Golf built this place: The future of the Wyndham Championship and the Jaycees
Down the lane from the elegant Tudor-style clubhouse at Sedgefield Country Club, Mike Barber ventured into a dimly lit storage shed whose adjacent section housed a fleet of golf carts. Golf balls in various states of cleanliness and intactness lay in plastic baskets. He grasped the handles of a ball cleaner — a heavy, long, green, rectangular metal box on a pair of wheels, both flat and one ready to slide off the axle — and lifted it so that a stream of foul-smelling bleach water splashed from a PVC pipe.
Barber has been involved with the golf tournament since 1977, the year he skipped classes at Grimsley High School to work as a gallery marshal. Fifteen years later, he joined the Greensboro Jaycees, which operated the tournament at the time. A former Guilford County commissioner, he retired from the Greensboro City Council eight months ago. As chairman for contestant services at this year’s Wyndham Championship, much of Barber’s job consists of shuttling between various stations, providing volunteers with vital necessities such as clean towels. And the ball cleaner, to name one cumbersome and unappealing item.
During the seven days the tournament is underway this week, it will be experienced hands like Barber working behind the scenes who make the event a success.
“Local government could learn a great deal from the golf tournament,” Barber said. “You’ve got the same people and the same personalities. Everybody’s working together to achieve one goal. You’ve got terrific people that make up the tournament committees that carry out the policies of the leadership. Local government can work like that too, when everybody agrees on a goal and decides to make it happen.”
While he’s participated in some heated exchanges from the dais at council chambers, Barber retains the politician’s personal touch. Maneuvering a golf cart down Forsyth Drive, he’s all smiles, hand shooting in the air to give a friendly wave and calling out “Hey!” to old friends and acquaintances. He’ll stop the golf cart suddenly and go running after another driver to bequeath a stack of folded towels, or break from a conversation and sprint after a passing SUV only to learn it’s not the person he thought it was.
This tournament is a special one for Barber. Two days after the event concludes, he’s packing up his family and moving them to Marbella, Spain. Barber’s children, ages 10 and 12, are studying Spanish, and the former councilman said he intends to take “a true sabbatical.” He’s wound down his law practice and sold his house. His golf clubs will be the last thing to go.
Once he returns to Greensboro at the end of May next year, Barber said he’ll probably “hang out my shingle and start practicing law again.”
Over the past 60 years, Jaycees membership has been practically the seal of good housekeeping for elected leaders in Greensboro, with the golf tournament as the proving ground for decision-making under fire and for organizing and directing manpower. Greensboro mayors who logged volunteer hours in the Jaycees during their young professional years include Carson Bain, Jim Melvin, John Forbis and Keith Holliday. Greensboro Jaycees who have gone on to careers in public service include Horace Kornegay, a US congressman; Jim Exum, a chief justice of the NC Supreme Court; and Edwin M. Stanley, a federal judge. NC Sen. Don Vaughan was a Jaycee from 1978 to 1986 or ’88. Robbie Perkins, Greensboro councilman at large, might be the exception among Jaycees old-timers in that the organization was not his entr’e into local politics. Perkins attended Jaycees meetings for a couple months in 1979, but was distracted by a professional running career. Instead, he helped form the governmental affairs section of the Greensboro Board of Realtors, the forerunner of today’s Triad Real Estate and Building Industries Coalition, in the mid-1980s, which led to his successful first run for council in 1993.
The Jaycees ran the tournament through the middle of the last decade before control passed to the Piedmont Triad Charitable Foundation. If the Jaycees have been the city’s elite in business and politics, the elite of the elite are the green coaters. There are three ways to obtain a green coat: getting elected Jaycees president, an appointment as tournament chairman or a stint as honorary chairman.
Jim Melvin is a triple-coater. He served as tournament chairman in 1963, Jaycees president in 1965 year and honorary chairman in 1986.
“When I was 29 years old, I was head of a $2 million corporation,” Melvin said during a recent interview. “What was that corporation? The Greater Greensboro Open. I always said, ‘If you can get something out of volunteers, then you can really motivate people who are getting paid for their efforts.’” Think you can figure out how to provide adequate bathrooms and food service for 20,000-50,000 people a day? How to operate a shuttle service to get large numbers of people to and from the site? How to monitor weather and evacuate contestants from the course before a cloudburst? How to accommodate television crews from around the world? How to cater to every possible need of high-earning players to keep the PGA Tour happy enough to continue the association year after year? If so, you could probably run a city.
