Wishful Reporting

So while Nova the book will be published in March, animated promo clips are already running in selected theaters showing A Bug's Life. There's a Nova Web site (www.novasark.com) and a 15-foot inflatable robot. In March, Callaway says, he will begin selling limited-edition Nova prints for anywhere from $49 to "several thousand" dollars. The final frontier: Nova the movie.

You can see why Callaway is so juiced up about Nova, which seems guaranteed to make him a fortune. But in an interview last week, he refused to talk about Callaway Golf Media Ventures, and for good reason. Instead of marketing a single artist and a malleable little robot, that other company requires that he absorb the frustration of dozens of writers who expect to be paid for work they've completed.

It all started happily enough a year ago, when Callaway Golf Media Ventures was launched as a joint venture between Callaway Editions and Callaway Golf Company. (Get the connection? Here's a hint: The golf company was founded by Ely Callaway, Nicholas's father, who's famous for making the Big Bertha golf club.) Last year, the board of Callaway Golf agreed to help finance Nicholas Callaway's latest brainchild, which he pitched as a series of golf books featuring the best sports and literary writers money could buy. (For legal reasons, Ely Callaway recused himself from the vote.)

Armed with a budget of $18 million, Nicholas Callaway hired David McCormick, then deputy editor of Texas Monthly and a big golfer, to be the series editor in chief. McCormick is extremely well connected. He worked as a fiction editor for The New Yorker and moved to Texas in 1993. While at Texas Monthly, he was offered jobs at Harper's and GQ. In 1996, after quitting Texas Monthly, he accepted the Callaway offer, and started assigning golf stories to all his favorite writers. He moved to New York a year later.

The word on the street is that many of these writers would never have agreed to write for Callaway Golf Media Ventures if not for David McCormick. People who were approached include George Plimpton, Charles McGrath of The New York Times, Steve Rushin and Michael Bamberger of Sports Illustrated, and past and former New Yorker writers Ian Frazier, Mark Singer, Susan Orlean, David Owen, John Seabrook (who wrote about the day he almost gave up playing golf), Jeffrey Toobin (who asked to be paid in golf clubs), and Rich Cohen (who wrote about knocking his brother-in-law unconscious with a golf ball). Other writers were suggested by Larry Dorman, a former golf writer who quit the New York Times to ghost-write Ely Callaway's autobiography and now runs PR for Callaway Golf.

By last fall, McCormick had moved to New York, and the manuscripts began rolling in; his editorial staff grew so large they relocated from Bedford Street to an office on Fulton Street. Then disaster hit: on November 11, the elder Callaway announced that because of a drop in sales, his company was laying off 700 people and getting rid of its "noncore" businesses. That meant no more money for golf books. And, before long, a freeze on payments to writers who had already turned in their stories.

Nicholas Callaway arranged to keep David McCormick and a few others on the project, while giving most of the rest of the full-time staff two weeks severance. As a result, about 10 people lost their jobs, including the talented writers Alex Prudhomme, Colin Moynihan, and Bill Vourvoulias. Callaway sent an e-mail to "personally thank" all staffers for their work, which one disgruntled employee called a "chickenshit way" to let people go. This ex-staffer said of Callaway, "He's a great salesman, but as a businessman, he's horrible."

McCormick declined to comment, saying only that his top priority is to see that all writers who have submitted work get paid for it. Indeed, a letter was sent to "all contributors" on December 15 from Ed Brash, president of Callaway Golf Media Ventures. Brash wrote that "the ownership of Callaway Golf Media Ventures is being transferred from Callaway Golf to Callaway Editions" within "a week or two," and promised that all story and expense fees would be paid "as soon as the transfer documents are signed."

But four weeks later at press time, the deal has not gone through, and writers who have not been paid are said to be owed more than $200,000. Nicholas Callaway declined to comment. But when the deal goes through, according to Callaway Golf spokesman Larry Dorman, the completed work will be reviewed and "everyone will be remunerated one way or another." Which means some people who are used to getting paid in full will only be getting a kill fee.

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