Feature Interview with Ted Bishop
The Indiana Golf Association web site contains the following biographical information: Ted Bishop, the 38th president of The PGA of America, is enshrined in the Indiana Golf Hall of Fame. In 2012, Bishop became the third native of Indiana to be elected president of The PGA of America, joining Indiana’s Don Padgett II (1977-78) and Mickey Powell (1985-86). A native of Logansport, Indiana, Bishop graduated from Purdue University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Agronomy in 1976, and began his career as a professional and superintendent at the Phil Harris Golf Course in Linton, Indiana. He was elected to PGA membership in 1985, and has served in a leadership capacity at either the Section or National levels since 1989. Bishop was the 1991 recipient of the Section Horton Smith Award and a two-time (1996-97) Section Bill Strausbaugh Award recipient. From 1997-98, Bishop served as president of the Indiana PGA Section, and was the 1998 Indiana PGA Golf Professional of the Year. He has twice been awarded the Sagamore of the Wabash by the Governor of Indiana, for service to the communities in which he has resided. Bishop is the PGA general manager at The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Indiana, where he oversaw construction and development of the facility in 1991.
The percentage of clubs operating without a head golf professional is on the rise. What does a PGA professional bring in this day and age?
Hopefully the PGA professional is an individual who brings a unique business sense, and creative ideas to grow the game at the facility. The challenge we have in our PGA member system is to get PGA members invested in the educational system and understanding what their responsibility is to their employers. They need to be a revenue generator, and their value to the facility is only as good as their ability to generate revenue. More and more of our people are starting to understand this.
At the same time, the millennial generation presents its own set of challenges. They are not old school, in a way when I got into the business. I came in as an entrepreneur. My ability to feed my family and pay my bills was based on my creative ability to generate revenue. So many of these people that get into the business are salaried employees and on the clock. When their day is done, sometimes it’s tough for them to go to the lesson tee and put in the commitment that I saw 25 years ago when the golf professional needed the money. When I started we wanted the money and golf instruction was a way to supplement our income. I don’t see that same level of passion from some of these young professionals that have gotten in to the business and to me it’s a scary thing.
The passion element needs to change if the sport is going to change.
Discuss the advantages of a PGA professional being conversant on maintenance and agronomy.
It’s an important part of the equation as it relates to the customer experience at a golf course. Any feedback the customer has to the condition inevitably comes back to the golf staff. The golf shop staff needs to understand the cultural practices and what is being done not just to the turf but to the golfers. The management, maintenance staff and the golf staff need to work together in order to explain why things are being done, from pace of play to the height of the rough to the speeds of the greens. The golf staff also needs to keep an eye out for negative statements and be able to pass information back to the superintendent from how many balls are being lost to opinions on pin placements.
Should PGA professionals serve on green committees?
It’s a novel idea and agronomy is a part of the PGA education as you move through to become a PGA member. There are probably a lot of PGA professionals that don’t want to follow it but I think it’s a huge mistake. The more inherent knowledge you have adds value to you, your employer and your facility. With that said, if the golf professional is going to serve on the green committee, they need to take responsibility to learn about the practices of maintenance and turf so they can be in situation of authority to serve on the board. You can’t sit on any board unless you have a desire and a passion on the subject at hand.
In giving lessons, PGA professionals help golfers with their swing mechanics. What role should they serve in helping golfers understand the best way to play certain golf holes?
That’s a great question. Part of the thing that makes “Get Golf Ready” such a wonderful experience for the student and instructor is there’s a playing component. The consumer pays $99 for 5 lessons and each lesson lasts 45 minutes for instruction and then plays for 30 minutes. Now that person has been on the course 5 times and they understand forced carries, uneven lies and how to manage the best they can.
Now you are seeing pros giving playing lessons more than any time in the last 20 years. You also see good players who don’t feel they are scoring the way they should solicit pros to go play 18 holes with them and help them manage their games.
You graduated in the 1976 from Purdue University with a degree in agronomy. Did you pursue that for agriculture or for golf?
I pursued it for golf. I went to school to be a superintendent. Purdue at that time had one of the top turf programs in the United States. In the mid 70s there were probably only four schools offering specialized turf degrees, Purdue, Penn State, Texas A&M and Michigan State.
After I graduated I was offered a job at the Phil Harris golf course in the city of Linton, Indiana. This is a small coal mining town in southwest Indiana with an 18 hole municipal golf course. They had a pro/superintendent that retired after 35 years and the city was looking to fill the position. The city of Linton posted the job with the Indiana PGA but was unable to fill it so they reached out to Purdue University to hire a turf student. It was not really the way I anticipated getting into the golf business but there was an opportunity and I pursued it.
