Playing for a Living
Where executives who run golf businesses head in the middle of winter.
December 1 2001 by John Steinbreder
For the men and women who run the golf industry, the sport is not seasonal. Though they might not play more than those who toil in other parts of the business world, CEOs who make clubs, balls, and other equipment tee it up fairly often, no matter what time of year. Sometimes, it’s testing products. Other times, it is simply the best way to socialize with their coworkers-and competitors.
Jim Baugh, 51, president of Chicago-based Wilson Sporting Goods, refuses to play the Windy City when the fairways are frozen and gusts blow icy hard. It’s too tough to loosen his muscles, he says, and very difficult to relax or focus when you’re more concerned about frostbite than form. But get him down to Florida and the house he owns in West Palm Beach, and he is happy to break out his clubs and play a round or two. “I probably get out on average once a week,” says the 10-handicapper, who manages the $600 million company that makes Wilson golf balls, irons, and woods. “I don’t think I would ever get out if I had to stay in Chicago that time of year.”
Baugh plays several different tracks in Florida, and his favorite is the Seminole Golf Club in North Palm Beach. The club is famous not only for its wind, but also for its Spanish Mediterranean clubhouse. “People consider it one of the great clubs in America, but it really does not have an elitist feel. I find it very down-to-earth,” says Baugh. The course borders the Atlantic Ocean, and Baugh likes it when the warm gusts kick up even though that makes conditions challenging. “I always seem to play it well because I like it so much, and I am very focused,” he says.
Designed by the noted architect Donald Ross, Seminole opened in 1929 and quickly became a must-play course, not only among the well-to-do who wintered in nearby Palm Beach and Hobe Sound but also among top professional and amateur players. Ben Hogan was an honorary member, and he considered the par-72, 6,778-yard course to be one of the best. Every spring for many years, he would play Seminole in preparation for the Masters tournament. He considered the layout, which has nearly 200 bunkers, to be a terrific placement course where wind was always a factor. Hogan favored the par-four 6th hole, a 390-yarder that has nasty bunkers lined up on the left of the tee shot and then on the right from the middle of the fairway all the way to the green. Baugh, who is not a member of Seminole, has played the private course as a guest perhaps a dozen times, and also praises the par-three 17th hole.
Barney Adams, 62, claims he isn’t much of a winter golfer, even though his club-making company, Adams Golf, is based in temperate Plano, TX. “Part of that is the fact that I grew up in Syracuse, NY, where the cold weather starts to creep in around the end of August,” he says. “And I also came from a family that did not have a great deal of money, so we never went anywhere warm in the winter.”
But business often takes Adams, who designed the popular Tight Lies fairway wood, to the Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto, FL, a private club and community-developed and owned by computer industry pioneer Stan Olsen.
Adams likes to visit Black Diamond before the PGA Merchandise Show held in Orlando-about two hours from the ranch-each January. He teams up with retired golf pro Tommy Bolt against Jim Achenbach (a senior writer with Golfweek magazine) and Bon Cantin (a top executive with Karsten Manufacturing, which makes Ping clubs). “Tommy won the 1958 U.S. Open, and he is 85 now. Even though our opponents are much younger than we are, we have never lost to them,” says Adams.
Of the three courses at Black Diamond, Adams likes the Quarry course best. That 7,159-yard monster was designed by noted architect Tom Fazio and opened to great acclaim in 1987. Ranked 16th on Golfweek‘s list of the top 100 modern courses in America, it features rolling fairways with thousands of live oaks, dogwoods, myrtles, and magnolias. Adams is most fond of the final five holes on the par-72 course which are carved over and around canyon walls, offering both challenging shot possibilities and stunning views.
True Temper Sports CEO Scott Hennessy, 42, has a good golf view right outside his office window in Memphis. True Temper’s headquarters overlook the Tournament Players Club at Southwind, the site of the annual PGA FedEx St. Jude Classic, and Hennessy’s favorite place to play in the winter. That’s when the crowds peter out and Memphis’ warm spells entice the executive into a round of golf once a month. “I can see the second green from my desk, and every now and again you can go out there with short sleeves,” says Hennessy, whose company makes graphite and steel golf club shafts. “The Zoysia grass [a warm season grass used in courses in Southern states] in the fairways is dormant, so the ball not only sits up well but also runs a mile when you hit it,” says the CEO who has a 24 handicap.
Southwind, part of a network of 23 Tournament Players private and semi-private clubs across the U.S., opened in 1988. Ron Prichard is the architect of record, and veteran pros Hubie Green and Fuzzy Zoeller are listed as design co-consultants. It is a private club of some 500 members and is regarded by many as Memphis’ best. Water comes into play on 11 holes, and it has a modern, stadium-course feel, measuring 7,030 yards from the back tees and playing to a par of 71.
Hennessy’s favorite hole is number three, a scenic, 525-yard par-five that has a lake in the middle of the fairway and water all the way down the right side. The one he likes the least? “That would be the second,” he says. “People from our office can see me play that one, and they always know whether or not I made my putt.”
And that’s not a good thing for any CEO, no matter what time of year it is.