Golf Chicago!
Golf Chicago! highlights six leaders

Chicago’s Young Guns

The Chicago area has some of the best young golf executives and industry leaders in the country. In fact, Golfweek magazine recently profiled forty golf business leaders under the age of 40 and six of them live and work in the Chicago area.

Golf Chicago! would like you to know more about these half-dozen executives—how they feel about the game, their particular segments of the industry and what their thoughts are on the future of golf.
We talked to each one of them and presented each with the questions we thought you might like to ask.

Josh Lesnik
Vice President of Marketing, KemperSports Management, General Manager, The Glen Club

Age: 33

Josh Lesnik is a busy man. He’s responsible for marketing, brand strategy, public relations and advertising for KemperSports Management – the privately owned national course management company based in Northbrook, IL. But he also is the boss at the new Glen Club in Glenview. Josh oversees the operation of the course and plans the marketing strategy.

Golf Chicago: Why do you think you were chosen as one of the top forty golf executives under
the age of forty?

Lesnik: Being associated with Bandon Dunes in Oregon (the highly acclaimed golf resort), helping to get that open, and then also being associated with The Glen Club doesn’t hurt. I have been fortunate to be connected with two of the better places to play golf. Working and being affiliated with such great courses is wonderful.

GC: How do you feel about the great reviews The Glen Club is receiving?

Lesnik: It certainly is a place where people want to play and play again. According to all the experts Tom Fazio did a great job here and ultimately has created something that golfers want to come back to.

GC: What’s the future of The Glen Club?

Lesnik: It is flattering to only be in our second year of operation and to already have the PGA Tour choosing us for an event. (The Tour’s LaSalle Bank Open will be played at The Glen Club in 2003-04) But we will also have Women’s Amateur qualifying here and a USA-Japan collegiate match. The last time it was held in the states was at Pebble Beach.

GC: What’s the future of the golf course industry? We are in a precarious time, aren’t we?

Lesnik: It’s an interesting time for golf for several reasons. More attention is being paid to the sport than every before, mainly because of Tiger Woods. But there are too many facilities out there and we are in an over-supply mode. I think the average golfer will always want to play great courses and with golfers being the most educated consumers around, the golf market will eventually right itself.

GC: Are we over-saturated in Chicago?

Lesnik: Yes. No question. I think we are likely to see consolidation of courses that are in trouble. Courses will change hands; be for sale. Golfers will always be looking for value and because of that some courses are going to be hurt.


Pat Goss
Men’s Golf Coach, Northwestern University

Age: 31

Pat has been the men’s golf coach for six seasons and has been named the Big 10 Coach of the Year four times. Northwestern has also won the last three conference titles under Pat’s leadership.
Pat knows Northwestern well. He is a former member of the team and was an assistant coach. Goss also teaches with Todd Sones at White Deer Run Golf Club in Vernon Hills and at the Gleacher Golf Center at Northwestern. His most famous students are Jess Daley and Luke Donald – both PGA Tour rookies.

Golf Chicago: Considering some of the accomplishments at Northwestern, should the school now be thought of as a serious golf school?

Goss: Not yet. But it is a major goal of mine.

GC: You have made some major steps toward that, haven’t you?

Goss: Yes. Some. But we still have a ways to go. I think there are a lot of observers in the college golf ranks who are watching us very seriously to see how we evolve over the next five years.

GC: Tell me about Luke Donald?

Goss: He is a tremendously talented player. As good a ball striker as you’ll see on Tour. He’s increased his strength, flexibility, increased his length and become a better putter. He’s shown he’s already good enough to compete, but he has to adjust to being a professional—the travel, the media and all the obligations. He also has to become an even better putter. Luke is a good putter, but you have to be a great putter on Tour.

GC: What do you see for the Northwestern program over the next couple years?

Goss: I think we’re in a stepping stone stage. What I’m most proud of is that we’ve proven we have the facilities and the atmosphere where a good player can come to be the best player he can be. Northwestern can’t compete with the University of Texas or Arizona State when it comes to developing depth. We are not ready to compete with the top 10 schools in the country. But we can develop players very well. We are very hands on. And our players embrace being the underdog.

GC: As someone involved in college golf at an institution with high academic standards, what do you think of 17-year old Ty Tyron on the PGA Tour?