The Jaycees as an active organization doesn’t operate the tournament anymore. That fact is not really the sensitive subject that it might have once been. There are a lot of reasons that have to do with changes in professional sports, corporate culture and the global economy.
“[The Jaycees] had lost a lot of members,” Tournament Director Mark Brazil said. “Really, the days of PGA tour events being owned by a volunteer group probably came to an end 15 years ago. The PGA came down on the Jaycees and said, ‘It’s time for a group of community leaders to form a new board.’ We were fortunate to have a group of community people to catch the tournament. If we hadn’t made the change, 2006 would have been our last year. We weren’t on the schedule and we didn’t have a title spot. Bobby Long is the chairman of our foundation.
Bobby and a group of folks came in and basicallysaved the tournament. The PGA is veryimpressed with the group of leaders we have inplace. We’ve turned this around to have one ofthe strongest host organizations.” The manner in which the golf tournamenthas successfully navigated the transition froman event operated by a group of youthful volunteersto one headed by a regional foundation ismore or less a microcosm of how the cities ofthe Piedmont Triad have survived the collapseof old-line industries such as textiles, tobaccoand furniture. “You need three things for a successful tournament:a date, terrific leadership, communityvolunteers and financial commitment,” saidBarber, naming four. “All of these have neverbeen better. As the world moved to a globaleconomy, this tournament has evolved to aregional marketing strategy.” In the past four years, the honorary chairmenof the Wyndham Championship — essentiallythe event’s public ambassadors — have beenbusiness leaders from outside of Greensboro.Barber spoke glowingly of BB&T Chairmanand CEO Kelly King from Winston-Salem,who returns this year for his second consecutiveturn as honorary chairman, and Glen RavenInc. President Allen Gant from Burlington,who held the title two years ago. King’s chairmanshipof the Piedmont Triad Partnershipand efforts to develop a regional strategy ofeconomic development, along with his associationwith the golf tournament, echo the moreparochial civic endeavors of the Jaycees leadersof the past. The feelings of goodwill towards volunteerswho have never been Jaycees and who builttheir careers outside of Greensboro have oftenbeen reciprocated.“I fell in love with the tournament and withthe Jaycees,” said Fred Starr, retired Presidentand CEO of Thomasville Furniture and honorarychairman in 1991. “People have been kindto me. As with everything else, I’ve watchedthis change. Certainly when things changedto the point where someone had to step into retain the tournament for the area, BobbyLong founded the Piedmont Triad CharitableFoundation. This is a wonderful group ofpeople.” Jim Melvin, Greensboro’s longest servingformer mayor, was seated in the conferenceroom at the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation,where he serves as president. An oversizedblack and white photograph of the foundation’sbenefactor — a Jaycee, of course — handingSam Snead, the golfer most associated with thetournament, a $1,200 check in 1938 for the titlepurse rests on an easel. Melvin remains closelyassociated with the tournament as a memberof its executive committee, and the BryanFoundation is a financial underwriter.Contrasting 1981, the year he retired fromelected office, with 2010, Melvin tracks thechanges undergone by the tournament withthose that have buffeted the local and regionaleconomy. “When I got out of office in ’81, we wereon top of the map,” Melvin said. “There were14 companies headquartered here with listingson the New York Stock Exchange. BurlingtonMills was hiring 200 employees a year, bringingthem to Greensboro. Cone Mills was booming.We didn’t see the demise of textiles coming.We’re still trying to recover.”Now Greensboro and the rest of the Triad’seconomy have been subsumed into a globalsystem. “The golf tournament plays a really importantfunction,” Melvin said. “It’s the only timewe can get together and work on a regionalproject. It’s a tournament with a lot of foreignplayers. It’s televised around the world. AJChoi is a world hero over in Korea. All theseplayers have television crews from their countriesfollowing them at the tournament. A lotof our industries are owned by foreign entitiesnow. HondaJet is the biggest thing that has happenedin Greensboro in the last couple years.So the tournament gives us that internationalexposure.”
Jaycees alumni (clockwise, from upper left) Mike Barber, Wade Peoples, Bob Mays and Jim Melvin: Barber, a former Greensboro councilman, is a committee chairman for contestant services; Peoples, who was tournament chairman in 1977, is responsible for checking in the pros; Mays served as Jaycees president in 1983, and on Greensboro City Council from 1985 to 1993; Melvin, a triple green coater, was Greensboro’s mayor from 1971 to 1981.
