18 holes with: Jeff Harris, CEO of Furnitureland South
By Mike Purkey
Jeff Harris glides easily in and out of the main building of the largest furniture store in the country, 80 acres and 1.3 million square feet of showroom space, distribution center and a Subway restaurant where we meet for lunch before heading out to Sedgefield Country Club in nearby Greensboro to play golf.
It was Sonny Grant who put clubs in Harris’ hands and taught him the basics of the golf swing. Grant was one of the better amateur golfers in the state and Furnitureland South’s Serta mattress rep. Harris worked for his father, Darrell, who started the company in 1969 with a $10,000 bank loan. Now, Harris is CEO of the family business that employs 550 people. His brother, Jason, leads the company’s digital business.
Harris stops to talk with almost everyone he sees at Sedgefield, from the young men at the bag drop to the pros in the golf shop to members on the driving range. His is a people business and nothing turns that off. “It’s all about relationships,” he says.
He grew up in Greensboro and his first love was basketball. But he wound up a college baseball player at High Point University and didn’t think seriously about golf until after graduation. “After college, baseball is over,” he says. “You can’t just round up 18 guys and get a game.”
Today, he’s an 8-handicap who doesn’t seek help with his golf game, preferring to work things out for himself, sometimes with the aid of video. At 48, he still looks like a college athlete, built solidly on his 5-foot, 11-inch frame.
He plays like an athlete, too, picking a target and reacting to it. He hits it hard but doesn’t always know where it’s going. Harris wastes little time in golf, from a brisk warm-up on the range to a no-nonsense approach to his next shot.
Standing on the tee of the third hole, a par-3 of 164 yards, he announces, “I’ve witnessed 12 holes-in-one and have never had one of my own.” After his tee shot, the shutout is still intact.
Harris’ son, Tanner, a junior at High Point University, has been hooked by golf after years of playing baseball. The elder Harris taught the younger a lesson one day on Sedgefield’s fourth hole. “Tanner had thrown his club after skulling his second shot over the green,” Harris says. “He threw his club in anger, and I told him that’s not done in golf and if he kept doing it, he wouldn’t be allowed to play.
“I said that the ball can go in from anywhere, and you should never give up. He chipped his next shot in the hole and you should have seen the grin on his face.”
At the par-4 13th, Harris hits his tee shot wide right and the ball winds up under a tree. He takes only a moment to decide his plan of attack and hits a mid-iron low and under the limbs. It clears a fairway bunker and clambers onto the green, leaving about a 20-foot birdie putt.
“I’ll bet you’re pretty good with your back against the wall,” I observe. He looks back. “I don’t like to get myself against the wall,” he says. Harris lives adjacent to the 14th fairway at Sedgefield, which is possibly the most difficult hole on the course. He misses a short putt for par on the 14th green, and I say, “Doesn’t that drive you crazy?”
“No, not really,” he says with a smile. “Salespeople who don’t do what I want them to do drive me crazy.”
When I hit a fat 6-iron that winds up short and right of the 17th green, I say, “Indecision — the great killer of golf swings.”
“Or no decision,” he says. “People don’t have to wait for me to analyze something and make a decision. I can do that very quickly.”
As we approach the 18th green, he stops to talk to a twosome on the 10th tee. And then he stops to chat with the young man who comes to clean our clubs. And when we pull up by the clubhouse, we stop to talk with Mark Brazil, tournament director for the Wyndham Championship, which is held each fall at Sedgefield, and Rocky Brooks, the club’s director of golf.
We say our goodbyes, and as I walk toward the parking lot, I notice Harris’ clubs are still on the cart, joined this time by those of Sedgefield members Drew Brown, Billy Carter and Jack Boyer. They go out for 18 more holes and, lo and behold, Harris makes his first hole-in-one on the 151-yard, par-3 16th.
The ball can go in from anywhere, can’t it?