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January 2019

Remember, It’s Just A Game


David Feherty’s Wry Perspective Earns Him NGCOA Award of Merit

By David Gould

You were a kid and golf was a game. Now you’re an adult and golf is your livelihood. Along the way, something very simple inevitably got complicated.

David Feherty, for one, has tried to fight this tide, using irony and self-deprecation as his principle weapons.

Asked recently about his 2019 NGCOA Award of Merit, the broadcaster and former tour standout admitted he “never would have expected such a thing.” Told his selection was driven in part by his verbal gift for connecting with average players and fans, Feherty was gratified.

“I’m glad I’m perceived that way,” he says. “My demographic is the ordinary golfer — that being myself. Starting out at a small-town club, I never thought about the high-end places. All I knew was they wouldn’t have me.”

Society’s march of progress adds complexity to just about everything, Feherty acknowledges, compelling a cry of protest now and again. In that vein, he briefly lamented the Rules of Golf and its 700-page book of related Decisions. He did uncover a bright spot — the 2017 revision making it harder for rules infractions to be called in by television viewers.

“Did you ever wonder,” he asks, “where the heck these people got the phone number? There were times I legitimately needed that number, but no one would give it to me!”

All the analytics flowing into sports is a recipe for pseudo-sophisticated commentary — something broadcasters should be wary of, according to Feherty. “They toss around phrases like ‘three-putt avoidance’ and I’m thinking, what the hell is that?” he moans. “If we talk about three-putt avoidance on the air, will people find it exciting?”

Given that his award came from an organization of course owners, it was natural to ask whether he knew any such people. None came to mind, but apparently if you’re friends with David Feherty you’re simply his friend, and he’s not focused on your status in the world. Thus it was some time along in the conversation that he remembered longtime pal Herb Kohler owns Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The two men became friendly when they were paired together in a golf outing.

“We were a few holes along and I noticed the sorry state of his golf clubs,” recalls Feherty. “I said to him, ‘Herb, those are some real rat-bashers. Can I make a call to my tour rep and see about getting you some real clubs?” A bit later, Feherty realized yet another friend owns golf facilities — lots of them. This time it was Tom Walsh, famed Burger King franchisee who left the fast-food business with an immense fortune to pursue a golf-fitness hybrid branded as GreatLIFE. Walsh now owns a growing cluster of courses from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Topeka, Kansas.

“Tom is tops when it comes to golf that serves the average family,” says Feherty with admiration. “He figured out that people want the game to be something you can afford, that improves your life and that you can do with your kids.”

A minute or two later it came to mind that his pal Gregg Tryhus also owns some courses. Tryhus is the renowned founder-owner of Grayhawk Development, with its cluster of hugely successful golf projects in Arizona and Utah. 

Like many of us in golf media, Feherty was no threat to become a botany major, yet over time he learned enough about grass growing to deeply appreciate the modern course superintendent.

“I’m from the era when greenskeepers were crusty old guys in stained overalls,” Feherty muses. “Now it’s a science, and you realize all the skill and knowledge it takes to do that job properly. I try to mention their names on the broadcast so they get their due credit.”

The future of the game and the industry will be enhanced, he expects, by focusing on fun and family participation as much as possible. Feherty happens to reside near the Dallas outpost of Topgolf and marvels at how the entire focus there is on enjoyment.

Meanwhile, it’s a chance for more people to experience the thrill of a pure strike.

“Someone who’s out with the office gang will be thinking golf on a real course takes too long and it’s too difficult, then along comes that first magical moment and they start thinking maybe they’ll try it,” he says. “The game evolves and changes, but the feeling of a square hit and the sight of your shot flying down a fairway, well, that’s eternal.”  


David Feherty
Age:  60
Hometown:  Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland
Current Residence:  Dallas, Texas
Turned pro:  1976
European Tour victories:  5
Began TV career as CBS reporter: 1997
Seasons hosting “Feherty” on Golf Channel: 8

David Gould is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to Golf Business.


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June 2020 Issue

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