It would be inspiring stuff if Phil Mickelson can complete his career grand slam by capturing the most elusive leg on the eve of his 44th birthday in the place where his frustrating U.S. Open saga first began.
But Tom Pashley has already crafted his own inspirational Pinehurst story. The 45-year-old Augustan will take over this fall as president and COO of Pinehurst Resort and Country Club.
“I feel privileged to assume this role at such an exciting time,” Pashley said when his pending promotion was announced last fall with the resort preparing to play host to both the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens in 2014.
It’s the culmination of a remarkable career journey that began at age 17 immediately after he graduated from A.R. Johnson in 1987.
That’s when Pashley and his older brother, Steve, took their first trip to play all seven courses at a resort they’d only seen on the cover of Southern Links magazine. A Pinehurst trip was a graduation gift from their parents, David and Edna.
“That’s when I fell in love with Pinehurst,” Pashley said. “I think it just planted that seed that Pinehurst is a special place. I didn’t understand or know the history of Pinehurst prior to coming.”
It was eye-opening in so many ways for a couple of teenagers who grew up playing the Patch and Forest Hills making their first solo road trip and staying three nights in the luxurious Carolina Hotel.
“I was just amazed at how grand it was,” Pashley said. “The package included breakfast and dinner each day and we were shocked to find out that you had to wear a sport coat for dinner. They had a closet full of sport coats in the lobby men’s room so we picked out two that seemed to fit and weren’t too loud and kept them with us the whole trip.”
Naturally, Pashley’s Pinehurst story doesn’t move in a straight line from there. He earned a business degree from Georgia in 1991 and then spent three years as an accountant in Atlanta. But he decided a CPA life wasn’t for him and wanted to make a career shift into the marketing side of business by getting his MBA at Duke.
“One of the small reasons I chose there was because the golf course was right next to the business school,” he said. “It was so convenient. I remember showing up a week early before classes started. I went into the pro shop and wanted the student fee and showed them my acceptance letter.”
At the time, Pashley thought his dream job might be working as a brand manager at Coca-Cola, but his summer internship application was rejected. “They weren’t interested in former CPAs with one year of business school under their belt,” he said.
He spent a summer instead at Glaxo-Wellcome pharmaceutical in market research.
“I still felt this isn’t what I wanted to do, so I thought what are my passions?” he said. “After some soul-searching I thought that golf inspires me. Is there a way to combine my passion for golf with a career? What resources did I have available?”
Pashley sent a letter to Duke golf coach Rod Myers, who took him in as a graduate assistant.
“I said I was willing to do anything to try to break into the golf world and get some exposure to golf,” Pashley said.
In between writing letters to recruits, Pashley got credentials to the PGA Merchandise Show in 1996 and started passing out résumés. Then Myers introduced him to new Pinehurst president Pat Corso. In a meeting, Pashley made a big enough impression that Corso made him the resort’s first “manager in development.”
“I spent a year going through every department of the resort – front desk, golf maintenance, night audit, food and beverage,” he said. “I was seeing how all the pieces of a resort operation fit together.”
One of those departments in the rotation was Pinehurst Championship Management, which was gearing up to present its first U.S. Open in 1999. The duties resonated with him immediately. Once his year of development was over, he became the director of business development for the 1999 U.S. Open.
“I thought I would leave after ’99 Open and go do sports marketing for some other company,” Pashley said. “But then we got the 2005 Open, which was unexpected.”
Pashley was responsible for the record-setting corporate sales achieved at the 2005 U.S. Open. So when Don Padgett became Pinehurst’s president in 2004, he pulled Pashley out of the championship management team to take over marketing for the resort in 2005. When Padgett officially retires in October, Pashley will replace him.
“It feels like I’m already in charge but I’m just not getting paid for it,” Pashley said.
Over the next two weeks, Pashley will quietly help preside over Pinehurst’s most ambitious major undertaking yet – playing host to back-to-back men’s and women’s U.S. Opens on the historically renovated No. 2 course.
“It’s a unique platform,” he said. “Our challenge has been to get the most exposure and benefit for our resort. It’s been a lot of fun – a once in a lifetime opportunity to tell the story of not only Pinehurst but back-to-back Opens. The spotlight on the women’s game and letting people know that Pinehurst has been involved in women’s golf at a very high level since 1903.”
When he first visited the resort 27 years ago, Pashley couldn’t have imagined being such a big part of the ongoing rebirth of Pinehurst as America’s “home of golf.”
“It’s been very rewarding,” he said. “We were at a pinnacle through those two U.S. Open and then went through some difficult economic times. The restoration of No. 2 was the second renaissance within a couple of decades.”
Pashley’s challenge once he takes over will be to maintain Pinehurst’s relevance. The resort acquired the Jack Nicklaus-designed National Golf Club last week to become Pinehurst’s No. 9 course. The heralded success of the No. 2 restoration might create possibilities to do similar work on Donald Ross’ No. 1 and 3 courses.
“That’s the great challenge – now what?” Pashley said. “I always want to keep Pinehurst on the forefront of golf travel. We need to continue to lead and innovate ... just continue to improve and offer better experiences to our members and guests.
Of course, Pashley will continue to focus on bringing future championships to the famous No. 2 course.
It’s a critical part of expanding the history that already covers the walls in the halls of the resort clubhouse. Pashley doesn’t want Pinehurst’s legacy to permanently be painted in sepia tones.
“We need to stay relevant with each generation of golfers,” he said. “When the people who knew Hogan and Nelson and Snead are no longer with us, we need to be relevant to the folks who knew Nicklaus and Palmer and then to the people who know Payne Stewart and Michael Campbell and Danny Lee and Morgan Pressel and Yani Tseng. These Opens give us a unique opportunity to add color photos to the great black-and-white ones we already have.”
It’s a big job for a kid who grew up on Scott’s Way in Augusta. But an even greater lesson about the payoff of perseverance. Pashley followed the seeds he sowed all the way to a place he only dreamed of on the cover of magazines.