News & Opinion

PGA needs CEO who matters to members

Ask any of the 28,000-plus men and women who are PGA of America members what the association’s next chief executive officer should look like and you probably would get thousands of different answers. The fact is that the majority of PGA members and apprentices might not even know who their CEO is, or that one even existed.

“It would be interesting to poll the membership,” said one longtime PGA leader who spoke on condition of anonymity. “My guess is, many might say [former PGA Tour commissioner] Tim Finchem is the current PGA CEO. That’s how little it probably matters to most PGA members.”

But for the small minority of PGA members who do get involved in the leadership of their association, it’s a hot topic, given the sudden resignation of Pete Bevacqua to become the president of NBC Sports (“Bevacqua’s exit leaves questions for PGA,” July 25).

“In my opinion, the PGA of America has a real opportunity to return to the principles and values it was built upon and established in 1916,” said Michael Haywood, a PGA member at Tucson (Ariz.) Country Club and former national director. “And that begins with the grass-roots PGA professional as its next chief executive officer.

“Yes, certain skill sets must be met. Candidly, the association has become far too corporate and insulated in nearly facet of operation, and you would be challenged to find many outside the current leadership who would disagree with that. What better starting point than to tell the 28,000 members that one of you will become the next CEO?”

Much of the disconnect from the rank and file comes from the fact that the average salary of a head golf professional in America is about $65,000 while many staff members employed at PGA headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., are six-figure employees. Bevacqua’s compensation package includes a salary of about $1.5 million plus a hefty bonus and benefit package. While the compensation is reasonable for the head of a $165 million-a-year operation, most PGA members can’t relate to that kind of money and struggle to understand what the CEO does.

That being said, the PGA’s chief executive is supposed to work for the PGA officers and board members. Over the years, several PGA CEOs have lost their jobs when they seemed to lose track of this unique dynamic. This also serves as a deterrent for many qualified candidates who don’t want to be bossed around by part-time volunteers serving as officers and directors.

“I was surprised by how disconnected past CEOs were from our rules staff,” said Ron Hickman, a PGA member and general manager at Timberton Golf Club in Hattiesburg, Miss., and a past chairman of the PGA Rules Committee. “Of all the PGA Championships I’ve worked, only Joe Steranka [the CEO from 2005 to 2012] ever stopped by to say thanks. We should do away with private jet travel by the CEO. When we’ve gone outside our industry, the CEO didn’t last long. Look internally for a candidate.”

Under Bevacqua’s leadership, the PGA of America shifted its focus from growth of the game and member services to diversity and inclusion. One area that has suffered greatly is PGA member education. The PGA is a tax-exempt organization, and the inurement prohibition under the federal tax code prevents the PGA from assisting its members with such benefits as health insurance or a retirement plan. PGA member education has long been at the top of the list of acceptable PGA-provided member benefits.

“Member education has been stagnant in the last five years,” said Dave Normand, a PGA master professional at Cole Park Golf Course in Fort Campbell, Ky., and a former PGA education chairman and national director. “Right now, it’s all about associate [assistant golf pro] education and creating a teaching career path. Nice thought for the less than 7 percent of teachers in the PGA while our rank and file are struggling to keep their jobs and grow their business.”

At January’s PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla., Bevacqua was asked about member education. He said it was a work in progress and could take 15-20 years to develop. That’s an unacceptable assessment in today’s fast-learning world, and the next PGA CEO should make member education a main priority.

In the past two years, the PGA also disbanded its Growth of the Game and Player Development committees. In addition, it changed the job title of its growth-of-the-game field representatives to regional league managers who now almost exclusively oversee the PGA Junior League. Junior golf undoubtedly is critical to the future of the game, but nothing is happening at the PGA of America regarding adult-player development or retention.

“We have lost our grass-roots orientation, and the rank-and-file members have become a lost entity in the PGA,” said Tom Smith, a 50-year member of the Philadelphia Section. “The PGA has focused on the big bucks, and our efforts seem to focus on the business side of it rather than the members. For me, a low-rent member from south Jersey, I don’t really feel like I’m part of the conversation.”

There are lots of challenges and opportunities awaiting the next CEO of the PGA of America.

Ted Bishop, who owns and operates The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., and is the author of “Unfriended,” was president of the PGA of America in 2013-14. Email: tedbishop38pga@aol.com; Twitter: @tedbishop38pga