I believe the quality that makes me halfway decent at my job is that I never forget why I wanted to get into the golf industry almost 7 years ago. And even now, I never take for granted the opportunities given to me by being at the wheel of the Callaway Marketing Pirate Ship.
My career in golf got started based on the simple desire to find an avenue that would bring me closer to The Game. Yes, I capitalized “The Game” because to me, it means more than just the sport and the business within it.
I was always an outsider. I didn’t grow up inside a private club, nor did I have parents that were interested in golf. Yes, I had uncles and grandparents who were avid and even had an uncle who was a PGA professional for a time.
But I didn’t find my way into the game that way. I had to create my own way in. And when I got the first taste of what the game had to offer, which admittedly came at an older age (21), I was obsessed with everything about it.
I would sit at the bookstore for hours (Back when bookstores actually existed. Ok, Rhiona points out that bookstores still exist, we just don’t go to them anymore.) and look through every golf book in the golf section.
I would buy four and five at a time and read them cover to cover. I’d be back again the next weekend, doing it all over again. I still have almost 500 golf books in my library. Yes, my wife is constantly annoyed by them.
I would spend countless hours at the local off-course golf shop (ProGolf Discount in Marietta, GA which later became an Edwin Watts) talking to the kids working the floor, looking at all the club models, taking home all the brochures, and smelling the urethane from the new golf balls (okay, that was probably TMI, but if you love the smell of new urethane golf balls as I do, you know exactly what I’m talking about).
Even though the store was a good 30 minute drive from my apartment, I’d make that drive religiously every Saturday morning (The store wasn’t open on Sundays back then. Don’t know if that was the influence of the Georgia blue laws or just business.) and could feel the light exuberance as I floated through the doors, though slightly embarrassed that I’d be in there for hours without ever buying anything of material significance to the store’s daily receipts.
15 years ago, you would have found me spending WAY too much time in here.
Can Someone Go Out to #15 and Tell That Guy to Move Along?
I would drive to local private clubs and park near an opening in the trees or fence line to try to catch a glimpse of the golf course. In just a limited view of great places like Peachtree Golf Club, East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta Athletic Club, Atlanta Country Club, Capital City Club (that’s a great metro Atlanta golf circuit, by the way), I grew a deep appreciation and passion for the architecture of the game and the idiosyncratic culture within each club.
I even took a job working the bag room on weekends at Dunwoody Country Club just for the opportunity to be near a club and have playing privileges on Mondays when the course was closed (a privilege I hardly ever used because I had a full time job Monday-Friday anyway).
Places like Shinnecock Hills (above), Cypress Point, and Merion are awesome for stalker viewing because a public road runs through them.
On vacations, I would do the same thing. If we were going somewhere, I was going to find the golf courses and clubs in the area and find a way to steal some time to go see them. Occasionally, I would call ahead and ask the professional for permission to actually come inside the clubhouse.
On a few rare occasions, the professional or one of his assistants would actually get in a cart with me and drive me around the golf course to see up close what I didn’t get to from the perimeter.
I’ll never forget winding around the cart paths of Old Town Club in Winston Salem, Belle Meade Country Club in Nashville, and Country Club of Charleston, dreaming of actually walking the fairways or hitting the shots the holes demanded (that sounded sickeningly romantic, but it’s completely true).
I once had a girlfriend threaten to break up with me when we pulled in, unannounced to Austin Country Club so I could see the statue of Harvey Penick.
The Harvey Penick statue at Austin Country Club. Another golf shrine worth visiting. Just no trespassing!
I even chose Duke for graduate school partially because it came with $20/round access to the Washington Duke Golf Course. I know, totally stupid. But it makes total sense.
The Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club is a great place to attend graduate school.
Finally In Golf
So when I finally got the chance to move into the business of golf, I did so for an avenue to get even closer to The Game.
I once had a former boss put on my actual performance review, “Remember that you are not an authentic golfer.” I recall being so upset by that, because what I thought he meant was, “understand that you did not grow up within the game and that you will always be an outsider.”
As I look back on it, I think maybe he was actually encouraging me to not just “remember” but to “understand” and “appreciate” the fact that I was an outsider, and to use that as a guide to help grow the game and experience now that I was inside it. That was great advice.
And so acting as an outsider, with inside access to the greatest game in the world, has guided my philosophies and behaviors within it. I always look at my job as providing those on the outside with that same access to the cool things I see on the inside.
From PGA Tour events and players, to the equipment, to the golf courses, to the instruction, to the people that make the game great, I want to be the conduit of those experiences to those who aren’t as fortunate as I am.
And so it was on Tuesday night, I was invited as the guest of Mike McGee and Annika Sorenstam to the PGA Awards Dinner at the PGA Show in Orlando. I was literally sitting next to one of my golf idols (Annika, not Mike. Sorry, Mike!) as they showed a 10 minute video of all of her golf accomplishments.
Every win, every testimonial from people touched by Annika, every milestone was beautifully presented. I looked over and saw the moisture of emotion in the champion’s eyes (not crying because Champions don’t cry).
I could feel my own emotion building as I took a few seconds to remember the guy sitting in his car, craning his neck to catch a view of a yellow flag on a distant green. Here I was, sitting immediately to the right of the 2013 First Lady of Golf and her husband. I was there. Invited and welcomed.
I’m sure those that saw the tears in my eyes assumed it was out of appreciation for Annika and her contributions to the game. Our Game. And it was, of course. But a little part of it was a deep and profound appreciation for how lucky I was to be there.
For more from @HarryArnettCG at the PGA Show, check out his Callaway Talks interview with Annika.