Interview with Stewart Moore, COO of the eGolf Professional Tour

January 11, 2010

Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, the eGolf Professional Tour is beginning its ninth year of competition in 2010. During the 2009 PGA Tour Q-School, seven eGolf Professional Tour players earned their 2010 PGA TOUR cards and 35 earned either full or conditional status on the 2010 Nationwide Tour. A total of 17 eGolf Tour players earned full status on the 2010 Nationwide Tour, with three players missing out on their PGA TOUR cards by a single stroke. The Tour has come a long way since its inception in 2002 and Chief Operating Officer Stewart Moore was very gracious in giving us his time and insights. We hope his credible knowledge in tournament operations on the mini and major tour levels will give you a fresh perspective into his career path.

Describe your career path and how you got to where you are now?

I began playing golf at the age of 11 and began playing competitive tournament golf at age 13 - I was quickly hooked. I wound up playing college golf at UNC Charlotte and turned professional immediately after graduation. I spent six years on mini tours before deciding to hang the clubs up to get into the business side of golf. I took a position as Director of Public Relations for what was then called the Tarheel Tour (now the eGolf Tour). In December of 2006, I was offered the position of Tournament Director and immediately jumped at the opportunity, as years working in the private club industry between events allowed me to gain an appreciation for conducting golf tournaments. As fate would have it, roughly two months into my new position, the PGA TOUR called and asked if I would be interested in a Media Official position they had available. My wife and I decided to give it a go and wound up moving to Jacksonville, FL, where I would spend a year and a half with the TOUR. In August of 2008, eGolf bought what was the Tarheel Tour, and I was offered a position as Chief Operating Officer with the new eGolf Professional Tour. I have been here ever since.

Can you describe the birth of the eGolf Tour and what you had to do from a logistical standpoint to get it on its feet?

The tour was founded by (current president) David Siegel in 2002. He was a seasoned mini tour player and was never thrilled with what he found at most mini tour events. Either the golf course was terrible or the tournament director barely knew anything about golf, and in some cases, both applied. At that point, he founded the Tarheel Tour and based the headquarters and all events out of Charlotte, NC. Logistically, this helped to ease the foundation of a new business as he was able to be on hand at all times, since all events were in the same city. As with most developmental tours in that time, purses were funded by the players, and he made sure they had the highest percentage payback early on. The idea of playing great golf courses and having events run by veteran mini tour players resonated with hundreds of players in the early years. That was key. Building players trust in the beginning was the only way to build a foundation from which to grow the tour. It is tournament golf, but it's still a business, and any small business owner will tell you that you're doomed the second your customer doesn't trust you. The final key to the tour's initial success was Charlotte. One of the fastest growing cities in the United States, Charlotte was an attractive base for countless mini tour players and the city's past success with professional golf (PGA, Champions and LPGA Tour events) made it a logical starting point from which to construct a successful tour. If you look at our demographic of mostly males under the age of 35, the city caters to their needs with numerous social, sporting, art and spiritual options from which to choose. It was the definition of a perfect fit.

What is the best thing that has happened in the tours eight years so far? What is the worst?

By far the best thing that has happened was eGolf purchasing the Tarheel Tour and changing it to the eGolf Professional Tour. Their commitment to excellence and proper funding have allowed a small business to turn into the de facto No. 3 tour in North America. They also kept the core staff intact, and so the practices and procedures that made the Tarheel Tour such a success endured with the eGolf Tour, only on a grander scale. The worst part is not a single moment, but the effect that the economy has on our players. The majority of these guys rely on sponsors to help them cover expenses, and when the economy turns south, angel funds from friends and family members dry up quickly. We were fortunate to have over 270 members last year in this economy, and we are projecting for the same this year. Regardless of our tour's quality, the economy still looms over each and every one of our players. Their economic issues can affect us, after all, they are at the core of our success.

If problems arise, when and where are they likely to happen? Why might they occur?

We are fortunate to have a core staff of three former touring professionals and one "Class A" PGA Professional; therefore, we are able to better anticipate problems as they arise. Our biggest problems usually have to do with those elements you cannot control, such as the weather. There is a lot of coordination that goes into running golf tournaments with 200+ players, and our tournament directors Ben Case and John Richardson make sure every possible mishap is covered, including inclement conditions. Ben and John will work with our rules officials and the host professional in advance of every tournament round to cover all bases regarding evacuations and player safety and figure out the most efficient method to handle both. Honestly, the majority of our work comes in advance of tournament week. Once that first ball is in the air, it's simply time to play golf.

