Pete Bevacqua leaves the PGA of America with a strong financial structure, but that doesn’t mean that his successor will not face substantial challenges.
NBC Sports Group announced on Tuesday that Bevacqua has accepted a new role as its president. As such, he will step down as CEO of the PGA, effective Aug. 13, the day after the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis.
The move comes at a curious time, with the PGA weighing one of its most consequential decisions in its history—a potential move of its headquarters from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., to Frisco, Texas—and with Bevacqua barely into a contract extension that was to run through 2024 and paying him more than $1 million annually, according to sources.
The PGA of America was expected to make a decision on a new home in May after fielding not only the estimated $40 million offer from Frisco, north of Dallas, but also 11th-hour bids from a few undisclosed South Florida locations.
John Easterbrook, the PGA’s Chief Membership Officer, has been tapped to serve as interim CEO, a selection that raised a few eyebrows from observers in and out of the organization. It was thought that Darrell Crall, who has served as Chief Operating Officer since Bevacqua came on board in the fall of 2012, would be the logical choice. Crall, sources say, was runner-up behind Bevacqua among the six candidates interviewed for the CEO post when a retiring Joe Steranka vacated six year ago. However, Crall also is believed to be deep in the woods on the PGA’s prospective move to Texas, given his longtime role as executive director of the Northern Texas PGA Section prior to joining the PGA in 2011.
Both Easterbrook and Crall would have to be considered candidates to succeed Bevacqua. Past presidents Roger Warren and Jim Remy, who also interviewed for the post in the last search, might get another look.
“I’d be shocked if Darrell Crall isn’t hired into that position,” said one past PGA officer. Still another countered, “I don’t think that’s necessarily what we need.”
It’s not that Crall isn’t qualified, “but he’s probably best in the position he’s in now,” the source said. “We need someone who is going to be the face of the PGA of America. You look around at other golf organizations, and they have a strong leader who is really the face of it, whether it’s Mike Davis at the USGA or Fred Ridley at Augusta.”
Whomever gets the call, he or she will face a myriad of challenges. One of the more pressing is that the association’s contract with CBS Sports for broadcast rights to the PGA Championship expires after next year’s tournament. That will be the first year the championship is played in May (at Bethpage Black, in New York) thanks to Bevacqua accommodating the PGA Tour’s wishes to condense its season for a late August conclusion. Without the PGA of America agreeing to move its oldest championship from August, the tour’s grand plan doesn’t materialize.
Last year, Bevacqua finalized an extension of domestic television rights for the Ryder Cup with NBC, his new employer, for an estimated $440 million. The deal runs through 2030. (“Say what you will about Pete, he was a hell of a negotiator,” said one PGA past president.) It’s only natural to deduce that NBC and Golf Channel, which also owns the broadcast rights to two other PGA of America properties—the Senior PGA Championship and the KPMG Women’s PGA—might be better positioned to acquire the rights to the PGA Championship with Bevacqua at the network.
Further to that, Bevacqua’s strong relationship with the PGA Tour and commissioner Jay Monahan—did Bevacqua execute a clever chess move when he agreed to move the PGA to May?—could be a boon for NBC and Golf Channel when the tour’s television rights deal with all domestic broadcast partners expires in 2021.
Of equal importance is maintaining and improving services to the nearly 29,000 PGA professionals who comprise the largest sports organization in the world. Despite Easterbrook’s hiring in 2017 as the PGA’s first chief membership officer, there is concern among the rank-and-file that not enough is being done on their behalf.
Said one longtime member: “The PGA really has gotten away from growth-of-the-game and member-education initiatives that used to be real staples. It almost makes the PGA more unrelatable to its membership than they ever have been at any time in its history.”
So there’s that. Furthermore, when rumors were confirmed that a migration of the PGA headquarters to Texas is on the table, many members questioned how that would benefit them and what would become of key PGA affairs like the annual Merchandise Show and the Winter Series.
A new leader will have to guide the PGA through those issues and others, issues that could take several years to resolve. Bevacqua is leaving some big shoes to fill. And some big holes as well.