On The Road with Bill Grove

By Bill Huffman

As the general manager of the TPC Scottsdale, Bill Grove is responsible for Arizona’s most well-known golf venue—the Stadium Course, “home of the FBR Open.’’ Grove, who works for the PGA Tour, also oversees one of the state’s most popular public tracts in the Champions Course, as well as serving as regional director for the TPC golf network in Louisiana, Nevada and Texas.
Known as one of the hardest working guys in golf, Grove was born in Virginia and grew up in North Carolina, where he graduated with a degree in industrial management from East Carolina University in Greenville. But somewhere along the line, the golf bug got in his blood, first as a player, and then as
a pro.
After a brief stint selling computer systems, Grove jumped into his passion full-time, serving in various capacities at North/South Carolina clubs like Beachwood, Greenville, Willow Creek and the Country Club of North Carolina. In 1986, Grove founded his own management company—GroMark—and built his company’s portfolio to 13 courses throughout the Southeast before closing it.
Since 1992, Grove has worked for the PGA Tour, spending a little over a year at both the TPC Starr Pass in Tucson and the TPC at Eagle Trace in Florida. But the majority of his efforts—14 years’ worth—have been focused on the TPC Scottsdale, where he has polished the image of the Stadium Course while simultaneously spearheading a $10 million renovation of the Champions Course.
In the past year Grove also has found time to develop a partnership with the Arizona Golf Association. Along those lines, he has donated the Champions Course as the annual site of the AGA Champions Stroke Play.
Recently the 61-year-old “youngster’’ sat down with Arizona, The State of Golf for an in-depth question-and-answer session on what drives Bill Grove—besides his beloved Harley-Davidson motorcycle that he rides to work each day.
Q: Did you find golf or did golf find you?
A: I found golf. It was 1966, and I had just watched Arnold Palmer collapse on the last nine holes of the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club. Obviously, it left an impression. So I started playing golf. I believe it was my junior year in college, and one of my college roommates, Chuck Lemmons, got me going at a place called Ayden Country Club.
Q: What was it that got you hooked on the game?
A:The fact I couldn’t do it very well. I had been pretty good at other sports, but golf was really frustrating for me in the beginning. It just appealed to my competitive nature, which is still there. . . . Eventually, I tried to play [for a living], but I quickly found out I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. But that’s what got me into the golf business.
Q: Looking back, at the height of your game—competitively—what were you known for, and what kind of scores did you shoot?
A: The harder the course the better chance I had because my game was more about hitting fairways and greens. I actually won some section events in the Carolinas when I was younger, and I played a couple of times in the National Club Pro Championship. My best score, competitively, was a 68 at PGA National.
Q: Shifting gears here, what’s it like being in charge of Arizona’s most high-profile golf course?
A: Scary. It’s the PGA Tour’s second-most high profile course outside of the TPC Sawgrass. Sometimes it’s just mind-boggling what can go on, so you have to pay attention.
Q: The pressure must be enormous to pull off the FBR Open. Who is more under the gun—you guys or the Thunderbirds, the civic organization that sponsors the event?
A: I don’t think of it as pressure, probably because we’ve done it so many times. I look at it more like a partnership [with the Thunderbirds], and I’mvery proud of that. The Thunderbirds do such a great job; we’re all in it together.
Q: You’re a pro, and the TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course is known as a pro’s course, but here you are helping out the Arizona Golf Association by donating your Champions Course for the Champions Stroke Play. Why?
A: When we came up with the name Champions, a concept was born where we wanted to reach out to the golf community, which ismostly amateurs rather than professionals. The idea was to draw the best amateurs here, develop amateur champions and build a model just like we did on the other side of the street at the Stadium Course for the FBR Open.
Q: What’s the feedback on the Champions Course?
A: Very, very positive, from both a local and nonresident standpoint. The aesthetics, the shot differences, the elevations, the fact that no two holes look alike. It’s just a really good blend of high-desert golf, and people love it.
Q: Could you see the Champions hosting other events in the future?
A: Oh, sure. Right now the AGA Champions Stroke Play is a perfect fit for this facility. But we always have interest in other events. When Ty Votaw worked for the LPGA we even talked about bringing that event [Safeway International] out here. The way we look at it, anything is possible.
