HAVEN, Wisconsin – PGA of America President Jim Richerson had far more than his organization’s business interests in mind when he finally made the 43rd Ryder Cup a reality this week after a year-long postponement due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic .
Richerson, who was elected 42nd President of the Association last October, served as General Manager and Director of Golf at the Kohler Co Course in St. Andrews, Scotland for more than 11 years. As a teenager, he also lived in Madison, Wisconsin for a while. He has been directly involved in four major events at the two Wisconsin properties: 2007 US Senior Open, 2010 PGA Championship, 2012 US Women’s Open (where he served as General Chair), and 2015 PGA.
Richerson is currently the Senior Vice President of Operations for Troon Golf, Scottsdale.
In familiar surroundings and with family and friends who were in Whistling Straits all week, Richerson sat down for an interview with Golf Digest on Matchday 1.
Golf Digest: We’re here a year later than planned, but we’re here. Tell us a little bit about the emotions of getting through this extra year and finally getting to that point.
Jim Richerson: Well, it’s a relief that we can actually get together. There have been so many different times that we didn’t know [if] we would have the Ryder Cup, or if we had it without fans. The fact that we’re all here now and can have fans, we can all be together, that’s absolutely the right choice. We made the right choice, postponed a year and had the fans together. It’s a relief to know we’ve got here and now you can breathe out. Those first haircuts have been hit and it’s like, it really happens. It’s really, really cool.
How was it for you personally to host this Ryder Cup in a place and in a region of the country where you have connections?
The opportunity to take part in several of the major championships [held here previously] and coming home, so to speak, for a lot of the people we know, it’s just so enjoyable to see this event happening. The PGA Championship is a big and fantastic event, [but the] The Ryder Cup is on a whole different scale.
I’ve always enjoyed being involved in events and teams. There is so much work going on. There’s so much behind the scenes stuff that the average fan doesn’t see. You are in the process with a group of people who aim to see you through it. I am always happy to be involved. I’m involved a little differently now, in the role I’m in, but it’s very special to be able to participate in coming back here where I’ve worked for 10 years.
What was the hardest part at this point?
Well, there are so many new things that we had to keep talking about and different plans. There were probably more Plan Cs, Ds, Es, Fs, and Gs for this Ryder Cup than in probably any Ryder Cup we’ve ever been a part of. I think that was the hardest part. All the people involved in it were as busy as a normal Ryder Cup.
That everyone has the persistence to really stick to it and not really, honestly, go insane because it was just too much work and too overwhelming for the normal work involved in running an event like that as all the extra work. Because you have so many different potential options to plan out depending on what was going on in the world. All the different kinds of work that has been done with health authorities. All the different work done with both teams related to pandemic logs, travel for spectators, for fans and for corporate clients. To get to this point, I find it pretty enjoyable, and it’s a relief that we got here.
What do you see for the future of the Ryder Cup? How do you see the development, the progress? It’s already so successful. Are there any ways to improve it?
Well I think from our point of view we always try to improve on everyone involved in it. We want to improve the viewing experience. We want to improve the company experience, the player experience, the teams and the experience they have with families. If we say our family, of the media who have covered these events for so many years, many of our suppliers who have helped us for so many years to hire them, the former captains and former players they were in the herd stopped and were part of it.
We have four or five of our former captains with us this week and it’s great to have them here as part of it. How can we improve the experience for all of these groups?
How do we then try for ourselves as a club, our 28,000 working men and women and everything they do to promote the game? How can we use [the Ryder Cup] to put more spotlight on the great work they are doing, how they bring more people into play, how they involve juniors, how they give back to their local communities with charity events, what we do with our veterans programs, and how they give back to people who are got used to society again? It takes advantage of events like this one with our media partners to show our bigger spotlight on all the work we are trying to promote our members and keep the game growing.
Golf has boomed during the pandemic, with more people playing and curious about the game. Overall, how can the PGA of America pros build on this dynamic and retain players?
Well, the pandemic helped us attract new people to the game with this invitation. Many families came into play doing it as a family unit because they couldn’t do many other activities in the last 12 out of 18 months. So we introduced them. Now we need to make sure we bind them and keep reaching them. Hey I know you are a beginner but we have these programs that we can actually use to make you a little bit better and have more fun or if you are new to the game. And we’d like to introduce you to a few other newbies to the game who are in your segment … so that the experience is increased. You could have more fun doing it.
I’ve always said we have the best game teachers in the world. PGA professionals 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 all we have to do is make sure that the people who are familiar with the game now have fun, keep engaging with them, keep reaching out to them and making sure they are enjoying the game. So they play more and more golf.
What about the PGA headquarters move from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida to Frisco, Texas? Is it going on schedule despite the pandemic? Is this going according to plan?
Pretty much everything on schedule. Our headquarters are expected to open in February or March 2022. The resort, with our partner at Omni, the 500-room resort, two golf courses, 10-hole par-3 short course that is illuminated, 75,000 square meters of putting, of course, that will be illuminated so that the community can also benefit from it at night , we are curious.
And we’re going to bring some of our championships to Frisco, a Gil Hanse and Beau Welling have done a great job on the golf courses. They look really great, but we all as a group decided to have the golf course opening around the same time as the hotel. We figured if we did open the golf course, even though the course’s condition would likely be ready sometime in the fall, the fact that they open while the hotels are under construction might not operationally make it the best experience. We really love that everyone sees first that it is completely open.
So our headquarters opens. Resort and golf courses will open in the first quarter of 2023.
Finally, what is the best thing about being President of the PGA and what is the biggest challenge you will face for the remainder of your term in office?
The most convenient thing is to have a PGA member somewhere texting you or sending you a call or text message saying, Hey, we’re proud of what’s going on. I’m proud of the Ryder Cup and the way it’s held and hosted. I am proud of the way your association represents you. Every time you receive positive news saying that you are proud of what your association does or how we show your work to the industry and the public, that’s the best thing in the world for me as President.
The hardest part is that we need to continue and improve our mission. We’ve had the same thing we’ve all been working on for over 100 years: how do we increase our PGA membership and professional golf calling, and how do we continue to expand the game? Even if golf is really very healthy now, we will have challenges. We always do. They always show up. How do we meet these challenges? This is how we can ensure that the mission continues to grow and thrive in the years to come. That’s what keeps me up at night.