The advances in agronomy are well known over the last 25 years. As a PGA professional and owner, is there added pressure to keep your golf course in pristine, ‘Augusta-like’ condition?
What people see on TV is what their expectations are when they go to play golf. The fact of the matter is that there are very few facilities operating today that have the resources to spend like they did 25 years ago. Facility revenues have declined so it has forced operators to be far more creative in operating today and to put out a product that is acceptable. You’re doing it for less money and less labor. You are seeing golf course operators create far more areas what I call “low maintenance areas“ with long grass to reduce mowing and cut down on number of acres that need to be sprayed. What’s interesting is I see courses that let grasses grow with grass that isn’t meant to grow long so that presents a problem for golfers because it’s thick and heavy and people can’t find balls when you go in there.
How we utilize our resources is totally different than when we opened in 1992. What I am spending now on a 27 championship holes plus an 18 hole par 3 course is less than when we built a single 18 hole course in the heyday. We are cut back on mowing our fairways from five times per week to three times and tees from three times per week to twice. Back in the day we were in a strict fungicide spraying program and we sprayed every 7 to 10 days whether we needed too or not. Our labor costs have risen but we are using less people who have become more skilled and efficient.
The USGA has recently advocated firm, fast and tawny playing conditions. How did the 2014 U.S. Opens at Pinehurst come across to you?
I was at Pinehurst and it looked fine, it was the U.S. Open. The thing about the U.S. Open is you’re going to always see something different every year. I was at Merion the year before and it was green, the rough was long and it was wet. Who knows what it’s going to be at Chambers Bay?
To me the average golfer wants to play on green grass. Water usage is a big issue especially on the West Coast but not here in the Mid-West. Courses are forced to do what they have to do with water management and golfers have to endure what the courses are forced to do because of the restrictions.
Environmentally golf is in the best place it’s been in decades. There are few safety issues because is licensed with pesticide applicators and courses are judicially using the products they need to use. One of the misconceptions people have as it relates to golf courses are the chemicals used on golf courses. They are being used at a far lower rate than are being used on fruit and vegetable crops. You’re not hearing as much about it as you were 10 years ago.
Should the PGA of America join the USGA in promoting conditions that move away from the color green?
I don’t think that’s the role of the PGA of America. I’m not an advocate of moving away from the color of green. We have a well that we spent quite a bit of money to build that generates 740 gallons net recharge and a new irrigation system. As a result we don’t have a water bill and I’m not restricted.
Indiana has excellent golf from modern courses such as Victoria National and The Trophy Club to Donald Ross spectacular French Lick and Broadmoor. What are your favorite courses in Indiana?
The state of Indiana does have a lot of great golf courses. What people don’t understand is the topography in the state is very different from Northern Indiana to Southern Indiana. Southern Indiana has a lot of elevation changes, hills and some beautiful scenery while Northern Indiana is mostly flat.
To me the #1 course in Indiana is the Pete Dye course at French Lick. The reasons are the spectacular vistas being on one the highest points in the state. The key to the golf course is playing the right set of tees and then it’s a fun golf course. One of the unique features of the Pete Dye golf course is the rough which is a strain of fescue Pete brought in after it was developed at Texas A&M. It’s one of the toughest rough grasses I have ever played out of, very difficult to control the ball. It’s a very coarse bladed fescue which almost looks like a St Augustine Bermuda.
French Lick has a unique slice of history to it, from the Donald Ross course where Walter Hagen won the 1924 PGA championship to the heyday of the 1920’s and 1930’s Chicago mob. The trains ran directly from Chicago to French Lick and it was an escape for well-known gangsters. Al Capone spent quite a lot of time in French Lick. French Lick is well known for its mineral waters and its therapeutical effect. The Cook Company in Bloomington spent a lot of money on the resort and it shows, it’s truly a world class resort with 36 holes in the most beautiful part of Indiana.
Let’s discuss the state of golf from an owner’s perspective. Are you finding new golfers or “borrowing” golfers from other facilities?
We are totally invested in any and all ways to grow the game, whether that’s the PGA junior league, Get Golf Ready or creating our own programs to entice women. We’ve hosted two Drive, Pitch and Putt qualifiers. I can honestly say that I don’t think there is anything more we could do from a player development standpoint to move the needle at my facility. We have an active junior program, tried to bring women into golf and made golf affordable to all different types of people. The fact of the matter is my market share is constant. Golf has been put into a position because it was over-built and became a consumer controlled business. As a result, we have been put in a position to increase our local market share by taking players away from competitors.
You decided to build your own course in 1989 and hired Jim Fazio as the architect. Discuss working with Fazio and the challenge of building a course that was fun yet challenging.
