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Volume 21 No. 1
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Bevacqua’s new culture in full swing at PGA

Like most of Pete Bevacqua’s more provocative emails, this one sat on Ted Bishop’s smartphone for a few hours.

“With some of Pete’s ideas that knock me off my chair, I won’t respond to it right away,” said Bishop, president and board member of the PGA of America. “I come back to it an hour or two later after I’ve had a chance to give it some thought.”

Pete Bevacqua (center), with PGA of America COO Darrell Crall (left) and President Ted Bishop, was announced as the organization’s CEO a year ago.
In his first year as the PGA of America’s CEO, Bevacqua already has established that he’s not afraid of risk. So when Bevacqua emailed Bishop to ask, “What if we took the PGA Championship outside of the U.S.,” it took a while for Bishop to digest it.

If Bevacqua intended to ease into his new role at PGA headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., he’s done a good job of disguising it.

Within his first month on the job after his Nov. 10, 2012, hiring, Bevacqua had gone to Kansas City to help recruit Tom Watson to be a Ryder Cup captain, he’d opened a line of communication with the PGA Tour, and begun talks with Kevin Ring to be the PGA’s first chief marketing officer.

The pace only hastened from there.

He initiated a contest — the Pick the Hole Challenge — that enabled fans to vote for a pin placement at the PGA Championship for the first time. Bevacqua also hired Ring and then sent him to New York to open the PGA’s first office in the metropolitan area.

Two months ago, Bevacqua spearheaded the movement to bring Bethpage Black into the PGA’s mix as the site for the 2019 PGA Championship and the 2024 Ryder Cup, feeding off the energy of the New York market for golf.
Interspersed in all of that activity were negotiations to extend the PGA’s relationship with NBC, keeping the Ryder Cup on the network through 2030 along with expanded programming before and after the biennial competition.

“What’s exciting is the vision that Pete has provided for how we will work together in the future,” NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus said. “This new deal reinforces and reinvigorates what’s going to be a long-term relationship.”

Easily the most thought-provoking idea, though, was his suggestion to take the PGA Championship to another country.

“Golf is global and we have the only major championship that could even think about it,” Bevacqua said of moving the PGA to Europe or possibly Asia sometime in the next decade. “I’m not saying we’re going to do it, but you’ve got to be looking at things like this five years, 10 years down the road. The last thing we want to do is look back and wonder why we had our head in the sand about global opportunities.”

Immediately, the idea resonated throughout the golf industry, especially with Mike Whan, the LPGA’s commissioner.

“I was probably one of the few people who wasn’t surprised by that idea,” said Whan, whose tour visits China, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan during its fall swing. “I always say, ‘People who don’t think you can have an event of that size overseas haven’t spent any time looking at golf events overseas.’ There’s a bigness from a media and fan perspective, and I think Pete gets that. He’s really brought a fresh perspective.”

Brought in to replace the affable Joe Steranka, Bevacqua quickly established his own agenda, both inside headquarters and out. He right away named Darrell Crall as COO and Kerry Haigh as chief championships officer, while elevating Kevin Carter to chief business officer. He also hired Rhona Aime as chief financial officer and elevated Christine Garrity to chief administrative officer and legal counsel to complete his leadership team.

Employees who were accustomed to wearing a coat and tie to the office were encouraged to dress more like golfers, with slacks and a golf shirt or sweater.

Bevacqua held an office barbecue in the parking lot, with the new leadership team serving the employees. And last month, the office was the site of the PGA’s first costume party for Halloween.

Outside the office, Bevacqua was busy establishing a more authoritative voice for the PGA of America, which opposed the U.S. Golf Association’s controversial ban on anchoring the club against the golfer’s body.

Bevacqua, who was in the running to be the USGA’s president and the LPGA’s commissioner, only to come up short both times, clearly had a plan when he landed in Palm Beach Gardens.

“I’ve always envisioned creating a culture and an attitude that’s open, accessible and progressive,” Bevacqua said. “My hope is that’s what we’re creating here.”

At each of his previous career stops — at the law firm of Davis Polk; at the USGA, where he ran the business operations; and at CAA Sports — the Notre Dame graduate made notes to himself along the way.

“You just hope that you get the opportunity to create an environment,” Bevacqua said.

Earlier this month, the PGA and the PGA Tour announced a joint initiative to cross-promote their brands, something Bevacqua had thought about even before his first day on the job.

Within a month after being hired, Bevacqua connected with the tour to set up a series of meetings. Bevacqua and Bishop worked with PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, co-COO Ed Moorhouse and executive vice president Ty Votaw to create a cross-promotional plan that could work for both sides.

They also agreed to set the purses for both of their marquee events — the PGA Championship and The Players Championship — at record levels of $10 million each.

A campaign featuring PGA public-service announcements will air during PGA Tour, Tour and Champions Tour broadcasts. A weekly segment on “Inside the PGA Tour” on Golf Channel will highlight the work of PGA pros. The tour also will incorporate local PGA pros into some of its events with clinics.

“Pete’s leadership has really helped create a collaborative environment,” Votaw said. “One of Pete’s real strengths is his willingness to hear what’s important to the other side. … To the extent that we can use our platform to increase the profile of PGA pros and create new golfers, that helps grow the game, which is something we’re both interested in.”

Bevacqua initiated similar talks with Whan to explore ways the PGA of America and LPGA can cross-promote their brands.

“Pete’s taken the PGA down some roads that we wouldn’t have gone down in the past,” Bishop said. “You look at what he’s accomplished in a year, and what’s on the horizon, it’s unbelievable.

“It’s the most exciting time in our association’s history.”