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Organization to the 'tee' Featured

12:27pm EDT June 22, 2004
The breeze is warm and sweet as golfers take to the links on the beautifully landscaped grounds of Firestone Country Club, and excitement over the upcoming NEC Invitational World Golf Championships in mid-August creates its annual buzz inside the elegant, air-conditioned clubhouse.

This anticipation is familiar to Don Padgett II, general manager of the club and vice president of ClubCorp, the $1.5 billion Dallas-based company that owns Firestone and 200 other golf courses, country clubs, resorts and private business and sports clubs worldwide. An inductee of the Ohio and Indiana golf halls of fame, Padgett received the PGA's Bill Strausbaugh Award in 1993 for excellence in club relations.

He has been a member of the PGA of America for 27 years, played on the PGA Tour from 1972 to 1974, competed in several Indiana and Ohio championships and was a member of the PGA Cup Team in 1976, 1981, 1982 and 1984. After 25 years at Firestone -- ClubCorp's fourth largest property -- Padgett has tournaments down to a science.

"For Akron and for this golf tournament, it's part of our heritage," he says. "It's part of who we are."

This month, Padgett heads south to accept the presidency of another ClubCorp property, Pinehurst in North Carolina. It is North America's largest golf resort and the site of the 2005 U.S. Open. Padgett is no stranger to Pinehurst -- he's the son of the late Donald Padgett, Pinehurst's past vice president/director of golf and former PGA president.

Before he left Firestone's rolling hills, Smart Business sat down with Padgett to discuss tradition and the business of golf.

From 1968 to 1976, Firestone Country Club hosted three televised golf events each year: the American Golf Classic, the CBS Golf Classic and the World Series of Golf. What kind of precedent did that set for today's Firestone?

There have been more hours of television from Firestone Country Club than any club in the world, including Augusta. I think obviously, with television, it elevates your stature.

It certainly intrigues people to want to come to play where they've seen the Tiger Woodses, the Jack Nicklauses and the Tom Watsons play before them, to kind of Walter Mitty themselves into that same circumstance and envision the same time and place on hallowed ground.

I look at my job as the keeper of the keys of what is an American golf institution. We're very prideful and mindful of setting and keeping a high standard for the golf and the property.

The NEC Invitational requires the coordination of several groups. What is the biggest challenge in this situation, and what management techniques do you use to keep an even balance among the groups?

NEC is the overall sponsor and provides the money ... for a lot of the television and a lot of the purse, and they obviously are the major force for the tournament financially. The club and Northern Ohio Golf Charities help to produce the event in conjunction with the PGA Tour staff.

So you've got four groups there that are working in tandem to produce the event. Then you have CBS airing the event, which is important to all of us, and I think it goes to 120 countries.

The challenge for us is not as great as it is as most places because we've (hosted tournaments) for 50 years in a row. We have grandchildren volunteering with grandparents, so our learning curve has been very good. There are very few things that can come up in a golf tournament that haven't already come up over the last 50 years, and we've made adjustments for, and contingency plans for, weather and things of that nature.

So, at this point, I don't perceive it as difficult for anyone; it's a task that we all know. It may seem daunting to a lot of people, but we've all been through it so many times -- this is my 25th year -- that there's just so many people who know their roles and play them well, that it all comes together kind of like the orchestra and a symphony.

(The layman may wonder), 'How does that happen?' but to people who have done it over and over, it's what we do.

I head the club, Tom Strong is the tournament director for the PGA Tour locally, and then you always have a volunteer chairman of the year, and of course, NEC provides the funding. Tom is in his sixth year, and we coordinate with the PGA Tour and Akron Golf Charities, and everyone has a flowchart and chairman of each individual group.

The meetings are mostly held with us, and we report back to our various groups to implement in all areas to produce the tournament. ... They all have their own checklists and to-dos, and then, if we do have an issue, through a conference call or some way or the other, we can get that worked out.

It's a community effort. We have gotten great support from (Akron Mayor) Don Plusquellic and the community of Akron. In the last few years, we've been trying to involve Cleveland and Canton on a larger basis, and they've responded very well to be part of it.

I think it's becoming more of a Northeastern Ohio event than Akron's specifically. I think that a lot of the people who entertain here are Cleveland companies. In the last few years, the corporate community in Akron and Canton has grown substantially.

The plans are already laid (for future tournaments.) The planning process here probably never quits; it's just a matter of what stage it is in. Are we in the initial stages of next year's tournament? Are we in the final preparation of this year's tournament? Are we in the post-analysis of what happened this year?

The process is ongoing. At the other end of the parking lot, there's a building that's the tournament office for the PGA Tour. We are in constant contact with the staff, and they with us. ... There's isn't probably any time that we aren't discussing issues, big and small.

Firestone Country Club celebrates its 75th anniversary Aug. 10, and has hosted tournaments for 50 consecutive years. What do you see for the future of golf at the club?

I think the future's very bright. We have a contract for 2005 (with the NEC and the PGA Tour), and it looks very favorable for 2006. I think golf will be in this area at Firestone Country Club on a regular basis for the foreseeable future. We don't have any indication that it won't be.

It's one of the best facilities in the country to host a golf tournament, with the volunteer group, and the players really like being here. I think we have every reason to believe that golf here will continue as it has in the past. HOW TO REACH: Firestone Country Club, (330) 644-8441 or www.firestonecountryclub.com