Votaw shares Firestone memories, discusses current state of golf

AKRON – PGA Tour executive vice president Ty Votaw remembers his first trip to Firestone Country Club when he was a student at South Range High School.

“I grew up coming to this golf tournament,” Votaw said during Wednesday’s practice round for the Bridgestone Invitational. “I came here in 1977 for the World Series of Golf. I had a cousin who was a volunteer here at the tournament. I’d park myself on 18 and go get autographs.”

Did he get any keepers?

“Jack Nicklaus, Lanny Wadkins, Hubert Green, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino,” he said. “I still have the program. Jack was on the cover.”

These days, the 52-year-old Votaw returns to Firestone in a management role. He was recently named the PGA Tour’s chief marketing officer.

“All of the branding, advertising, communications, public relations and messaging that we do is encompassed in the people who work with me,” he said.

He also was instrumental in getting golf integrated into the 2016 Summer Olympics and serves as vice president of the International Golf Federation. Some of his time is spent overseeing the Olympic golf event as a PGA Tour liason.

“It comes in spurts, but it probably averages about 25 percent of my job,” he said. “But I’m expected to do 100 percent marketing and communications job.”

Votaw has worked with PGA Tour since 1991, except for a seven-year stint as the LPGA commissioner.

“The issues are the same for the players on the LPGA Tour as they are on the PGA Tour,” he said. “The numbers may be a little different in terms of number of zeroes attached to purses or sponsorships.

“But at the end of the day, players want the best playing conditions, they want to have the right number of tournaments to have opportunities to earn money, and they want to be able to have the support of the overall organization that they’re a member of. Those are the same issues on both tours. Ultimately, it’s about making sure the membership is happy.”

As chief marketing officer for the PGA Tour, Votaw has to be available around the clock.

“There have been many a weekend where I’ve had to deal with certain issues that come up from a media perspective or from a marketing perspective or from a competition perspective,” he said. “We’re a unique business in that we’re on the sports pages every day and it’s changing.

“I would say there are a lot of different types of media chasing too few of stories in our sport. Sometimes if something arises that is a slight controversy, they tend to jump on board. And that is no different than any other sport or business.”

Votaw was at Firestone in meetings with some player representatives and organizations from around the world before heading back to his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, on Wednesday night.

“With all of the top players in the world playing this event, there’s a good concentration of media,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity for me to get out here and just talk to them.”

Votaw also was able to spend some time with his parents, C.L. “Shorty” and Martie Votaw, who live north of Salem.

“I love coming back here.” he said. “I was with my folks (Tuesday) night and stayed in the house I grew up in. It’s always great to come back to this part of the world. I don’t get back here nearly as much. My parents reminded me of that.”

Golf notes

Votaw said professional golf is on solid ground.

“Obviously, we had some challenges with the recession, as everybody did,” Votaw said. “We’re fully sponsored on the PGA Tour. We have, I think, the right numbers of tournaments on the Champions Tour and the Web.com Tour. So professional golf, and I would include the LPGA in this, is probably the strongest it’s ever been.”

Votaw said numbers show public courses are rebounding.

“Through June of this year, from an industry perspective, rounds are up about 2.7 percent as far as days open because of weather,” he said. “The weather this year has impacted a lot of golf courses. We’ve had one of the wettest Junes in history across the country, except for the West Coast.

“As far as when you can play golf, where weather isn’t a factor, rounds have been up about 2.7 percent across the country, which is a good sign.”

How is his golf game doing?

“I love to play. I don’t get a chance to play as much as I’d like,” Votaw said. “In a good year, it would be six times a year. The worst thing for your golf game, perhaps, is to work for the PGA Tour.”