It happened overnight. It took over a decade for anyone to notice. The 2008 recession squeezed many people out of the golf industry that did not have a deep Rolodex.
Chad Ritterbush, Executive Director of the American Golf Course Architects Society, laments that he “Saw tremendous talent among the evolving Associates within leading golf course designers leave the industry.” Steve Eubanks, a talented writer for Global Golf Post, commented, “In retrospect, the exodus out of the golf business from 2008 through 2011 was substantial.”
The idiomatic expression, “One person’s loss is another person’s gain,” is true.
The void created by those departing was filled quickly by a younger generation skilled in the emerging digital economy in which their adoption and expertise in the various social media and messaging platforms highlighted below served as a foundation for their career success.
While golf’s leading management companies, equipment manufacturers, and major Associations (NGF), LPGA, PGA, PGA Tour, and USGA are currently led by individuals in their late 50’s and 60’s, change is coming. There are budding superstars that are going to enhance, expand, and redefine the golf industry. They all have one thing in common – a thirst for knowledge, an early mentor, and a vision that expands beyond themselves to positively guide the golf industry and the recreational experience millions enjoy.
Here are the stories of the emerging superstars.
Sellers Shy, CBS Lead Sports Producer, January 1, 2021
The formula for success can be found within the traits demonstrated by Sellers Shy: hard work, persistence, passion, and a love of one’s avocation – sports.
As a 14-year-old, he just wanted to be a part of what was then the city’s only professional franchise, the Memphis PGA Tournament – St. Jude Invitational. He volunteered to be a runner for CBS – donuts, setting up tents, anything. When he learned to drive, he would deliver the tournament programs to all the area pro shops.
As a two-time player of the year at Memphis school, he thought about playing golf at Ole Miss but decided to throw himself into broadcast journalism. One of his classmates was Sharyn Alfonsi, a correspondent for CBS’s award-winning 60 Minutes. He has covered the NFL, the Olympics, the SEC, and the entire era of Tiger Woods sharing an Emmy for CBS’ coverage of the Masters in 2005 watched by over 100 million people. A winner of 7 Sports Emmy Awards, Sellers was mentored by the legendary figures in sports broadcasting Frank Chirkinian and Lance Barrow.
Is there an event that he would like to broadcast? One can speculate it might be the 2021 NCAA College Football Championship if Mississippi, led by his son, Sellers Shy, Jr., #15, a wide-receiver, was to catch the touchdown pass to win.
Sandy Cross, Chief People Officer, PGA of America
Can a humble and caring person be a significant change agent? If you are referring to Sandy Cross, the answer is absolute. Sandy Cross oversees the 29,000 individuals as the leader of Human Resources and Diversity and Inclusion Departments of the PGA of America.
With the coolest title, Sandy is charged with enhancing a purpose-driven and values-based culture to a multi-generational team. She focuses on making a positive social impact in the communities where the PGA team works and lives.
Cross secured and cultivated some of the PGA’s most coveted and longstanding partnerships. She led the golf industry’s “Connecting With Her” strategic initiative.
She holds a Master’s in Sports Administration from Kent State University and a Bachelor’s in Legal Studies from the University of Buffalo. Cross began her career with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.
For Sandy, it is an incredibly challenging time in the wake of the George Floyd tragedy and in the midst of keeping our business and their people protected in the pandemic. As a talented collegiate Division 1 volleyball player, you can be extremely confident that with her frequent Starbucks in hand, she will spike this opportunity to bring equality to the golf industry.
Joe Assell, PGA, CEO & Co-Founder GolfTec (Training, Equipment, and Conditioning)
As a 12-year old in Oswego, IL, Joe was mentored by Leon McNair, the PGA Professional at the Fox Bend Golf Course whose leadership and training inspired Joe to graduate from the PGA PGM Program at Mississippi State University in which he was recently named one of top 100 graduates of the MSU business school in the last 100 years.