At the time we built our course in the early 90’s there wasn’t a good upscale public golf course on the south side of Indianapolis. We did a feasibility study and found a piece of property that met the purchase requirements we had in our business plan. As a result we purchased 390 acres. At the beginning we played 38,000 rounds and turned away 5,000 golfers. So we added another 9 hole championship course and an 18 hole par 3 course in 1995 which opened in 1996. Little did we know that between 1995 and 2000, another 24 upscale, daily fee golf courses would be built in central Indiana so that totally changed the dynamics of golf in this market.
We selected Jim Fazio because we couldn’t afford Tom at the time but we wanted a Fazio style golf course. Jim had been doing a lot of work overseas and then the Gulf War broke out. He pulled up stakes in Italy where he was working and didn’t have anything in the United States to work on so the timing was good and he agreed to work with us for a reasonable fee.
We did our due diligence and everyone said he was very talented and had the artistic flair of his brother and his uncle. All said he would build a maintainable golf course and bring the project in on time and on budget and in the end he did that. He built this course on a flat corn field and it turned out beautiful. We were awarded the Indiana Amateur before the course opened. Since the course has opened in 1992 we have hosted more championships in the state than any other course in Indiana. It’s a credit to Jim: he gave us large greens for public play, five sets of tees and bunkers that are more positioned for championship play. Jim really tried to make the course fun and playable yet challenging and he succeeded on all counts.
Jims design associate was Luke Majorki who was exceptional and the interface between Fazio and Pyramid golf construction. He made sure the drains were put in right and the course mowable. He kept the contractor’s feet to the fire and kept it on time and on budget. Luke was a former professional baseball player who owned a 9 hole par 3 course in Decatur. He sold it and moved to Florida where he became the superintendent at PGA National when they played the Ryder Cup. He retired and then became friends with Jim and ending up working with Jim as a consultant.
Jim’s two sons Tommy and Jimmy shaped the course along with their cousin Peter so they had the Fazio fingerprints all over the course. Since then Tommy has gone on to some really great things on his own including some courses for Donald Trump including Bedminister where we are going to play the PGA Championship.
You also added an 18 hole par 3 course. Was this designed for juniors, seniors or an attempt for people to play golf in a shorter period of time? Has it added to the profitability of the facility?
It was designed for all of the above. In my first five years at working at a golf course when I was in high school and college I worked on a par 3 course in my home town in Northern Indiana which played a lot of rounds. Down here there was nothing like that so we built the par 3 when we added the extra nine holes for the championship course and the cost to build was very reasonable. It’s a great little set of holes, fully irrigated, holes range from 95 to 215 yards, very playable, no water hazards, no forced carries yet drastically under-utilized. For whatever reason it hasn’t taken off and hasn’t met our player development goals.
In the late 1990’s we gifted the par 3 course to the Indiana Golf Association whose offices are now on site at our facility. We maintain the operation of the course and they went through a capital campaign which was then named the Pete Dye Course even though he didn’t design it.
The Legends Golf Club has a vibrant juniors program and now a foot golf program. Discuss the reasons you installed the foot golf (a combination of golf and soccer) program. Does the foot golf program take anything away from your core golf customer?
We played 2100 rounds of foot golf in 2014 which is incredible since it was a new sport and virtually unknown in this part of the country. At the Legends it’s played on our par 3 course so we have no additional costs other than the 21 inch holes.
Part of the strategy is to get those names into your database and possibly create some introductory golf program that might peak their interest and want to give golf a try. So this year we’ll start a program called “Discover Golf” priced at $45 for four 45 minute lessons and our strategy is to target those people who were foot golfers last year and get them to start playing.
In my case it’s a revenue source for the par 3 course. Last year we did close to $30,000 in revenue for foot golf so why should I have to apologize for creating a new source of revenue at my facility? It helps me utilize a section of my real estate which as I said earlier is being under-utilized. My green fee for my par 3 course is $12 and my fee for foot golf is $15 and the foot golfer plays usually in 30 minutes less time than my golfers. So the foot golfers are paying 25% more, playing faster and they never complain.
With advances in equipment and balls and ever fit players, is golf in a never ending situation to extend yardage? The Legends has five sets of tees, can you see a sixth?
When we opened we had 4 sets of tees with the championship at 7200 yards. The missing tees that we added in between the gold and white are what we call the members tees and are around 6,400. The technology is better but I haven’t seen the course become outdated. We played the Indiana high school championship here for 15 straight years and the players over time hit the ball longer but the scoring has stayed the same. Our course has held up to time but they still need to get the ball in the hole.
Should the USGA roll back the ball and save the stewards of courses a bunch of headaches?
Absolutely not! Rolling back the ball would be one of the worst things that could happen to the game. Anything you do to make the game harder to the average guy is not a good thing. There is no way I can stand on the first tee and give people balls and tell them they are going to go 20% less. I’m not asking people to offset it by telling them to move up to a different set of tees.
