Originally created 04/02/04

Appeals court upholds ruling for PGA in golf-score case



ATLANTA -- The PGA Tour has won the latest federal court challenge to its control over the release of real-time golf scores at its tournaments, but it may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Morris Communications, a family-owned multimedia company headquartered in Augusta, Ga., filed a lawsuit against the Tour, arguing it was monopolistic in dispensing its golf scores.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed in its ruling Wednesday.

The Tour uses a complicated system at its tournaments to compile scores after golfers finish each hole. The Tour immediately makes the scores available to news media, asking that they not report them until they are posted on the Tour's official Web site, or until 30 minutes have passed.

Morris wanted to sell the real-time scores before they appeared on the Tour's Web site without compensating the PGA. "That is the classic example of 'free-riding,"' Circuit Judge Joel Dubina wrote in the panel's opinion.

Morris had access to the scores at onsite PGA tournament media centers. The scores were being syndicated by Morris and sometimes would appear on the Internet before the Tour posted them.

Morris attorney George Gabel said the case is larger than golf scores. It involves a private organization opening an event to the public, then controlling information leaving that public event, he said.

"There is a principle involved that no one should be able to control the reporting of facts available to the public," Gabel said. "Here, they're testing the waters, and so far, they've been able to do it."

In 2002, U.S. District Judge Harvey Schlesinger ruled that the scores are private property until published or broadcast by the Tour.

"The district court correctly found that a company - even a monopolist company - that expends time and money to create a valuable product does not violate the antitrust laws when it declines to provide that product to its competitors for free," Dubina wrote in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision.

Tour spokesman Bob Combs said the PGA was "delighted" with the ruling.

Gabel said he plans to file a motion asking the 11th Circuit to rehear the case because its decision conflicts with U.S. Supreme Court decisions. If that doesn't pan out, the decision likely will be appealed to the high court, he said.

The decision will have no effect on the company's coverage of the Masters Tournament in Augusta next week because the Masters is not a PGA event.