Educational travel blog
January 27, 2022
In the history of the educational travel industry, there has been only one “celebrity endorsement” that ever made a difference. But that one made a big difference.
In 1972, I was Managing Director of The American Leadership Study Groups (ALSG), Passports’ predecessor company, which was also started by the founder of Passports, Dave Markle’s iconic dad, Dr. Gil Markle.
That summer, we operated a skiing camp high in the Alps in Obergurgl, Austria. It was named (I’m not kidding; it was the 70’s after all and The Sound of Music was one of the era’s biggest movie hits) Camp Edelweiss. Back then, (and maybe up until today, too, despite being deceased) the biggest name in golf was Arnold Palmer, whose business manager had sent his son to our summer skiing camp. So pleased with the experience his son had had and so impressed was the man with ALSG that he called me one day and asked if we would be interested in operating a golf academy in Scotland with Arnold Palmer. At a meeting in NYC with Palmer’s people, I was informed that it would cost us an arm and a leg for Palmer’s name to be associated with our Scottish golf school.
But the suggestion of having a golf academy in Scotland with a famous American golfer seemed like a great idea to me. After a lengthy survey of other pro golfers and in numerous conversations with their business managers, I decided to take a chance and sign up a very young and virtually-unheard-of tour rookie named Johnny Miller to be the “celebrity” associated with the school and the pro who would give each ALSG student personal golf lessons after the British Open. Miller, at the time we signed him, had won no golf tournaments, none. But I liked his “image” (the “cut of his jib” as very old sailors might say) and felt the association would be a good one for us. It’s just like when a first time visitor to a race track shows up in Louisville at Churchill Downs at The Kentucky Derby and bets all the money he has on a winning horse who was a huge long shot (220 to 1 odds) but one he felt “looked pretty.” Sometimes, though rarely, these bets pay off. Ours on Johnny Miller certainly did. Three months after signing him, the unheralded Miller won the U.S. Open (golf’s most prestigious tournament) shooting a record-setting 63 in the final round and all of a sudden was the most famous golfer in the world! And he stayed that way because for the next three years after winning the Open, Miller was by far the best and most successful pro golfer on earth, winning a record 8 tournaments in 1974 alone. Nobody wins 8 tournaments a year these days. Not even close.
Johnny Miller’s association with ALSG put our young company “on the map” so to speak and we too became a household word, previously highly-regarded for the unequaled academic caliber of our educational travel programs but now for our association with arguably the most famous athlete in the world back then. A promotional video featuring the ALSG Johnny Miller Golf Academy can be seen here.
And finally, in 1974, Sports Illustrated named Muhammad Ali as their Sportsman of the Year. I began receiving letters ( emails had not been invented yet) of “condolences” from my friends suggesting that I must be upset by the fact that Miller, who in his own way completely dominated a very popular sport in such an overwhelming fashion, had not won this prestigious award. But despite my friendship and our association with Miller, I disagreed with them and wrote a letter to Sports Illustrated congratulating them on their choice despite my mixed emotions. I am proud to say that my letter was published and it is attached here.
“The Good Old Days” as they say.StuTrav U.S.A.
passports Educational Group Travel partners with teachers across the United States to provide high-quality educational travel experiences to their students. Educational tours visit destinations around the world - primarily France, Italy, England, Spain and Costa Rica - at low, guaranteed prices.
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