One thing hasn’t changed with the Jaycees’relinquishment of control over the tournament:The volunteers still make things happen.When Mark Brazil was hired as tournamentdirector in 2001, he created the event’s first professionalstaff and worked for the Jaycees. Nowemployed by the Piedmont Triad CharitableFoundation, he leads a staff of less than 10people. The backbone of the event is about1,400 volunteers who are led by a 17-membertournament committee.Brazil estimated that only 20 to 30 volunteersare active Jaycees. Many others such asBarber, paper sales agent Wade Peoples andYost & Little realtor Gil Vaughan are formerJaycees, known as “old-timers,” or more colorfully,“exhausted roosters.” Green coater andCarolina Theatre President Keith Holliday willbe marshaling the 18th Hole on Saturday andSunday, according to Peoples. Green coatersKen Conrad and Justin Conrad, father andson with Libby Hill Seafood and respectivelyhonorary and general chairmen in 2005, will becooking chicken tenders and fish onsite for thevolunteers, Peoples said. The volunteer corps functions through anelaborate network of relationships comprisedof people who know their roles through customand practice, with a hierarchy that places triplegreen coaters on top, regular green coatersjust below and ordinary old-timers scatteredthroughout the ranks. The fact that honorarychairman are often drawn from outside theranks of the Jaycees keeps the status ladderfrom being exclusive.“The green coaters are a huge help to us,”Brazil said. “They do a lot of the player involvedactivities. They’re kind of the faceof the tournament and the ones who interactwith the players. They know they can’t beawestruck, they can’t be asking for autographs.I rely on green coaters like Tony Collins, JustinConrad, Judy Revels — they are the ones I feel100 percent comfortable with the players.”Peoples, who is responsible for registrationand for the players’ family lounge, was giving atour of the grounds two days before the tournament’sstart when this year’s general chairman,Lindley Ivey of Creative Communications,flagged him down in his golf cart. Peoples worea green golf shirt with a brass nametag. “I would like, because the green coats stillmean something,” Ivey said, “to have a greencoater greeting all the volunteers when they come in on Monday.”
Peoples nodded. “We’re going to have a newsletter every day,” Ivey continued. “That’s something new.”
“That is new,” Peoples agreed. Running a golf tournament is a bit like putting on a multi-day outdoor music festival. Both are massive feats of logistics and interpersonal organization. Just as the guy manning the clogging stage at the outdoor festival in Chatham County might be stranded and waiting for some kindly gopher to deliver a power cord splitter, so too might the volunteer assigned to the practice range at the Wyndham Championship.
A four-wheeler might be more ideal for the rugged terrain of the outdoor music festival than a golf cart, but in either scenario the fewer full-sized vehicles crowding an area full of gawkers and revelers the better. The people behind the outdoor music festival might have longer hair than the corporate executives at the golf tournament, but Mike Barber’s new saltand-pepper beard proves that facial hair is not entirely out of place at the Wyndham.
In either case, utmost care is taken to ensure that the stars are happy and comfortable. The only difference is that instead of Doc Watson, Jim Lauderdale or Warren Haynes, at Sedgefield Country Club the names are Fred Couples, John Daley, David Duvall, Anthony
Kim and Lucas Glover. Another difference: Golfers and their caddies often get started at 5 a.m.; a lot of musicians are just waking up around noon.
Status in the volunteer hierarchy is also defined by proximity to the action.
“Looking good,” Peoples commented as he pulled up at an encampment described as the “old-timers area” near the intersection of Gaston Road and Currituck Place where the volunteers will be coming to get fed.
One of the old-timers wandered up to the golf cart and complimented People’s green shirt before asking where he might score some tickets. Another of the old-timers hopped on the back of the cart to catch a ride to the clubhouse, quipping upon arrival, “Boy, this place looks nice.”
The dynamic worked in reverse when Gil Vaughan greeted a visitor at the practice range.
“Hey, did you come down here to slum with us?” he asked. “That’s a mighty white shirt. Oh, I’ve got a white shirt on too.”
Not all former Jaycees find that volunteering with the golf tournament continues to lend significance to their lives. One is Bob Mays, who served as president in 1983, at a time when the organization boasted about 1,200 members.