From humble beginnings in the basement of Cherry Hills Country Club with the highly respected Clayton Cole, PGA Director of Golf, Joe Assell was GOLFTEC’s first employee. From recording sales in 1995 of $90,000, GolfTec now employs more than 900 individuals globally, including over 500 PGA Members and Apprentices across 215 locations in six countries with annual sales exceeding $130 million, providing over 10 million golf lessons.
Assell serves on the National PGA of America Employment Committee, and locally, he is on the Finance Committee of the Colorado PGA. Assell was recognized as the 2018 Colorado PGA Golf Professional of the Year.
Where is GolfTec headed? Expanding club-fitting options, introducing conditioning programs, and praying that his very talented daughter is accepted to matriculate at the college of her choice in a couple of years with which that she has already fallen in love.
Agustin Piza, ASGCA, Director Piza Golf (211 word count)
He sees the earth, like Monet and Van Gogh, saw a canvas. His brush strokes are inspired by a vision that embraces the spirit of the land, emphasizing aesthetics, character, and strategy. He views the golf course “as a living being that requires good planning from conception to adulthood, symbolizing the need for perpetual maintenance. Just as we can only see the skin on a human being, we cannot distinguish the proper functioning of the other organs.”
As an award-winning architect, Agustín Pizá is the first Latin American to earn a master’s degree in golf course architecture from Edinburgh University and to become a Senior Member of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects.
Agustín began his career on three of Mexico’s most recognizable golf course projects – Palmilla, El Dorado, and Querencia, all in Los Cabos. As a Runner up at the prestigious Remodel of the Year Award 2014 for our full revamp at Las Parotas, his mentors have been Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Tom Fazio.
He believes that not everyone can become an artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. Just a great artist doesn’t repaint the same work twice; Agustin eschews templated holes so that each course he creates is uniquely providing the owner a prized possession.
Passion Graham, Clubhouse Manager, Desert Mountain
The biggest challenges in life often revolve around the battle within one’s mind. Despite her positive nature, enthusiastic disposition, and contagious energy, Passion Graham is not exempt. Thoughts of imposter syndrome would haunt her until a paradigm shift was the catalyst for her career within the golf industry.
As a lifelong learner and with a BA in Business Administration from Fayetteville State University & AAS in Hospitality Management from Central Piedmont Community College, she believes, framed accurately, we can learn far more from our failures than our successes. This thought is the consistent theme throughout her favorite book on leadership, Permission to Screw Up by Kristen Hadeed, a gift from her mentor, the incomparable Damon DiOrio, known for developing some of the most highly recruited talent the private club industry has seen.
As a Clubhouse Manager at Desert Mountain, Passion is the first Black woman to manage a platinum club. One of the proudest moments was accompanying her mother on her first flight from North Carolina to Arizona. “My career has afforded me the opportunity to not only expand my sphere of influence, but the exposure of my family, and for that, I will forever be grateful,” states Passion. There is no doubt her career is heading in one direction: upward.
Brandon Johnson, ASGCA, Vice President and Senior Golf Course Architect – Arnold Palmer Design Company
The entry door to the game and the business of golf is often difficult to find regardless of one’s academic background, leadership skills, or work ethic. With a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from North Carolina State University and an impressive Master of Landscape Architecture from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, an internship with PGA TOUR Design Services Inc. proved pivotal for Brandon Johnson.
His first Landscape Architecture professor at NCSU, Fernando Magallanes, ignited a fire and passion for design and challenged him to explore, learn, discover, be curious, and take chances. Rick Robbins, ASGCA, opened up his firm to Brandon as a college student as part of his final project and graciously offered his knowledge and time that even included an impromptu trip to Augusta National.
With values taught early in life at Camp Luther, a true passion for golf and love of art, music, and architecture that inspires him to create entertaining and beautiful environments that engage players, we are all looking forward to his next opus on a once in a lifetime, jaw-dropping site, project, and design opportunity.
Hoyt McGarity, President 8AM Golf
If one was born in Monterrey, CA, and grew up in Hampton, you might think the individual had a privileged childhood. Such was not the case with Hoyt.
