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Tee Times Magazine | Minneapolis/St. Paul

Breezy Point

Local Golf
September 24, 2017

The Corner Office With Jim Leary of the Royal Golf Club
Jim Leary, center, with Arnold Palmer and Annika Sorenstam
+ click to enlarge
Jim Leary, center, with Arnold Palmer and Annika Sorenstam
By Rhett Arens

Tee Times has introduced a new column in 2017 to provide readers with a look into the thinking and personality of the people in golf leadership roles. This month we sat down with Jim Leary, Director of Golf at the Royal Golf Club in Lake Elmo, MN. Jim is currently overseeing the redesign of the course, a complete clubhouse expansion and remodel along with coordinating the new staff and start-up operations at the former 3M Tartan Park facility. With all this on his plate, he found the time to share his perspective, some insights and his view on the state of golf. Fourteen questions, fourteen answers... we hope you enjoy it.

1. How long have you been in the golf business and how did you get your start? I got started in golf at age 12, as a caddie at the Country Club of Fairfield (Connecticut). My older brother brought me to the club and Mike Downey, the PGA Head Professional took me under his wing. All summer, I asked the Head Pro if I could carry double. Eventually, he agreed to let me caddie for him and a member and said if I made it around without any indication of a struggle, he would let me double from then on. At the end of that round, he told the caddie master I was cleared to carry double. He smiled and then proceeded to pull a small red brick from his golf bag!

2. Was there an 'aha moment' when you realized this is a good gig? This past August, the Royal Golf Club's owner and founder, Hollis Cavner invited me to a luncheon with Arnold Palmer and Annika Sorenstam. We spent most of the day touring the course and discussing the design. I knew at that moment that I was going to be a part of something very special.

3. How would you describe your golf game? I pride myself on keeping my game sharp. I am a good driver of the golf ball and love working on my short game. I feel it is imperative for golf professionals to regularly play and practice and I love competing in Minnesota PGA Section events.

4. Is there a pet peeve about the game you would like to get off your chest? 'Slow play' has always gotten under my skin. It is for the greater good that we all do our part, and if one of our golfing buddies starts to slow things down, we shouldn't hesitate to call it to their attention and suggest that we all "pick up the pace." Better to quickly address the problem, as opposed to letting it drag on.

5.Do you have any hero's in the game? My mentors and fellow PGA Professionals, Jack Druga (Shinnecock Hills) and Fred Harkness (Jonathan's Landing). They each taught me so much about the game of golf, business, and life in general. They each had a big impact on me, and for that I will always look up to them.

6. Thinking back what is the most memorable moment in recent PGA history? I assume you mean the PGA TOUR, if so... This 2017 Open Championship was fantastic and certainly one to remember. I am a big fan of links golf and the Open. I was glued to the TV and Spieth's back 9 and closing stretch is one that will be talked about for years to come.

7. Is there a trend or pattern in the game of golf you would like to see changed? I'd like to see more done to encourage new golfers to take up the game so that we can change the trend of more people leaving the game than joining. I am a big fan of PGA Junior League and the Royal Golf Club is committed to fielding a team in 2018. In that vein, I also believe that this same two-person team concept works for introducing adults to the game of golf. Also, I'd like to see youth caddie programs brought back into popularity. The earlier a youngster is introduced to the game of golf, the better. These would buck the trend and keep things moving in the right direction.

8. What is your opinion about the health of the state-of-the-game? Overall the game of golf is healthy, but we have a few things we need to do as an industry to keep it in tip-top shape. For starters, the modern world has greatly impacted how we spend our time, and there is no doubt that it has had an impact on golf. We need to be willing to embrace change and come up with different ways to engage golfers, and be prepared to do so for less time or holes than a full round.

9. What is the strangest player mishap or misstep to take place at your course? At my previous club, Jonathan's Landing, we had a signature hole and it involved a ferryboat crossing a small channel during the play of one hole. On more than one occasion, golfers accidently drove their cart off the front of the boat before completing the crossing. Thankfully, no one was ever seriously injured, but it was hard not to laugh when seeing a a cart completely submerged and their belongings floating nearby.

10. What makes you most happy when considering the customers who play your course? At the RGC, our goal is to exceed our customers' expectations and to engage with them to ensure they have a great experience. Whether they are out there for the first time, or one of our everyday regulars, we will do everything possible to make sure they have a fun and memorable experience. In the end, if the customer is smiling, we are smiling.

11. Do you consider yourself a golf purist or wide-open to new rules and regulations? For a long time, my closest golfing friends would have said I was a golf purist, and they would have been right. However, over time I have realized that change can be a good thing, and I would now say for most golfers, the new rules will be a benefit. I say bring them on!

12. Who do you consider the greatest golfer of all-time and why? In my opinion, it is a tie... Arnold Palmer and Annika Sorenstam are the greatest ambassadors the game of golf has ever known. They both have had profound impacts on the game of golf and they certainly are golf royalty in my book. I am honored that the King and Queen course will forever link the two.

13. Do you have a course in Minnesota or Wisconsin you consider highly underrated? Having just moved to Minnesota last year, I have only just started to skim the surface when it comes to playing the area courses. Thus far one of my favorites is Bear Path Golf & Country Club. Good test, and the greens were perfect.

14. The single best reason for spending 4+ hours chasing a little white ball? I am a firm believer that it is all about the company you keep... and in my book it really helps if they are onboard with finishing in under four hours too!

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