The class-action suit on behalf of 81 caddies was filed in San Francisco, where former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon successfully sued the NCAA for keeping college players from selling their marketing rights.
"This lawsuit is intended to protect the rights of caddies who are required to endorse tour sponsors with zero compensation from the PGA Tour," said Gene Egdorf, the caddies' Houston-based lawyer. "Any working professional deserves to be paid based on the income they generate, but that's not happening on the PGA Tour."
PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw said there would be no comment.
At issue was whether the tour had a right to force caddies to wear bibs and "retain for itself the tens of millions of dollars in advertising generated by those bibs."
The lawsuit stems from a dispute that has been brewing for more than a year over treatment of caddies.
A tipping point was at The Barclays in August 2013 at Liberty National during a rain delay, when caddies said security would not allow their wives or children in a caddie room because they did not have credentials. They felt it was an example of how the tour treats them like second-class citizens. At several tournaments, they are not allowed in the clubhouse or in the locker room.
The bibs a caddie wears have the players' name on the back, and the tournament logo on the front. The lawsuit also claims the tour has denied caddies access to basic health care and pensions plan.
Mike Hicks, the caddie for Payne Stewart when he won his last U.S. Open in 1999, and Kenny Harms, who works for Kevin Na, were the top two class representatives in the lawsuit. Included among the other caddies were Andy Sanders (who works for Jimmy Walker), Jimmy Johnson (Steve Stricker), Damon Green (Zach Johnson) and Tony Navarro, the longtime caddie for Greg Norman who now works for Gary Woodland.
The caddies for Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy were not part of the class-action lawsuit. Joe LaCava, who works for Woods, is a board member of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies that was formed just over a year ago.
The profession has changed over the last few decades. Several caddies on tour formerly played on smaller tours. Michael Maness, who caddies for Kevin Chappell, qualified for The Greenbrier Classic in 2012. Green played in a U.S. Senior Open. Sanders played in the Palmer Cup when he was in college.
PGA Tour players are considered to be independent contractors who employ their caddies individually.
The lawsuit claims the tour has contacted players to ask if they would be willing to fire their caddies for not wearing a bib.