With his family owning a small grocery store, upon the death of his Dad at nine years of age, Hoyt found solace as a caddie at the nearby famed golf courses. Adept at the game and the under mentoring of Rick Hartman, Golf Professional at Atlantic Golf Club, Eden Foster, PGA Head Golf Professional at Maidstone, and Tony Cessa, co-head pro at Augusta National, Hoyt’s game flourished as did his love for equipment. In listening to the stories of the uber-successful NYC businessmen as he carried their golf bags, his entrepreneurial spirit led to the founding of True Spec inspired by Rick Hartman.
An introduction from Kellie Stenzel, LPGA, and teacher at Atlantic Golf Club to Howard Milstein changed his life. In the initial phone call, Hoyt’s honest transparency about Miura led him to President at 8 a.m. Golf. As a tournament chess player in his youth, it inculcated within him the vision of thinking about the next series of moves.
For 8AM Golf, anticipate “agnostic” acquisitions in the golf industry as the Nicklaus Companies, Golf.com, Golf Magazine, Miura, True Spec, GolfLogix, and Fairway Jockey are currently flourishing.
John Brown, Chief Executive Officer, Brown Golf Management
Can David slew Goliath again?
Founded in 2011, Brown Golf has grown a portfolio, in which they are equity partners in more half of the collection, that covers seven states, twenty facilities, and twenty-eight golf courses.
John, along with Jay Karen, Executive Director of the NGCOA, believes that the biggest challenge the golf industry faces is the financial sabotage of barter, led by GolfNow, which introduces weakness to the revenue stream of golf courses.
While hoping that the Department of Justice initiates action to dissolve the perceived monopoly, Brown Golf has heavily invested in technology, starting with Club Caddie as its foundational piece to provide revenue-driven technology to deliver maximum margins while collecting key customer data. His belief that winning means removing 3rd party provides from the ecosystem of golf and taking full control of the customer experience from beginning to end.
It is John’s strong belief that diversity, team, accountability, data, and automation are the components from which golf course owners can profit.
Hally Leadbetter, Senior Producer, and Host, Digital Content at Golf Digest-Discovery Golf
Majoring in communications with a public relations focus at Rollins College, Hally, excelled at the elite-level amateur golf for more than ten years while hosting her radio show on Sirius XM Radio and being a blogger.
With a mother who played on the LPGA Tour and a dad who has taught Nick Faldo, Nick Price, Charles Howell III, Michelle Wie, Lydia Ko, and Hyeong Hun An, Hally gained a vast amount of knowledge pertaining to all elements of golf as well as developing a deep appreciation for it.
She has realized her goal of a passion for the game and her love of entertainment. A Digital Producer for the PGA Tour, Hally is currently Senior Producer and Host, Digital Content at Golf Digest-Discovery Golf producing creating content broadcast to an international audience including interviews with celebrities, professional athletes, and coaches.
Her unique skill is a humorous take on all things golf that helps her provide an accurate, informative, yet fun and entertaining look into golf. What will be fun is watching her career soar.
Kenton Brunson, MBA, Superintendent of Golf Course Operations, Desert Mountain
If one was reading a candidate’s resume that listed Washington State University, University of Arizona, Wake Forest, Bayer, Toro, Walla Walla Country Club, Pebble Beach Company, and Desert Mountain, and the candidate was only 28, the superficial observer might be pondering “Why all the change?”
The astute interviewer would quickly learn that Kenton Brunson has an insatiable quest for knowledge with a BA in Agronomy, a Masters in Business Administration, and numerous education events with leading manufacturers and the leading private clubs in the world. His love of investing in teaching employees is routed in his partnership with his wife, Chantel, and the mentoring from Shawn Emerson, Director of Agronomy at Desert Mountain.
In a segment of the industry where new talent is declining as the current workforce is significantly aging, if Kenton were an ETF, buying some shares now would produce a great return on investment in the coming years.