Q: What are your thoughts on the AGA’s planned renovation of Papago Golf Course?
A: I think it’s awesome. Papago is such a great golf course, and it’s like adding another gem to this community. Being that it’s a public facility, that’s even a better reason [to renovate it]. It’s money well-spent.
Q: Do you ever see the day they’ll make more changes to the Stadium Course?
A: Actually, there’s a lot on the table right now. [Architect] Tom Weiskopf continues to offer his time and ideas. Whether they get developed or not depends on a lot of variables. The Stadium Course is really good right now, but we’re always trying to improve things and make it better
Q: You’re considered a very hard worker, a six-days-aweek grinder. Do you expect that from everybody that works for you?
A: I realized years ago that you can’t expect people to live up to your work standards, and that just happens to be mine. So you show themhow it’s done, and you find out that some just want it more than others. I guess that makes me “old school,” but it is my 39th season in the golf industry, and I do what makes me comfortable.
Q: If you hadn’t ended up in the golf industry, what would you be doing now?
A: Flying jets. To be able to control a jet, that’s powerful and liberating. It’s why I ride a motorcycle. Flying a jet would be like trying to control a golf ball. It’s hard to do . . . but I keep trying to figure it out.
Q: What kinds of bikes do you own?
A: I drive a ’97 Heritage Softail with 50,000 miles on it, and I used to drive a Sportster. I’ve been driving a Harley on and off since college.
Q: Do you think riding is a little dangerous?
A: Sure, but I’ve only had to lay it down once. It happened during last year’s FBR Open. Guy was speeding up an offramp, I saw him out of the corner of my eye, the SUV in front of me hit its breaks, and I let the motorcycle slide out from under me. I had my leathers on and scraped ’em up pretty good. Then I got up to see if everything was still there. I made a golf swing, and since I could still swing, I knew I was OK. . . . Riding a motorcycle has made me 10 times a better driver of an automobile. You learn to look out!
Q: Is this your last job, or do you still have other mountains to climb?
A: Personally, I think this is the last one, and I’m thankful for it because, from my view, I’ve never had to work a day in my life. To get up and drive my motorcycle to work every day, and then spend my day having fun with the people I work with, and we’re right here at these great golf courses on top of it, I can’t think of anything better than that. At the same time, there are a lot of things I still want to do outside of my job. I’d like to spend more time with my wife [Debria] and kids [sons Ian and Kyle, and daughter Kacey]. And I’d like to play more golf, and work out, and just “live right.”
Q: What other activities are you interested in?
A: Anything involving my family, my church and building my faith.
Q: What’s it like working for the PGA Tour? What’s your quick opinion of Commissioner Tim Finchem?
A: (The PGA Tour) always wants to do things at the very highest level, and I think you’re always inspired by the best to be the best. . . . Tim Finchem is underappreciated. But he is politically savvy and a great guy to work for.
Q: How could we make the game of golf better or more popular?
A: How are you measuring that? If it’s from TV ratings, I don’t think you can measure it. And sheer numbers (who play the game), I’m not sure about that, either. But if you’re measuring it by how many kids are coming to the game, and how much fun they’re having, I’ll buy that. The PGA of America is doing a good, consistent job with their programs, and we need to keep paying attention to the kids, because kids are the answer to your question.
Q: What is the future of golf?
A: I think the future of everything is a little clouded right now because of the economic situation we’re in, so it’s hard to predict. I don’t think golf is recession-proof, but it’s got an intangible you can’t beat. The great advantage golf has over other sports is that, for the average guy, he can’t go and put on Matt Leinhart’s jersey and go to Phoenix Stadium and throw a TD pass, or put on Steve Nash’s jersey and go make a basket at AmericaWest Arena. But he can come out to the TPC Scottsdale and wear the same clothes, play with the same equipment, and use the same locker rooms as the PGA Tour players who compete in the FBR Open. Golf is a lifetime sport, and as long as you’ve got guys like (Champions of Golf award winner) Tom Cunningham teaching kids to play golf, the game’s going to be okay.