Goss: Part of me says if Ty can make the money now; go ahead, more power to him. What a great opportunity. But there’s another side. And Luke Donald and I have had conversations about this. Luke says he would have never done it that way. The travel and camaraderie of college golf was something he’ll always cherish. Ty won’t have that. There are also not a lot of friends on Tour. They’re nice and cordial, but they very much go about their own business. Ty simply has no peer level.

Jeff Christensen
Business Director of Golf Balls, Wilson Golf

Age: 34

With the golf equipment business so strongly driven by technology, it is not hard to imagine a computer science engineer as the top dog of golf balls at Wilson.
Jeff Christensen graduated from the University of Illinois and knew he wanted to use his engineering skills to do something he felt passionate about. So, he added an MBA degree from the J.L. Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern and worked his way through the ranks at Wilson.
He was behind the launch of Wilson’s Smart Core and iWound balls and now in charge of the marketing for the Wilson Staff True.

Golf Chicago: Why is the Wilson True ball such a big deal?

Christensen: Golf ball manufacturers have always talked about three things—distance, feel and spin. Now there is a fourth—balance. We think it’s a significant issue consumers need to know about. Balance is really about accuracy—tee to green. The Wilson Staff True is the most balanced ball on the market.

GC: Is this taking technology too far?

Christensen: We have PhDs in research and development working on golf ball technology. Space shuttle experts working on dimple designs. Balls look so simple, but to R&D they are complicated little spheres.

GC: Has technology taken away from the game?

Christensen: At the TOUR level, yes it has taken away. When you have a 590-yard par-5 and it’s a driver and a seven-iron for the top players, that may be taking away from the game. But for the average golfer, technology really hasn’t grown the sport. Consumers are always going to want to get the best help they can to better their performance.

GC: What’s the most important thing for the average player to consider when buying a ball?

Christensen: Spin rate. The average golfer wants low spin because no ball can cure a slice or hook, but the higher the spin the more it accentuates that. The distance balls have pretty much reached their limit, reached the restrictions of the USGA. And the high performance balls are getting close.

GC: Should there be a different ball for the TOUR player?

Christensen: Yes. Or relax the standards for the recreational player. You know, we have balls on the shelves at Wilson that far exceed the limitations set by the USGA and they go pretty far.

GC: Can I get some of those?

Christensen: I keep them for myself. You don’t want to play me in a scramble.

John Kaczkowski
Tournament Director, Western Golf Association

Age: 34

For the last two years, John Kaczkowski has been the director of the Advil Western Open, the Western Amateur and the Western Junior Championship. This year marks his third season on the job and he expects even bigger and better things.
John is a University of Wisconsin graduate with a master’s degree in sports administration.

Golf Chicago: What is your main job?

Kaczkowski: I oversee all three tournaments, but obviously my biggest focus is the Advil Western Open. I help in recruiting sponsors, selling advertising, overseeing the sales efforts, the volunteers and the security efforts. With the Advil, I am also the main contact for the PGA Tour. I’ll update them on course conditions, our purse, admissions, and recruitment of players.

GC: What does the player recruitment entail?

Kaczkowski: There are two things players look for—the golf course and the date. Guys won’t play a course that isn’t suited for their game. Cog Hill is highly regarded and players really enjoy playing it. And our date is fantastic. Having the Advil Western Open between the U.S. Open and the British is perfect. Plus, Chicago is a great city over the Fourth of July and some Tour players want to have something fun and interesting for their families to do while they’re out playing.

GC: How has the Western Open grown?

Kaczkowski: It’s now one of the top-5 in attendance on Tour. Some 200,000 people come out to watch. It’s no longer considered a major, as it was years ago, those days are gone. But our goal is to maintain the tournament’s position as one of the best of the non-majors, if you will.

GC: What’s the purse now?

Kaczkowski: $4 million with $720,000 to the winner. That’s up from last year. All proceeds go to the Evans Scholar Foundation.
GC: How much demand does the PGA put on you?

Kaczkowski: Not really much pressure there. Cog Hill does a great job getting the course and facility ready. The PGA is mainly concerned about what’s inside the ropes—the condition of the course—green speed and is the course challenging enough.

GC: How important is the Western Amateur and Western Junior?

Kaczkowski: This will be the 99th year for the Western Open, the 100th for the Amateur and 85th for the Junior. All are important. The Western Amateur is the second most prominent amateur competition next to the U.S. Amateur. Tiger Woods called it the “Masters of Amateur Golf.” In 2003 the Junior will be played at Rich Harvest Links in Sugar Grove, Illinois.

