VOL. 133 | NO. 123 | Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Southwind’s New GM Poised to Put His Exclamation Point on Next Tournament
The stories all told of how Dustin Johnson’s 177-yard slam dunk 9-iron shot ended the FedEx St. Jude Classic’s 61-year run with a thundering exclamation point.
Like millions who watched at the course and on television, Burt Baine reveled in that moment of new lore. He did so knowing his own exclamation point is still to come on the same TPC Southwind track.
A veteran of nearly five decades as a golf pro and club executive, Baine was tabbed by the PGA Tour as Southwind’s new general manager, charged with shepherding the 30-year-old club into a new galaxy.
Late next summer, Southwind will welcome the world’s best golfers for World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. It replaces the iconic Firestone C.C. in Ohio as one of four venues for the WGC, a cooperative effort between the U.S. PGA Tour and a half-dozen international pro tours.
“There was an element of sadness and nostalgia, with a lot of people reflecting on what the Classic meant to this city,” said the 70-year-old Baine, who was born in Mississippi and raised in Texas. “One of my good friends is Lee Trevino, who won the tournament three times and has St. Jude as his charity. He told me stories about how good this event was. But at the same time, people are so looking forward to what’s coming, both for the club and Memphis.”
Title: General Manager/TPC Southwind
Born: Houston, Miss.
Hometown: Killeen, Texas
College: Texas A&M
First job: Asstistant Golf Pro in Colorado Springs, 1971
Last job: VP of Golf, The Greenbriar Resort, Va. 2011-18
Family: Wife, Patricia, three children, three grandchildren.
Career Highlights: Supervised reconstruction of three Greenbriar courses following devastating floods in 2016. Qualified for 2000, 2001 U.S. Senior Open tournaments, making cut in both events.
About the World Golf Championships
The World Golf Championships are four annual events created by the International Federation of PGA Tours. There are three medal play tournaments in China, Mexico and starting in 2019 at TPC-Southwind in Memphis, the FedEx St. Jude Invitational. The other is a match play championship in Austin, Texas.
The four WGC events are official money events on the PGA, European and Japan tours, and officially sanctioned by the Asian, Sunshine (South African) and Australasian tours. The events offer prize money comparable to the four major championships, and there is some debate as to whether they rank ahead of, or just behind, the PGA Tour’s Players Championship.
A WGC event winner earns a three-year exemption on the PGA Tour.
Baine came to Southwind after a seven-year stint as the vice president of golf at the fabled Greenbriar Resort in West Virginia, which he helped resurrect from disastrous 2016 floods.
“It broke my heart. Trevino and I were standing on a back porch watching as it happened,” Baine recalled. “It kept coming and coming. After a while we saw storage sheds float past us, then automobiles, then parts of homes.”
It wiped out the 2016 PGA Tour event, and started the clock ticking on furious efforts to get the resort’s TPC White layout ready by the following summer.
“Many, many people worked extremely hard and gave up their lives for a period of time,” Baine said of the $15 million project. “What was gratifying is that you learned you can do things you don’t think you can possibly do until you just start in. In the end, people who came back to the 2017 tournament expecting to see a patched-up Old White found a new, spectacular course.”
Now he’ll work to have Southwind ready to play host to one of the world’s 10 richest golf tournaments, with prestige just below the sport’s four majors. It will be Baine’s exclamation point.
“This is my last job,” he said. “You try to define it and put into words how big it is. But until you see it and experience it for the first time it’s hard to visualize.”
A WGC event field is limited to the world’s top 50 players, plus recent members of the Ryder and Presidents Cup teams and selected players from the various tours, usually 75-80 in all. Last week’s FESJC finale drew nine of the world’s top 50 including Johnson, who regained the No. 1 ranking with his win.
In terms of executing the endless to-do lists facing Memphis and TPC Southwind, Baine will be in charge of the course, the club and its amenities. A subset of the World Golf Federation, Championship Management Corp., is charged with marketing and operating the event. The Florida-based company has named Darrell Smith, who was FESJC tournament director, as the Invitational’s executive director. Erin Mazurek Stone, who ran the now-departed Memphis pro tennis tourney, is now tournament director.
“They bring experience running the event, and operating in this market,” Baine said. “My responsibilities will be the course, the club and its amenities. … We just have to work around the edge. We’re not in a ‘blow it up and start over’ situation.”
Baine said he doesn’t foresee any major changes to the Par 70 Southwind course, “which is viewed by players as one of the Tour’s fairest tests. DJ brought it to its knees (shooting 16-under par) but conditions set up perfectly for his game.”
The Tour has not released its 2019 schedule, but Baine said that he still expects the WGC Invitational to be in late July or early August. The extra time will be beneficial, he says.
“Another six to seven weeks, you can get the course in perfect condition,” he said. “In June, you’re a little at the mercy of what kind of spring you had.”
The real test for Baine, Smith, Stone and company will be the step-up in terms of numbers, and expectation level from competitors, spectators, corporate sponsors and media.
“If we got 10,000 on a normal Thursday for the Classic, we can expect 25,000 to come for a WGC event,” Baine said. “There were 25 media ports (for the FESJC), and we need to prepare for 150 for an event that will be broadcast in 26 countries. We have to step-up locker rooms, practice facilities, food and beverage and hospitality options for increased sponsor involvement and corporate entertainment. And more players will prefer renting homes on or near the course.”
Baine knows the advantages this event and market have with the title sponsor, charity – and club members.
“They’re the unsung heroes,” he said. “Not only do pay their dues and gladly give up their course, many of them are also out here as volunteers (part of an army of 1,800 that will also need to grow).”
After last week, Baine has added one small item to his list.
“We’ll install a small plaque where Dustin hit that 9-iron shot,” he said. “It will give fans and players a chance to stand on that spot and visualize … .”
Just how big an exclamation point can be.