Former PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame on a rainy night in Ponte Vedra. His tenure as the leader of the PGA TOUR was 22 years, and coincidentally, it paralleled the career of Tiger Woods, who also entered the Hall of Fame the same evening.
It could be said that because of the two of them, Finchem and Woods, the game of golf, the PGA TOUR and charitable giving by the PGA TOUR grew exponentially.
Yes, there were some dramatic, unexpected and unfortunate moments during that time period. There was 9/11. There was the economic crisis of 2008. But that’s when leadership is even more important. Finchem and his staff were able to bring the PGA TOUR into a better place after each of those situations and forge a path onward and upward.
In addition to his stewardship of the TOUR, Finchem was a creator of new things. He was in the lead when the World Golf Championships were born.
He gathered people to form the First Tee program with former President George H.W. Bush (41) serving as the national honorary chairman and then later with assistance from President George W. Bush (43).
“When we approached both of those gentlemen to assist us to grow The First Tee and really reach thousands and thousands of young people, they jumped at it,” Finchem said.
The Bush family is known for its love of golf. The Walker Cup, a USGA amateur event, was named for George Herbert Walker who is the grandfather and namesake of George H. W. Bush and a past president of the USGA.
But the First Tee isn’t all.
Finchem oversaw the development of the Presidents Cup event, which provides a Ryder Cup-like contest for international golfers not born in Europe to play in a high-profile team event against PGA TOUR players.
Leaders of golf organizations around the world, while Finchem was commissioner, formed the International Golf Federation, which includes the R&A, USGA, PGA TOUR, DP World Tour (European Tour), PGA of America, LPGA and the Masters Tournament. They successfully lobbied to bring golf back to the Olympics.
Finchem also contended with and overcame two of Greg Norman’s attempts to create new golf tours by recruiting PGA TOUR members.
In his press conference when the induction was announced, Finchem noted that he was being honored for the people that he knew more than anything else. But in fact, he was being honored for what he was able to accomplish by knowing those people.
As commissioner, Finchem said he leaned on the knowledge of the second PGA TOUR commissioner, Deane Beman, as well as legends in the game, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
“I want to thank Deane Beman,” Finchem said. “I think a lot of you might not recognize the fact that when Deane came down here and took over the PGA TOUR and started to build it, the net worth of the PGA TOUR was $150,000. You think about that for a minute. And he took it from where it was to great heights in a short period of time.”
When it comes to Tiger Woods, Finchem said he first caught notice of Woods when the U.S. Amateur was played at TPC Sawgrass in 1994. However, he was headed out of town to Akron, Ohio, for the NEC World Series of Golf at Firestone CC.
“I got up there, and TOUR players usually, when they get done with their rounds, they head for the hills,” Finchem noted. “But at this one, I couldn't find any guys around, and I went in the clubhouse, and it was packed, and it was packed because the players had gathered around a television to watch Tiger playing down here in the Amateur.”
That’s when he knew Tiger Woods was going to be something.
“It sort of taught me a lesson, and I started thinking about how this man can impact huge numbers of people the way he does,” Finchem said.
Finchem said that Woods became the most recognized person on the planet.
[READ MORE: Tiger Woods inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Read about it here.]
In addition to Finchem and Woods, Susie Maxwell Berning, an LPGA player who won three U.S. Opens, and Marion Hollins, the woman who was instrumental in the creation of Cypress Point and who developed Pasatiempo Golf Club, also entered the Hall.
The late Dick Ferris, who served on the PGA TOUR Policy Board for many years and was chairman of UAL, and Peter Ueberroth, former commissioner of Major League Baseball and chairman of the 1984 Olympics, were honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards for their work to protect and preserve Pebble Beach. Along with Arnold Palmer and Clint Eastwood, they purchased Pebble Beach from Taiheiyo Club and Sumitomo Bank of Japan.
Renee Powell, daughter of William “Bill” Powell, a noted member of the PGA of America, was presented with the first Charlie Sifford Award.
The site for the ceremonies was the new World HQ of the PGA TOUR on Route 210, across from the post office and Walgreen’s. It was a first look inside the shiny, new structure. The interiors are sleek with what look like white terrazzo floors, glass panels separating offices from corridors and some 1950s/ 1960s-style wood-trim accents. The feeling is light and bright, and it seems as though the structure might levitate soon or that the Sean Connery-James Bond might push through a window and slide down the three-story staircase.
The interior furniture is retro-1950s, with low-slung, white chairs and couches perched on tiny legs. Brown leather bar top seats, also with spidery legs, are scattered around the building.
The induction speeches were held in the central lobby, on the west end of the building. A reception for all in attendance was held on the west patio.
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