What are some aspects of your job that if you didn't do them well, it would be detrimental to your operations?

For me personally, and I think I speak for all of us when I say this, if I wasn't able to accurately view every tournament situation from the eyes of the player, it would affect our business. Many tours claim to do this, but we are the only one that is run by former players. At the end of the day, if our players are unhappy, they have other avenues to go down to find developmental tour golf. In turn, we have to make sure that our events are up to our standards, and more importantly, their standards. We scout every host course well in advance and begin working on hole locations and shot visualizations up to six months in advance. If we were just four guys who had never been there before, we would have no idea how a proper golf tournament should be structured. For everyone else, it's a guessing game. For us, it's how we got here.

What are the overarching principles that you stand by as a tournament operator and you want your fellow staff members to buy into?

Professionalism. What are you doing and how are you conducting yourself around the players? In my time at the PGA TOUR, I held VP of Rules, Competition and Administration Mark Russell in the highest regard for his ability to relate to the players, but at the same time let them know that he was in charge once tournament week began. He was able to balance the two perfectly, and trust me, that is a lot easier said than done. I always want our staff to have that balance and to make sure we are running the most professional, and enjoyable, tournaments on this level.

From an operations standpoint, can you describe the ebbs and flows that unfold through the course of a season on the eGolf Tour?

At it's core, a golf tournament changes very little throughout the year. The cities and venues change, but the low score always wins and the game conducts itself to an extent. Our biggest ebbs and flows come with the additions of new members and non-members alike. It's not as if we have the same 200 players each week, every week. So we must remember that each tournament is unique and therefore we have to start from scratch to make sure the experience is memorable for new players and longtime players alike. At times, that requires mid-season adaptations to the way we run our events. We constantly hear that we are running the best tour, so I guess we're doing something right!

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in following a career path such as yours?

I would advise jumping in the deep end and learning everything possible. Countless golf associations and PGA sections offer internships, and that is a great way to get started and absorb all that goes on in conducting golf tournaments. In addition, I would try to partake in golf tournaments - amateur or professional. There are a plethora of amateur tours that are flighted and allow for players of all handicaps to compete. It's hard to determine what makes a great tournament if you've never played in one.

Are your relationships with players strictly business or do they ever get friendly or personal? Is this an issue of importance to you?

As I mentioned above, modeling that balance after some of my role models on the PGA TOUR is of the utmost importance to me. As a former player, many of my relationships with the players began as friendships and still exist that way. There is just a level of checks and balances where you cannot become too chummy, as it brings your role into question when rules and/or operations decisions come into play. You must remain impartial at all times, and that becomes more difficult when you become too close to the players.

Can you describe what your off-season is like? What do you do and how do you prepare for the coming season?

The majority of our off-season is spent working on the upcoming schedule. The vast majority of our tournaments are conducted on two courses, therefore making scheduling twice as difficult since you have to appease two separate schedules. We also work constantly on changes to our policies and formatting. Tournament golf changes every year, and if you don't adapt, you will get left behind. In the off-season, we are constantly perfecting our structure so that we provide the best tour possible.

There are upstart tours that don't quite make it. What did you guys do and what are you still doing that separates your tour from the others?

When we began in 2002, we knew we couldn't offer the most money, but we could offer the best courses. To this day, that is our goal. All too often, mini tours set up shop at the cheapest course they can find and call it a tournament. Like I said before, we scout courses months (and sometimes years) in advance to make sure we are providing a PGA TOUR-like venue for the players. We now have the purses to match
the golf courses, and the combination of the two clearly separates us from the other tours.

The eGolf Tours ability to form an advisory board is certainly a good thing for the tours future. What was the thinking behind forming the advisory board?

Our advisory board is something we take great pride in. We feel that we have assembled the most impressive board of advisors of any developmental tour in the world. Every person serves a purpose, from a college coach to aid in attracting up-and-coming players, to countless business leaders who help guide the business aspect of our tour, to a PR expert who helps to open our horizons to new exposures - we have all of our bases covered. The genesis for forming the board was the realization that we had some of the most successful men in the world of business and golf within shouting distance, all we had to do was ask.

