Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 20 No. 42
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Thinking back with Charlie Zink, PGA Tour

Fairways and greens, and a lot in between

Charlie Zink retired Nov. 1 after 31 years with the PGA Tour. Zink joined the tour as chief financial officer in 1986 after working for Price Waterhouse, and was co-chief operating officer from 2002 to 2016. Most recently, Zink was chairman of the Presidents Cup held earlier this fall at Liberty National Golf Club. During his storied career, Zink had a hand in the tour’s skyrocketing growth and was a key player in a number of initiatives, including financial and administrative oversight of The Players Championship, the Tour Championship, the First Tee and the World Golf Hall of Fame. He spoke to staff writer John Lombardo about his experiences in the golf business.

Photo by: PGA TOUR

When I got there, it was essentially a mom-and-pop operation. In 1986, we had about 50 people. Now I’d say we have around 970 employees.

It was run by Deane [Beman], and what it didn’t lack was big vision and aspirations.

Deane was a tough negotiator and he knew how to build an executive team that could set the course for growth. He had the foresight to make charity a fundamental part of the tour’s efforts.

There wasn’t anybody who didn’t know Deane. He was a tenacious guy. I remember at Columbia Country Club, where he belonged, he would drive up at night and turn on his lights and practice his putting until 11 at night. I had a lot of respect for Deane.

Zink and wife Vivien at a PGA Tour holiday dinner in 2015. BELOW: Zink, his wife and daughter Charlotte visit President Barack Obama at the White House.
Photo by: PGA TOUR
I grew up in the Bethesda, Md., area and I played junior golf. I played golf for the University of Maryland. The Vietnam War was on and I got drafted and I served for six years as a naval officer. I came back and went to work for Price Waterhouse in Washington and later worked for them in the U.K. offices.

It’s interesting. The tour’s headquarters are in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and I was stationed in Mayport, Fla., seven miles away from PGA Tour headquarters, from 1971 to 1974. The stars aligned and 12 years later I got this phone call to help set up all the companies, whether it is in real estate or tournaments, and really moving from a mom-and-pop to a midsized company and ultimately into the global six-tour PGA core that we have today.

Deane was a visionary and he was

a player. He played on the tour. Deane knew what the tour needed to do to become more successful. He was tough and he got the business off the ground. The business was moving in the right direction in the mid-1980s but it needed more integration and sophistication. That was when we brought in a lot of management and we brought in Tim [Finchem, the next commissioner] to lead the way.

Tim focused on the operations. We knew what Tim wanted. He brought a level of sophistication and consensus building. I worked for Tim for 22 years. What a privilege to be around someone that smart. He could look at things from all sides and come to a decision quickly. That is a sign of a good leader.

It wasn’t that we didn’t have our challenges. We were trying to set up the tours. We were trying to deal with the growth and with the technological development, and it was interesting. How do you grow the business opportunities for the players and while you are doing that, how do you make sure you have the right relationships with the media, how do you build a fan base and how do you get your message out? It always goes back to providing benefits to the players.

Zink with golfer Fred Couples at the 2009 Presidents Cup. BELOW: Zink, a college golfer at the University of Maryland, on the links 1969-70. “I was a scratch golfer when I first came [to the PGA Tour],” he said. “Now I don’t know if I can complete a round at TPC Sawgrass.”
Over the last three years we had been planning the transition [from Finchem to current Commissioner Jay Monahan]. We’ve worked on talent management and brought in a new line of even more sophisticated people.

Jay knows the tournament business really well. He is smart and he is a very appealing individual. He is set up very well with a good team of executives.

People are assuming new roles, and it’s a big company they are running. They are taking a $2.6 billion company and moving it to a $5 billion company. It is a big assignment, and they have done a great job coming out of the box this year.

Does any of this happen without Tiger Woods? Doubtful.

Without any question, for a person of color who is a magnificent athlete, who wins three U.S. Junior Championships and three U.S. Amateurs, who plays golf for Stanford and who makes a decision to turn pro, it absolutely lit up golf.
Tiger was the lead. Everything just changed. He lit up TV and he changed the PGA Tour. You have to have a great athlete lead the way and to help other athletes, and that is what Tiger did. He was the man, and he is still the man.

The state of the industry is stable. It is interesting. There are so many elements of measurement, and we need to do a better job of knowing our measurements.

The state of play is solid. We haven’t had this many good players since the days of the “Big Three” [Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player].

I will be consulting and I will still be working with Jay, probably largely around real estate transactions. I am going to consult in the sports marketing world and have time with my family. I might even learn how to play golf again.

I was a scratch golfer when I first came here. Now I don’t know if I can complete a round at TPC Sawgrass.