The world of golf is amidst tumultuous times. Tim Finchem, Commissioner of the PGA Tour, has a war chest to rely on during these difficult economic times. Carolyn Bivens, Finchem’s counterpart on the LPGA Tour, isn’t quite as lucky. But Bivens isn’t embracing this downturn in the economy during her first year at the helm of the Ladies professional game.
Josh Riley isn’t as lucky. Riley assumes the leadership position as Executive Director of the Gateway PGA during arguably the most difficult economic time of the modern era. Most of the PGA Professionals Riley represents have no practical experience to prepare them for what’s ahead. But then again, very few in our country have lived through a recession such as the one we face today.
But give Riley credit for embracing a challenge. Instead of residing comfortably as a golf professional in the surroundings of a private country club, Riley has stepped forward to serve the very people he credits for making him who he is today. “I have an opportunity to give back to the men and women who helped shape my life,” said Riley.
Growing up as a young adult in Michigan, Riley found his way into the golf business like many did generations ago; as a caddy. “I really built my first impressions of golf professionals and the way a golf operation was to be run as a caddy,” said Riley. “I moved on to their outside operations and quickly fell in love with the member / guest interaction the job provided”. It was this genuine love for the environment golf provided that led Riley to enroll at Ferris State University in their Professional Golf Management program.
After spending time at virtually every kind of golf facility in his young career, including public, resort, semi-private and private facilities, Riley now turns his attention to leading the Gateway PGA. The Gateway PGA is one of 41 sections of the PGA of America that in total services over 28,000 professionals in the United States. Comprised of over 335 professionals and 200 facilities spanning from central Missouri eastward into southern Illinois, the Gateway PGA is the regions leader in promoting the game of golf.
Riley enters this new opportunity when it isn’t easy to promote anything. As Tim Finchem, Carolyn Bivens or essentially anyone in charge of a sports related property will tell you, dollars are hard to come by these days. And when your programming relies heavily on the contributions of others, this is a scary time for many. “The Section relies heavily on sponsorship dollars to support our programs,” said Riley. “Typically when banks and companies are asked to tighten their belts, they look for ways to cut costs. Areas where the Gateway PGA has found strong support in the past are the same areas being tested with properties like the PGA Tour, NFL, NBA and all other professional organizations. Our direct impact, with sponsorship being down, will be felt in the purses our tournament players are playing for.”
In addition to hosting tournaments for its 335 member professionals, the Gateway PGA administers the regions premier junior golf program. How the difficult economy impacts the participation levels within the junior golf program will be something Riley and others involved with the program will surely keep a close eye on. Fortunately for the Gateway PGA junior golf program, parents are likely to do make personal sacrifices before negatively impacting the life of their children.
For years the Gateway PGA has looked for ways to expand awareness of its programs and activities. Riley sees this as an area in which he will focus his early attention, “I want our PGA Professionals and Apprentices to know who we are and what we offer as the Gateway PGA.” Riley wants every member of the Section to be in a position to talk about the Gateway PGA in an informed manner and feels this brand awareness will then extend beyond the PGA Professional to the broader golf community. “If our members are informed, soon our community will be as well,” said Riley.
Communication, communication, communication - This is often the rallying cry for any new leader of an organization. Such is the same for Riley in his role as Executive Director of the Gateway PGA. Riley feels it is paramount to have vehicles to deliver as much information to the PGA Members and golf public as possible. Riley commented, “We will use everything from a revamped system of email, member and public newsletters, personal letters, seminars, educational opportunities and a renewed effort in the area of public/media relations in communicating our message.”
While the business of the Gateway PGA is a top priority for Riley, so to be the “Fraternal Order” as he puts it, “I want to bring the Section together and represent professionalism and the common good of the fellow professional.” Riley envisions programs that bring professionals together with their families and friends, whether it is a cook-out or a PGA softball league. “I want to create an environment of professionals getting together in a social setting, not just at work.” We know Bob Gaus can make an 8 foot putt when it matters, how good he is hitting to the opposite field we may soon find out.
As with any transition, it’s more than just a single person usually affected by a move like the one Riley is making. Josh’s wife, Lindsay, and their soon to be two year old son, Hayden, are also joining this new family of the Gateway PGA. “My family is the love of my life and I would do anything for them,” said Riley. Josh, Lindsay and Hayden are expecting another addition to the family in early April.
Something can be said for energy and young ideas. Riley brings both in spades to his new role with the Gateway PGA. While it may be a difficult year on the sponsorship front, it is obvious Josh Riley has his eye on the prize and a plan to grab it.