In my eyes, the eGolf Tour has such a positive reputation among local business, players, and golf courses. Can you describe your PR and marketing strategies?

Regarding PR and marketing strategies, we try to put ourselves in the shoes of the people we are working with. In PR, the tournament itself may be of interest, but the real interest could lie in a player's story and how he got there. If that is the case, you have to pitch it and sell it to local print, TV and radio outlets. There are times when you have to put your own agenda down and chase the one that will allow for the most air time. For instance, former child prodigy Tadd Fujikawa is a member of our tour this year. There is a good chance that he will be of the greatest interest to local media at each of our stops; therefore, we will do whatever we can to get his story out there. In marketing, you take the same approach. Before beginning any discussion, you have to ask yourself, "Why would they be interested in associating with our tour?" Chances are, that answer is different for every company. Once you find the answer, you use that as your cornerstone for sales pitches. You simply cater the tour to the company's needs, not the other way around.

As former competitive golfers yourselves, in your opinion and observations, what do you think players could do (or not do) to be more successful on the eGolf Tour?

It seems to me that the best players, the ones who don't spend countless years on developmental tours, are the ones who commit to making their short games better. Every player strives to do so, but few put in the necessary hours that it requires to literally be the guy who can "get up and down from anywhere." While the driving ranges at PGA TOUR events are crowded areas, the real mass of practice time is spent on the putting green. Players can be found doing drills on short putts for hours, and then we wonder while they're so good inside 5 feet on Sunday - the answer is found on Monday through Wednesday, when a flat stick and a sleeve of balls is all they need to get better.

I have heard that one of the things you guys pride yourselves on is providing events as close to a PGA Tour event as possible? Is this true? If so, how do you go about doing this?

Most of our PGA TOUR-like comparisons stem from our course selection and set up, and a lot of that credit goes to tournament director Ben Case. Unlike some other tours, we do our best to minimize scoring at our events. If we conduct a 72-hole tournament and 22-under wins, we feel like we've failed our players. Via arduous hole locations and varying shot values, we are able to give players a unique look each and every day. The vast majority of our hole locations are no further than 5 feet from the edge of the putting surface; therefore putting an emphasis on iron play each and every week. The player who routinely short sides himself on our tour does not last very long. Throughout our season, our goal is to prepare each and every player for PGA TOUR Q-School, and by setting up our courses in a similar fashion to the TOUR, we feel we are doing just that. As I mentioned earlier, we are extremely picky with
our course selections. Many of our competitors find the best deal. We find the best course. That is why we routinely play heralded venues like Pine Needles Resort and Forest Oaks CC, while adding newer, award-winning courses like Spring Creek GC (VA), The Club at St. James Plantation (NC) and The Manor Resort (VA) each year. By utilizing tournament-tested venues and PGA TOUR-like course set ups, we are better able to prepare our players for their next step.

As complex as the tour is, do you have a system in place for training new staff members and getting their feet wet with all of the different components of the tour, If so, can you describe it?

We really don't. As I mentioned before, the best thing to do in this business is to jump in the deep end. Obviously, the sport of golf plays by it's own rules and has a unique jargon, so most employees and interns that come in are already comfortable with tournament golf and the sport itself. We are such a small company, that we don't ideally hire people to work in tournament operations that don't already have that experience. For instance, our last hire was assistant tournament director John Richardson. He was in the PGM program at N.C. State and interned with us while in school. By the time he got out, he was a "Class A" PGA Member and already had the experience of his internship. It was a layup to bring him on board because we could therefore forgo the hours of training and throw him right in. He has been a huge asset ever since.

For someone that might be interested in getting into your line of work, can you describe what life is like as staff members while on the road?

People always ask about the travel in professional sports and I think I have a unique opinion based on my experience on the PGA TOUR and with the eGolf Professional Tour. Regardless of the level of tour, it is tough. I am married and now have my first child, and it can be tough to be away for a week at a time. You're in and out of hotel rooms and the hours at the golf course are long and tiring - most days we're there for about 13 hours. That being said, I feel like most of us wouldn't trade it for a 9-5 desk job in a million years. New cities, new places, new traditions, unique local dives and seeing Americana while you're still young enough to appreciate it? Count me in. It beats the heck out of a desk, a lunch break and rush hour traffic!