˘ The first time I picked up a club I was about 5 or 6 years
old. Except for Pipe o’ Peace on Halstead and 131st, there
weren’t places blacks could play in Chicago, so my stepfather
and three other blacks would drive an hour or so to Wicker
Park in Indiana, which had a golf course and an amusement
park. I’d hit a few balls on the range; then they’d put their
bags—big huge Burton bags—on pullcarts. I’d pull one around
for nine holes, and then, while they played the back nine, I’d
go on the rides, like the carousel. Today Pipe o’ Peace is called
Joe Louis “The Champ” GC, named after my dad [the former
world heavyweight champion].
˘ Growing up, after my mother and father divorced, I
didn’t get many chances to see my dad. When I did, it was
usually truncated. Lunch. Dinner. With a group of friends.
With my sister. But one day, when I was in my 20s, was
different. I’d flown to Vegas to play in the Frontier Airlines
Pro-Am Invitational. When I checked into Caesar’s Palace,
where my dad was working at the time, he came up to me
and put his hand on my shoulder. It was the first time Joe
Louis had ever greeted his son. The next day we played a
practice round at the Las Vegas Hilton course. Four hours,
he and I together in a cart. He talked about the [Max]
Schmeling fight, the [Billy] Conn fight, about who he was.
But more importantly, he talked about who I was, about
how things were going for me as a banker. It was one of the
most memorable days I ever had with him. It was the day
he really became a father to me.
˘ My parents’ best advice to me was: Be successful.
Don’t settle for second-best. Whatever the endeavor, be at
the top of your game. That’s who I am.
˘ I never boxed. Shortly after I was born, my father told
the media that if I ever tried, he had a good right [-hand
punch], and he’d use it.
˘ [Black golf pioneer] Ted Rhodes was a friend of my
father’s. I called him Uncle Ted. He was such a gentleman,
always dressed to the nines. I don’t remember his swing
clearly, other than it was silky. It pained me that he wasn’t
allowed to play the PGA Tour when he was at the pinnacle
of his game. The game would have been well served if he’d
have been allowed to play the tour.
˘ I don’t use notes when I speak publicly. The key for me
is to always speak from the heart. It’s OK to use notes, but
you still have to speak from the heart. Audiences tune out
when you don’t. They can tell from the get-go.
˘ The First Tee is important because it’s an opportunity
for young people to experience the game and determine
what golf gives them. It gives participants values—such as
honesty, perseverance, respect, judgment—that are important to golf and important to life.
˘ The First Tee is in 6,600 schools in 800 districts. We
teach some 6,000 educators. The fact is 90 percent of those
educators did not have golf in their lives before, and now
they are seeing their students change because of it. For a
lot of them, their image of the game is The First Tee. Golf is
presented in a different light. It’s not about wealth or exclusiveness. It’s not all about white males. It’s about females,
diversity—young people—experiencing the game in ways
they previously could not or did not.
˘ Hack Golf has the potential to give us two or three
ideas. Not necessarily ideas we haven’t already thought
about, but good ideas. Things like FootGolf at Haggin Oaks
in Sacramento or what’s going on at The First Tee’s Miami
chapter, where they’re building bigger holes where soccer
balls can actually enter.
˘ Part of the issue of growing the game is reducing the
time and cost that keeps people from committing. The key
is the facility operator and whether he or she is willing to
try new things. Those of us who are industry leaders can
pontificate about what has to happen, but if the operator
isn’t going to make the change, it’s not going to happen.
˘ Golf’s leadership needs to be more diverse. There are
not enough blacks at the PGA Tour. There are not enough
blacks at the USGA. There are not enough blacks, period.
The First Tee probably has the most diverse population anywhere in the golf industry. Unless the current leaders make
a commitment, it won’t happen. Diversity means women and
men of diverse backgrounds playing important roles: chief
operating officers and chief marketing officers. They have to
be given the chance to come up through the ranks.
˘ I had a stroke last Nov. 23. I was in Palm Beach Gardens for the AJGA’s annual meeting. At the office they call
it The Glitch, and The Glitch was a wake-up call. It’s made
me reflect on what’s important. I have a realism that I didn’t
have before. At work that realism is I need to be more strategic, less operational. At home the realism is that what’s
important to my wife, Amy, and my 7-year-old daughter,
Julia, is what’s important. The Glitch has made me better at
allowing other people to live their lives. n
66, chieF execUtive OFFiceR, the FiRSt tee, JAcKSONviLLe ˘ interviewed by tim murphy, Photographed by Jensen Larson