GC: After September 11th, how big is the security issue at these events?

Kaczkowski: It’s always important and we are always looking for ways to improve. Security is a big issue with the PGA Tour. We spent more money last year at the Western Open on security; we’ll certainly spend more this year.

Gregory Myles
Vice President of Finance, KemperSports Management

Age: 39

Gregory has been working for KemperSports in Northbrook for six years starting as a controller and working his way up to his current position. He’s helped the company grow and prosper over the years increasing total revenue from $23 million to more than $110 million and helping to grow KemperSports to more than 70 managed golf properties in 19 states, including Illinois.
Myles is a graduate of the University of Illinois with an MBA from DePaul.
Golf Chicago: Why has KemperSports been so successful?

Myles: It’s a very competitive time for golf. But Kemper has never had a strategy that is solely based on growth for growth sake. We only work on projects that have economic sense. Kemper is also a privately held company, which helps because we have no outside influences.

GC: What makes Kemper so different from so many struggling golf management companies?

Myles: We take a lot of pride in what we do. We have great respect for the game of golf and in our portfolio of courses we have places to play from $9 to $150. We think it is important to provide all levels of golf to our customers. Kemper also treats its employees fairly and our general managers at all the properties have room to grow their businesses.

GC: What’s the bright light in Kemper’s future?

Myles: We will continue to grow in all parts of our business—management of courses, acquisition and leasing. We see more expansion across the board and yes, that means more employees too.

GC: In these uncertain financial times for golf, where you see the industry headed?

Myles: There will be tough times. There will be fall out. Properties will continue to struggle.

GC: There are plenty of courses still having difficulty increasing the number of rounds.

Myles: Yes. And we are going to see some courses for sale. That might present new opportunities for KemperSports.

Joe Bosco
Founder, GreenToTee

Age: 37

For some 10 years, Joe has directed the GreenToTee Golf Academy in the Chicago area. This is not your normal golf academy. Joe and his staff have a tendency to get a little creative.
Joe also runs GolfToBusiness, which provides workshops and seminars for Fortune 500 companies and small professional firms. Part of the program is to help motivate people and discover their potential through the game of golf.

Golf Chicago: What makes GreenToTee unique in the teaching world?

Bosco: We look at an individual through a management consulting model and ask them what are their goals, needs and don’t’ let them just say they want to fix their slice. We dig deeper than that.
We also function in a team concept. We look at a player or a group of players and think about how we can make them better through the efforts of our team of instructors. It’s a sharing process.

GC: What would you say is something you do that is out of the ordinary?
Bosco: We have researched sports psychology extensively; how children learn even how music can help. We use music in the background and sometimes the foreground of a lesson, for example, to help with rhythm and tempo.
It’s not a new concept though; Sam Snead practiced to waltz music.

GC: With all the information and gadgets, how goes a golfer know what’s going to work for him?

Bosco: We try to help them organize all the information and help them make sense of it for them. No matter what gadget or tip you see on the Golf Channel, you still need someone to help you come up with the right answers and make sense of the geometry and physics in the game of golf.

GC: The answers aren’t always black and white, are they?

Bosco: You’re right. One thing we do to help is with on-course training. We demand it. Ultimately a player has to see if what he is learning is holding up on the golf course. One example—a lady came to us and told us she had a lesson at Doral in Florida and was told she was hitting the ball pretty good. We asked if she hit all those balls in the lesson off a tee. She said she did. I knew immediately she was given a false sense of the game. I helped her to understand that she has to hit down on the ball. If she was allowed to continue hitting balls off a tee, and then moved to the course, she would have failed.

GC: What else do you use to help people?

Bosco: We get people to use visualization, to feel and see the swing plane and examples to make points. One example, and this is different, we ask a player to use a hammer to hit a ball. They try to get the ball up in the air with a hammer. Most try to scoop it. The thing to do is to hit down on the back of the ball with a direct blow and it sends the balls into the air. It really opens peoples’ eyes.

GC: Tell me about GolfToBusiness—the other part of your company.

Bosco: It’s a consulting, team-building experience for executives. We use golf as an exposing ground, if you will, to help companies get their people on the same page and learn to work together and from each other. The game of golf can help them do that. We’ve worked with some very big companies at GolfToBusiness and I’m very excited about the growth potential.

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Last Updated: 6/3/02