SBJ/January 21-27, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Poised, and dressed, for success at PGA of America

Pete Bevacqua will walk the halls of his first PGA Merchandise Show this week as the body’s new CEO, and he’ll most likely be wearing a sweater or a golf shirt, not the suit and tie normally associated with the position.

In his first two months since replacing Joe Steranka, Bevacqua has brought a loose and relaxed approach to the PGA of America’s top job. Employees in the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., headquarters typically dress like golfers now.

Pete Bevacqua's goal is for the PGA's members to know "that heqdquarters gets it."
Photo by: PGA OF AMERICA
“We’re in the golf business,” Bevacqua, looking comfortable in a purple sweater, said from his corner office two weeks ago. “I’m a lawyer, but our primary business is golf. There’s nothing wrong with wearing a suit, but hey, we’re in the golf business. We need to dress appropriately. We need to dress like our members dress. That’s who we are, that’s what we look like.”

By the time Bevacqua’s tenure ends — he started Nov. 12 — his ultimate goal is for the 28,000 members of the PGA to know “that headquarters gets it, that they understand what we’re dealing with.” He’s adamant that communication from the top office out to the field of PGA pros be swift and helpful. Maybe dressing a little more like golfers is just a small measure of that effort, but it’s one symbolic place Bevacqua started.

In his first two months, he also has identified the two men who will work closely with him to shape the PGA in the future.

Bevacqua, 41, who came to the PGA from CAA Sports, elevated Darrell Crall to chief operating officer and Kerry Haigh to chief championship officer, a pair of newly created positions. Both were at the managing director level before, and Crall was a finalist for the CEO job that Bevacqua eventually won. Another promotion moved Kevin Carter, formerly the senior director for business development, to managing director.

Two new hires will start this week. Mike Quirk, a senior director for merchandise, came from the U.S. Golf Association, where he previously worked with Bevacqua and ran merchandise for the USGA’s biggest events. Quirk will report to Carter. Also, Michael O’Donnell, a former Nike Golf executive, joined the PGA staff as senior director for player development and Golf 2.0, one of the PGA’s game-growing initiatives. O’Donnell will report to Crall.

“The real focus in the first few weeks has been to learn the business and the staff,” Bevacqua said. “I’ve spent time in every department just listening and meeting the people, hearing the story of what they do. I’m not trying to come in like I’ve got it all figured out.”

That’s been evident to the staff, said Julius Mason, senior director of communications and a 21-year PGA veteran. Mason described Bevacqua as “very smooth and soft-spoken, a leader who also has been a good listener.”

Photo by: PGA OF AMERICA

Executive Focus:
Pete Bevacqua


Position: CEO
Organization: PGA of America
Age: 41
Hometown: Bedford, N.Y.
Resides: Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Education: Notre Dame (undergrad), Georgetown (law)
Career: Davis Polk law firm, 1995-2000; USGA chief business officer, 2000-11; CAA Sports’ golf practice, 2011-12
Golf handicap: 2.4

This week’s PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando will be one of the first times where Bevacqua will be seen as the face of the organization and where he’ll address PGA members, golf’s constituents in the all-important equipment category, and the media.

Many of his priorities will be familiar: Serve the members, grow the game and run great championships. Those are non-negotiable, no matter who the boss is.

But he also faces a task that appears to be in need of some focus. The PGA has launched so many initiatives to grow the game that it’s become almost a mind-numbing alphabet soup. Golf 2.0. Golf 20/20. Get Golf Ready. Play Golf America. We Are Golf. Bringing a focus to the PGA’s messaging is one area where Bevacqua’s marketing background will likely come into play.

“When the PGA hired Pete, they made a decision to embrace change and build on the foundation already in place,” said Kevin Ring, vice president of consulting at IMG, who pointed to Bevacqua’s role in establishing the groundbreaking corporate partner program at the USGA. “The PGA has a great history and strong assets, but, often, ahead of growth is change. He is not the type of person to sit still.”

Before Bevacqua’s hiring, there was curiosity across the golf industry and internally about whether the PGA would hire a golf guy — in other words, a PGA pro — or more of an agency/marketing guy. Bevacqua, who ran the business of the USGA before his 18 months at CAA, contends the PGA got both.

He grew up working as a caddie and then moved into the pro shop at Bedford (N.Y.) Golf and Tennis Club, handling merchandise and running golf events for the members. “From age 10 to 23, that was my life,” Bevacqua said. “Those were formative years where I was learning from a PGA pro.”

Moving forward, the most visible aspect of what Bevacqua will do will revolve around the PGA’s biggest events (and biggest moneymakers), the annual PGA Championship and the biennial Ryder Cup.

For the most part, Bevacqua thinks the revenue side of the operation is doing its job. The PGA’s annual revenue is $130 million to $140 million a year except in Ryder Cup years on U.S. soil, when it grows an additional $100 million or so.
But Bevacqua said he will be taking a closer look at all of those areas, including the sale of a global Ryder Cup partnership, something the PGA has been working on for two years with the European Tour.

Bevacqua also has his sights set on elevating the PGA Championship, one of golf’s four majors. One of the first steps in doing that is finding more sites in the Pacific time zone, which enables broadcasters to televise the tournament in prime time.

 
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