Then, young executives employed by Greensboro’s major corporations typically received encouragement from their bosses to join. The Jaycees president took the year off to run the organization with his salary paid by his employer, and his time was the company’s contribution. That doesn’t happen anymore.
“One of my jobs as president was to select the general chairman of the tournament,” Mays said. “Your general chairman usually comes from the other chairmanships for the tournament. You’ll have somebody for security, somebody for procurement, ways and means, entertainment. It’s the equivalent to a vice president position. The president is watching to see who emerges the clear leader. That’s who you want as your general chairman. And that’s where your politics comes in…. What better way to learn the art of persuasion in leadership?” To sustain as many as 200 service projects, Mays said, the Jaycees of his time would “beg, borrow and steal. That’s how you got to know people in the community.”
The power of the position was such that “if you were the Jaycees president, you could pick up the phone and talk to any CEO in Greensboro. You could talk to the mayor or any member of city council. You related to these people on a first-name basis.”
It was a natural transition for Mays, like Melvin before him and Holliday after him, to parlay a leadership position in the Jaycees into a seat on city council.
Two years after serving as president of the Jaycees, Mays successfully ran for the District 3 seat on city council. The sitting councilman, Cameron Cooke, announced he would not seek reelection, and Mays sought and obtained his endorsement. Not only did he win, but he scared off other contenders and ran unopposed. During the next election, he fended off a tough challenge from Tom Phillips. Mays ended up serving two terms as a district representative, and two terms at large. In 1993, he ran for mayor against Carolyn Allen and lost. Since then, Mays has dialed back his civic activity to focus more on career and family.
There is no question that Mays’ experience as a Jaycee gave him an advantage in politics.
“I had four- or five-hundred very active citizens that could network and help when I was doing my politics,” Mays said. “You had tremendous amounts of manpower, networking and financing. Every element of a campaign was at your fingertips.”
Today, with the decline of the Jaycees, Greensboro politics is less clubby, but probably also more chaotic.
Meanwhile, the organization is trying to redefine its mission and rebuild its base. From roughly 1950 to 1990, the Jaycees was the only organization for young professionals who wanted to learn the ropes of civic leadership. Today, the playing field is more level for young people interested in civic involvement with the decline of major corporations with headquarters in Greensboro and employers’ increasing reluctance to support volunteerism. And the Jaycees have more competition in the field of leadership development from groups such as SynerG, the Center for Creative Leadership, Leadership Greensboro and Leadership North Carolina.
President-elect Kyle Suggs said the Greensboro Jaycees’ membership currently stands at about 100, and the organization has won a national award for growth in recent years. One of the Jaycees’ major projects currently is the holiday parade, which is underwritten by the Bryan Foundation.
The Jaycees are also a different organization: more racially diverse and more likely to have women in leadership roles.
Chaya Michel, who moved to Greensboro from Los Angeles in 2007 to join her boyfriend, is perhaps the new face of the Jaycees. A UNCG student, the 28-year-old Michel seeks to find an active place for herself in the city’s civic fabric and wants to counteract the passive attitude she sees in many of her peers who live in the city but don’t claim it. She is running for vice president of communications, and wants to help restore the Jaycees’ renown.
Michel has volunteered at the golf tournament, but she’s also interested in other projects such as helping students at a Title I elementary school in Greensboro to grow a garden for the purpose of teaching them about local sustainability and healthy diet.
“The more youth we can mentor, the better we’ll be as a city,” she said. “They’ll either be trouble for us or they’ll help us develop as a community.”
While the Jaycees look ahead to a brave new future that is less tied to the golf tournament as its old-timers age out, the Wyndham Championship enjoys a strengthened position that is no less oriented towards civic engagement than before.
“You’ve got more golf knowledge in this community than anywhere else in the country,” Barber said. “You’ve got volunteers that take a week of vacation to do this.”
Tournament Director Mark Brazil maintains a focus on a couple, relatively simple precepts.
“There’s two number-one goals,” he said.
“Keeping, our sponsor, the Wyndham, happy — keeping them so happy they can’t believe it. The other number one, if I can have two, is regionalism and promoting the Triad in an effort to create jobs.”
Donald Ross, in bust form, designed the course at Sedgefield Country Club
An enlarged photo of benefactor Joseph M. Bryan handing 1938 tournament winner Sam Snead the purse check is on display in the conference room at the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation.