Friday, April 12, 2024

NC golf: Industry experts helped pick 15 leaders who play influential roles in the state’s golf industry

Identifying 15 key people behind golf’s big impact in North Carolina is a question we posed to a dozen veteran golf industry executives and journalists. They came up with this list that includes touring and club professionals, course designers, fashion innovators, event organizers and industry titans. They share a passion for golf and have used their significant expertise to cultivate the game throughout North Carolina and beyond.


Mark Brazil
Wyndham Championship

Brazil has been CEO of the Gate City’s PGA Tour event since September 2021 after serving as tournament director for two decades. The Asheville native previously was executive vice president at the American Junior Golf Association. He is on the PGA Tour’s Tournament Advisory Council. Though not one of the tour’s new elevated events, the Wyndham continues to enjoy an enviable calendar spot as the final tournament before the FedEx Cup playoffs begin.


Scott Davenport
PGA head professional
Quail Hollow Club

Davenport has extended North Carolina’s influence in golf in his role at the exclusive private club that has hosted the Wells Fargo Championship since 2003. Quail Hollow also held the PGA Championship in 2017 and the Presidents Cup competition last year. He has mentored many young golf professionals including Charles Frost at Winston-Salem’s Old Town Club, Eric Williamson at Charlotte Country Club and Kevin Reardon at Providence Country Club in Charlotte.


Tom Fazio
golf course architect

The acclaimed course designer arrived in Western North Carolina in the mid-1980s to design Wade Hampton Golf Club in Cashiers. That jump started a 20-year run of prolific design that resulted in 17 Fazio designs in the Tar Heel State, ranging from the mountains to the coast and more than 200 layouts around the globe. No living architect has more credits on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses and that magazine’s poll for Best Modern Day Golf Course Architect was discontinued after Fazio claimed it three straight times.


Johnny Harris
chairman, CEO
Lincoln Harrisz

The Charlotte developer and civic leader is also well-known as the leader of Quail Hollow Club, the elite course built on his family’s land in south Charlotte. He has been president of the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship since 1988, and is a longtime member of Augusta National Golf Club. The Charlotte club will host the PGA Championship in 2025. Harris’ son, Johno, was general chairman of the 2022 Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow.


Jim Hyler Jr.
former president
U.S. Golf Association

The former senior executive of Raleigh-based First Citizens Bank served a 12-year stint on the USGA’s main board, eventually serving as president. He helped found The First Tee chapter in Raleigh and serves on the rules committee at Augusta National Golf Club. The founding board member and club president at Old Chatham Golf Club in Chatham County and former club president at Biltmore Forest Country Club in Asheville was elected to the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame in 2019.


Reg Jones
managing director of Open Championships
U.S. Golf Association

Jones is a veteran of the USGA and Pinehurst Championship Management, having led operations for many U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open events since the 1990s. He was promoted to his current post in 2015 and handled outside-the-ropes strategy and operations for all four USGA Opens – the U.S. Open, the U.S. Women’s Open, the U.S. Senior Open and the newly-created U.S. Senior Women’s Open. When the Henderson native worked for Pinehurst Championship Management, he was a leader in major national tournaments in the 1990s and 2000s.


Chris Knott
chief merchandising officer

A world-wide influencer in golf fashion, Knott founded Peter Millar, based in Raleigh, helping build it into one of golf’s premier sportswear brands. After leaving Peter Millar, which is now owned by Switzerland luxury goods giant Richemont SA, Knott joined Los Angeles-based johnnie-O in 2015 as chief merchandising officer, moving sales, design and marketing offices to Raleigh. The company is now a growing competitor in the golf menswear sector. 


James Ledford
Golf Pride
Southern Pines

Ledford heads the largest manufacturer of golf grips, operating in six nations. Golf Pride has been transforming from a supplier to club manufacturers into its own brand, and now ranks among the nation’s top 10 golf equipment suppliers at retail. Golf Pride’s 36,000-square-foot innovation center and headquarters debuted in 2019 near the entrance of Pinehurst Resort’s No. 8 course. Previously, Ledford was a vice president at Callaway Golf.


Bobby Long
Piedmont Triad Charitable Foundation

The former owner of a specialty-insurance brokerage, Long revitalized the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship (formerly the Greater Greensboro Open) by convincing local leaders of the tournament’s importance in economic development and charitable funding in the Triad. The tournament has helped unite the business communities in Winston-Salem, Greensboro, High Point and Burlington. He’s also a leader at Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington.


John McConnell
founder & CEO
McConnell Golf

The former medical software mogul founded McConnell Golf in 2003 and has built a portfolio of premier private clubs. Including managed and owned properties, the business oversees 13 private golf courses, two semi-private courses and one 27-hole public course in four  Southeastern states. The Korn Ferry Tour’s UNC Health Championship presented by Stitch will be played at McConnell’s first course, Raleigh Country Club, after 18 years at another McConnell venue, The Country Club at Wakefield Plantation in North Raleigh.


Kelly Miller
president & CEO
Pine Needles Lodge
Southern Pines

Last year, Miller’s resort hosted its fourth U.S. Women’s Open Championship in the past three decades, while the USGA has hosted three other championships there. Miller’s team recently oversaw the restoration of Southern Pines Golf Club, a Donald Ross design previously owned by the local Elks Club. The former University of Alabama golfer is also a noted golfer, having won many key amateur events in the Carolinas.


Ran Morrissett
architecture editor
GOLF Magazinez
Southern Pines

Morrissett manages the oldest ranking of the “Top 100 Courses in the World” and he also manages GOLF’s “Top 100 Courses in the U.S.” In 1999, Morrissett established, the game’s epicenter for the study of golf course architecture. The platform has become a virtual Library of Congress, a one-stop-shop highlighting golf course presentation, playability and design.


Jack Nance
executive director
Carolinas Golf Association
Southern Pines

Nance heads the country’s second-largest allied golf association, spanning North and South Carolina. He arrived at the group in 1984 and was promoted to his current position in 1992. An important affiliate is the Carolinas Golf Foundation, which was founded in 1977 to support a variety of golf initiatives. The Clinton native played golf for Wake Forest University, and remained there for two years following graduation as the assistant golf coach.


Tom Pashley
Pinehurst Resort

Pashley has spent nearly three decades at the Dedman family-owned “Home of American Golf,” and was named president in 2014.  During his tenure, the resort has embarked on numerous additions  to broaden its appeal, such as a redesign of Pinehurst No. 4, the Cradle short course and conversion of a steam plant into a barbecue and craft beer destination. Meanwhile, the USGA is establishing a second headquarters in Pinehurst, with offices, a new equipment-testing facility, an innovation hub and a museum/visitor center. The Augusta, Georgia native earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Georgia and has a Duke University MBA.


Harold Varner III p
rofessional golfer
LIV Golf Tour

While the fan favorite golf pro caused a stir with his move last year to the controversial LIV Golf tour, Varner is doing many positive things around his home state. The HV3 Foundation is a mentor program that grew to 42 mentors and 60 mentees in its first year, working with First Tee Greater Charlotte. The foundation partners with the Carolinas Golf Association to conduct the HV3 Invitational, which enables participants to experience a “tour quality” event at an affordable price. He grew up in Gastonia and played collegiate golf at East Carolina University.


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