HAVEN, Wisconsin – PGA of America President Jim Richerson had more than his organization’s business interests in mind as he finally saw this week’s 43rd Ryder Cup come to fruition after a one-year postponement due to of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Richerson, who was elected the association’s 42nd president last October, served as general manager and golf director for over 11 years at Kohler Co., overseeing operations at Whistling Straits and nearby Blackwolf Run in Kohler. , as well as The Duke’s Cours in St. Andrews, Scotland. He also lived for a time in Madison, Wisconsin in his youth. He has been directly involved in four major events at the two Wisconsin properties: the 2007 US Senior Open, the 2010 PGA Championship, the 2012 US Women’s Open (where he served as general president) and the 2015 PGA.
Currently, Richerson is senior vice president of operations for Troon Golf in Scottsdale.
Relishing in familiar surroundings and with family and friends present throughout the week at Whistling Straits, Richerson spoke to Golf Digest for an interview on the first day of games.
Golf Digest: We’re here a year later than expected, but we’re here. Tell us a bit about the emotions of going through that extra year and finally getting to this point.
Jim Richerson: Well, it’s a relief that we can actually get together. There were so many different times we didn’t know [if] we’d have the Ryder Cup, or if we’d have it without fans. So now the fact that we’re all here and can have fans, we can all be together, that’s absolutely the right choice. We made the right choice, postpone a year and be able to bring the fans together. It is a relief to know that we have made it here and now you can breathe out. Those early tee shots were hit and it’s like, It’s really happening. It’s really, really cool.
How has it been for you personally to have this Ryder Cup in a place and region of the country where you have connections?
Being able to be involved in several major championships [held here previously] and coming home, so to speak, for a lot of people we know, it’s so gratifying to see this event take place. The PGA Championship is a major and fantastic event, [but the] The Ryder Cup is on such a different scale.
I have always enjoyed being involved in events and getting involved with teams. There is so much work going on. There is so much behind the scenes that the average fan doesn’t see. You are in this process with a group of people, where they share the goal of being successful. I still like to be involved in this. I’m involved now in a little different way, in the role I’m in, but to be able to be involved in it, to come back here to where I worked for 10 years, it’s pretty special.
What was the hardest part to get to this point?
Well, there are so many new things that we had to discuss over and over again and different plans. There were probably more Plan C, D, Es, F and G for this Ryder Cup than in any Ryder Cup we have ever competed in. I think that was the hardest part. Everyone involved in this project had so much work to do beyond a normal Ryder Cup.
So that everyone had the persistence, really stick with it all and not really, quite frankly, go crazy that it was too much work and too overwhelming for the normal work that is required to organize an event like this than all the extra work. Because you have to plan for so many different potential options depending on what is going on in the world. All the different work that has been done with health officials. All the different works that have been carried out with the two teams which are linked to pandemic protocols, travel for spectators, for fans, for corporate sponsors. To get to this, I think, is quite gratifying, and there’s a relief in the fact that we’ve gotten here.
What do you see for the future of the Ryder Cup? How do you see it evolving, moving forward? It’s already so successful. Are there ways to improve?
Well, I think from our perspective we’re always trying to improve it on the part of everyone involved in it. We want to improve the spectator experience. We want to improve the experience of the company, the experience of the players, the teams and the experiences they have with families. When we say our family, which includes the media that covered these events for so many years, many of our suppliers who have helped us set them up for so many years, the former captains and former players, keeping them in the fold and being part of it.
We have four or five of our former captains who are with us this week, and it’s great to have them here. It’s just how can we elevate the experience for all of these groups?
So, for us, as an association, how do we try to promote our 28,000 working men and women and all they do to make the sport grow? How can we use [the Ryder Cup] to put more emphasis on all this great work they do, how they get more people involved in the game, how they involve the juniors, how they give back to their local communities with charity events, what are we doing with our veterans programs and are we giving back to the people who have re-acclimated to society? He uses events like this with our media partners to show our biggest spotlight on all the work we’re trying to do to help promote our members and continue to grow the game.
Golf boomed during the pandemic, with more people playing and curious about the game. How can the PGA of America pros as a whole capitalize on this momentum and retain players?
Well, the pandemic helped us with this invitation to bring new people into the game. A lot of families have stepped into the game that are doing it as a family unit because they haven’t been able to do much. ‘other activities in the past 12 or 18 months. So we presented them. Now we need to make sure we keep them engaged and keep reaching out to them. Hey I know you’re a newbie, but we have these programs that we can actually make you a little better and you can have more fun or you’re new to the game. And we want to introduce you to some other newcomers to the game. the game that are in your same segmentâ¦ so the experience is high. You might have more fun doing it.
I’ve always said we have the best gaming teachers in the world. PGA pros can teach people how to play and how to play better. If you play better, you have more fun. The more fun you have, the more golf you play. So we just need to make sure that the people who are now introduced to the game have fun, to continue to engage with them, to continue to contact them and to make sure that they are having fun in the game. So they continue to play golf.
Where do things stand with the move of PGA headquarters from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida to Frisco, Texas? Are things going as planned despite the pandemic? Is it going as planned?
Almost a while ago. Our head office should open its doors probably in February or March 2022. The complex, with our partner Omni, the complex of 500 rooms, two golf courses, a short course of 10 holes par 3 which will be lit, a putting of 75,000 square foot course that will be lit for the community to enjoy, even at night, we are delighted.
And we’re going to bring some of our championships to Frisco, a Gil Hanse and Beau Welling did a great job on the golf courses. They really look great, but we all decided as a group to open the golf course opening around the same time as the hotel opened. We figured that if we opened the golf course, even though the course, from a state perspective, would probably be ready this fall, the fact that they would open while construction of the hotels is still underway, could creating, operationally, may not be the best experience. We really like first of all that everyone sees that it’s completely open.
Our head office will therefore open. Resort and golf courses will open in the first quarter of 2023.
Last thing: What’s the funniest part of being PGA President and what’s the biggest challenge you think you’ll face for the rest of your term?
The best part is every time you have a PGA member anywhere drop you a note or give you a phone call or text saying, hey, we’re proud of what’s going on. I am proud of the Ryder Cup and the way it plays out and plays out. I am proud of the way their association represents them. Anytime you receive a positive rating that says they are proud of what their association does or how we show how the work they do to the industry and the general public, thatâs the right thing. most rewarding in the world to me as president.
The hardest thing is that we have to keep doing and elevating our mission. We have the same one we’ve all been working on for over 100 years: how do we elevate our PGA members and elevate the vocation to be a golf professional and how do we continue to develop the game? Even though golf is really, really healthy now, we’re going to have some challenges. We still do. They always arise. How to meet these challenges? Thus, we can ensure that this mission continues to grow and prosper in the years to come. This is what keeps me from sleeping at night.