Seth Waugh first became involved in golf when he wanted to make sure Deutsche Bank Americas was getting its money’s worth in sponsoring a PGA Tour event. He gets back into the sport as chief executive of the PGA of America with an ambitious goal of sharing the wealth with the 29,000 club professionals at the heart of the game.
With both business savvy and a passion for golf, Waugh was appointed Tuesday as head of the PGA of America.
“To have a chance to lead what should be the most impactful entity in the game was too big of a privilege to not do,” Waugh said. “The hardest part about the decision wasn’t whether or not this would be a wonderful opportunity to give back as much as it was hard to leave what I was doing. But how do you not do this? It’s the one institution in the game that is truly for the game, that covers it from start to finish.”
Since retiring from Deutsche Bank in 2013, the 60-year-old Waugh was nonexecutive chairman of Alex Brown, and last year became managing director at Silver Lake, a technology investment firm. He also is completing a three-year term as an independent director at the PGA of America.
Waugh takes over Sept. 24 for Pete Bevacqua, who left to become president of the NBC Sports Group.
Known for his deep Florida tan, wearing sweaters and sockless loafers, and an easygoing demeanor, Waugh steps into a couple of big projects that require immediate attention. The PGA of America is contemplating a move from its headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, to the Dallas area. The PGA also is about to start negotiating TV rights for the PGA Championship.
“The business side is great,” Waugh said. “The Ryder Cup is a wonderful thing. The PGA Championship gets better and bigger every year. The fulfilling part is can we figure out how to pass the windfall down to the members — hopefully, economically, if not educationally or programmatically. That’s where the benefits should be, to the PGA professionals. It was and is a noble profession, and it’s harder to pursue because of economics.
“Figuring out how to make their lives better is really important. It’s the most fulfilling.”
Waugh graduated from Amherst College with a degree in economics and English. His son, Clancy, played college golf at Wake Forest and SMU, and he has memberships at clubs such as Seminole, San Francisco, National and Cypress Point.
When he started as CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas, he created a PGA Tour event that would benefit the Tiger Woods Foundation, which ensured Woods played and attracted big crowds to the TPC Boston. Woods won the event in 2006. Waugh also has been a mentor to Jay Monahan, who previously worked at Fenway Sports Marketing before taking several high-profile jobs at the PGA Tour and becoming the tour commissioner two years ago.
Monahan said the transition would be helped by Waugh having served on the PGA of America board the last three years.
“He brings a very significant and deep passion for the game. He’s as avid as you can be,” Monahan said. “He’s got a real strong desire to make a huge impact for those people who work and teach this game. And any time he makes a commitment to do something, he makes it happen. I know that from experience.”
Club professionals over the years have felt a growing disconnect between their daily duties in pro shops and giving lessons to a staff at headquarters that brings in millions of dollars from its premier events, particularly the Ryder Cup, which is held in America every four years.
The trick is finding a way to improve the lifestyle and work environment of the PGA members.
“We’ll dig in deep and take a fresh look and figure out a way to do it,” Waugh said. “I can’t promise I can do it. I can promise that I’ll try.”
Waugh said one of his early priorities is to figure out whether the PGA of America should move, mainly to keep its 250 employees from wondering where they’ll be living. He described a potential move to Frisco, Texas, as “complicated” and hopes to have a decision within 12 months.
He said his own roots in North Palm Beach, Florida, would not be part of the process.
“There’s still a lot of details around it that need to work their way through before we can make a decision,” Waugh said. “I told them we should do what’s in the best interest of the association. If that’s in the best interest, I’ll buy a pair of boots.”
As the PGA of America’s chief executive, Waugh also will have a strong voice in golf, along with Monahan, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley, R&A chief Martin Slumbers, USGA’s chief executive Mike Davis and LPGA Tour commissioner Mike Whan.
“We are gaining a leader who is respected across multiple industries for his vast strategic management experience and vision,” said Paul Levy, president of the PGA of America. “Seth’s passion for PGA members and the game of golf … coupled with his global expertise in business, will serve our members well.”