The Corner Office With Jeff May (Three Rivers Park District, Baker National Golf Course)
By Rhett Arens
Tee Times introduced a new column back in 2017 where we try to provide readers with an insightful look into the thinking and personality of the people in golf industry leadership roles. Fourteen thoughtful answers to our 14 questions. This month we feature Jeff May, Manager Three Rivers Park District and Head of Golf Operations at Baker National Golf Club in Medina. Jeff makes a great point… that a round of golf can be an opportunity to make new friends and/or challenge old friends. Either way, you will be making long-lasting memories.
How long have you been in the golf business and how did you get your start? I’ve been in the golf business for 24 years. My first job was at Makalei Hawaii Country Club in Kona, HI. I went to Hawaii to teach high school, but realized the golf business was where I wanted to be. I came back to Minnesota and worked at Brookview Golf Course in Golden Valley and at The Bunker Indoor Golf Center in Minnetonka in 1996-1999. I started at Baker National in 2000 and never plan to leave!
Was there an ‘aha moment’ when you realized this is a good gig? In Hawaii… I loved the atmosphere working at the course. Both the co-workers and customers were people I liked to be around and had a connection with. I spent a few years as an assistant PGA professional, which was fantastic.
How would you describe your golf game? My skills have unfortunately diminished, but I use to say short but straight with a great short game. Now I’d say short, not so straight and I fight with my putter at times (we use to fight as a team).
Is there a pet peeve about the game you would like to get off your chest? Although it is an important part of our course revenue I wish more people walked the course. It’s not only great exercise, but helps you play better. Feeling the wind, the ground, seeing the approach and the green as you slowly walk the course can’t be replicated in a fast moving cart. Also, walking gives you a chance to “cool down” after a bad shot – which I often need.
Do you have any hero’s in the game? My father (Jim May) and my high school golf coach (Steve Smith). My father introduced me to the game and we have played many great rounds in many great places with many great opponents. Coach taught me the finer points of playing golf and a lot about the mental approach to the game.
Thinking back, what is the most memorable moment in recent PGA history? It’s an easy one… Tiger winning this year’s Masters. I’m not even a big Tiger fan, but that was incredible and a year ago something that seemed impossible.
Is there a trend or pattern in the game of golf you would like to see changed? People are reluctant to play with strangers or be paired up and it is unfortunate. One of the great things about golf is the people you meet playing. They are only strangers for the first hole.
What is your opinion about the health of the state-of-the-game? We need to continually work on promoting and celebrating the game. There is no other activity you can spend quality time, outdoors, in a competitive setting with friends and family like the game of golf. We do a lot of Junior Golf programming at Baker National and at Three Rivers Park District. We need to keep it up! Programs like The First Tee and Youth on Course will keep building future players.
What is the strangest player mishap or misstep to take place at your course? My first season at Baker National there was a full on brawl between two groups. It made the news (slow news day) and nothing comes close over the next 19 seasons thankfully!
What makes you most happy when considering the customers who play your course? We try to be the best value in public golf. When people play Baker National they will find a tough and challenging course, no roads or houses, a fair price and hopefully a memorable experience.
Do you consider yourself a golf purist or wide-open to new rules and regulations? Both. I like relaxing some of the rules (leave the flagstick in for example). It simplifies things and speeds up play, which is a win-win. If it helps people enjoy their games more I’m all for it.
Who do you consider the greatest golfer of all-time and why? Arnold Palmer… brought the game to the masses and played with reckless abandon. I always say every PGA TOUR winner should send 1/3 of their check to Arnold, 1/3 to Tiger and keep the other 1/3. Nobody gets paid to play golf… they get paid because people will watch them play golf.
Do you have a course in Minnesota or Wisconsin you consider highly underrated? Headwaters in Park Rapids is a must play if you are in that area. In Wisconsin if you can get an invite to Eau Claire County Club – it is fantastic.
The single best reason for spending 4+ hours chasing a little white ball? The challenge of playing against the course and yourself!