When there was some avid talk a few years ago, I asked Jack Nicklaus how rolling back the ball is going to lower my costs. Jack said if people don’t hit it farther we could mow less and narrow the fairways. I thought at the time I’ve already narrowed my fairways. I could reduce the amount of spraying but I still have acreage I need to mow. So I didn’t see a big reduction in maintenance costs.
In my opinion it would be the most catastrophic thing that could happen to the game.
The professional game has made many classic 6,400 – 6,700 yards courses obsolete in terms of challenging the best. Should the PGA Championship be contested on select courses built specifically for the professional game?
I disagree on the premise and I’ve said it publically especially about the U.S. Open. I take my hat off to Mike Davis and Glen Nager for what they did at Merion. They succeeded; and proved they can still play championships on those types of golf courses and make it relevant for a U.S. Open. They did it with rough, tee placements and green speeds.
The PGA Championship has been played on a nice variety of courses, some fairly new and some great classics. We’ve produced drama and excitement and yet the scores have always been at fairly consistent levels. We have given people chances to make some birdies and eagles and yet play their butts off on some difficult par 4s and 3s. So it’s a function of how you set the course up.
Kerry Haigh has proven that he is the best set up guy in all of golf. When we went to Oak Hill people thought the course was too tough and nobody would break par. It was wet up there and the rough was brutal. He listened, made adjustments and then Jason Dufner goes out in the 2nd round and shoots 63.
One of your final acts as President of the PGA was to select Bethpage and Harding Park to host the 2019 and 2020 PGA Championships respectively. Did you feel pressure to bring a PGA Championship to the West Coast?
I wouldn’t say pressure is the right word. We had a great interest in finding a west coast venue for the PGA Championship. It had been a long time since we had been there and to the credit of the USGA, they had staked their claim to most of the really good championship venues. We didn’t really have that many options and quite honestly needed to find a market that would be successful from a financial standpoint. We had great interest in the San Francisco market and felt it was the best market in California for a major championship. Harding Park was the only facility we looked at in San Francisco. The talk that Olympic Club rejected us because they wanted to keep their relationship with the USGA is not the case.
We loved Harding Park and everything about it and made absolutely no sacrifices in order to bring the championship to Harding. Harding Park and Bethpage in 2019 are great public venues which is something I took great pride after spending my entire 38 year career in public golf. Each of those venues has great history and a legacy for their cities. Harding Park has some logistical problems but we have faced that before at Whistling Straits and at Bellreive and we’ll get around those.
What you saw at Valhalla, being the highest rated championship in 2014 from a television standpoint and the highest rated PGA since 2009 is something we expect again. For the PGA to be played on the West Coast in prime time for the East Coast is going to be great for golf and for the PGA brand.
The PGA Championship is held mid-August. For much of the country, greens are under maximum stress with high evening temperatures and stifling humidity. It is a brutal assignment for a green keeper to present fast and firm under such conditions. Is there any thought to shuffling the PGA schedule around so that its biggest event could be held in a different month (a month more conducive for a greater range of courses to optimally host your event)?
The only time we discussed this seriously is 2020 and its one of the reasons we selected Harding Park. The only reason the PGA would consider moving it was the advent of the summer Olympics which is held in early August. The Olympics changed our thinking and forced us to move the date for the 2016 championship at Baltusrol to the last week of July.
Moving the PGA around is a difficult process which we discussed at length with the PGA Tour. It becomes a difficult process to coordinate with the Tour. We can’t go early in the year as you’re up against football and we are not going to play the PGA championship while the NFL playoffs or the Super Bowl is going on. In March you go head to head with the NCAA basketball championship. May has the Players Championship and April, June and July are taken by the other majors championships and they aren’t going to move.
There is a small window in February which you wouldn’t conflict with another major sporting event but there are not that many options.
The Ryder Cup sites in the United Kingdom are frequently – and disappointingly – on modern courses. We understand the financial element that goes into a winning bid to host and yet … given the magnitude of the Ryder Cup, shouldn’t it be held on some venerable links, at least from time to time?
Ryder Cup Europe has a vastly different approach to selecting sites as opposed to the PGA of America. It’s just a totally different philosophy regarding Ryder Cup selection by the European PGA. They are shrewd and look at it more from a financial standpoint. As they have shown over the last five Ryder Cups and again with the selection of Paris in 2018, it all about money.
Our philosophy is to go to a great golf course and make sure that there is enough space for infrastructure and the ability to sell hospitality. Look at Hazeltine which is a big site with a tremendous amount of room. Bethpage is the same which has absolutely no issues. Whistling Straights is going to be a challenge but they have the room. There are some logistical issues especially with the hotels and how they are going to get people in and out.