have the case removed to U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach. Player and his companies repeatedly gained favorable rulings from the federal court throughout the next year. In October 2001, U.S. District Judge James C. Paine enjoined Gary Player Golf.Com from any use of the golfer’s name or likeness in the marketing of golf products or the representation to others that it held those rights, including his Black Knight logo. The Gary Player and Black Knight names are registered trademarks. But Player alleged that Gary Player Golf continued using his name to sell products, and that it interfered with his endorsement deal with Callaway. In April 2002, U.S. District Judge Kenneth L. Ryskamp found the dot-com in contempt of court for disregarding his preliminary injunction on its use of the Player name from October 2001 through February 2002. In his April ruling, Judge Ryskamp issued final judgment against Gary Player Golf.Com, by that time Gary Player Golf Inc., for $49,000 in compensatory damages and $215,000 in attorney fees, and permanently enjoined the company from any use of Player’s name, from filing suit against Player over his contract with the company, and from having any contact with Callaway Golf concerning Player. But, to Player’s chagrin, the California state court lawsuit, filed in October 2001, by Gary Player Golf.Com against Callaway, is still alive. Ryskamp’s final order, as originally stated and clarified in an order of Sept. 13 of this year, included “one temporary, narrow exception” to the clause prohibiting Gary Player Golf.Com from contacting Callaway. It allowed the dot-com to contact Callaway for discovery and trial purposes in the California suit. In his final order, Ryskamp harshly criticized Gary Player Golf and its California lawsuit. The judge wrote that he “did not intend to communicate that the California case had any merit. To the contrary … defendant’s complaint appeared to have been filed in bad faith.” Further, the judge added, “Defendant made material misrepresentations to the California court regarding its compliance with the terms of its licensing agreements … misrepresentations to which defendant’s counsel admitted at oral argument.” Nevertheless, the California suit has survived repeated efforts by Callaway to have it dismissed. A supplement to the plaintiff’s first amended complaint was filed Oct. 30, and another hearing is scheduled for Dec. 12. “They’re just trying to pick Gary’s pocket,” Rynbrandt said.

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