of Wally Uihlein's Historic Speech
Smith Awards Banquet • Chateau Elan Resort • Braselton,
Ga. • 2/17/06
you, Stephen. The last time I was here was February 2001 and
I was invited by Stephen at the time to give the keynote address
as part of the National Headquarters grand opening. My keynote
address that night was the history of the American Junior Golf
Association, which seemed appropriate since my personal history
with the AJGA and that of the company I represent dates back
to 1981 when at the time we made a call to Mike Bentley offering
to provide him a few dozen golf balls for the two or three events
that he was administering at the time.
was some 25 years ago, so I do feel some authenticity as well
as credibility in commenting upon the AJGA and the association
that Titleist has had with the American Junior Golf Association
over this period. The fact is that the involvement of Titleist
with the AJGA has always been as much personal as it has been
Company Chairman and CEO
Wally Uihlein speaks at the 2006 Digger Smith Dinner.
You know back in the 1970s, it was a common occurrence to have
many of the then-smaller number of NCAA men’s and women’s
college golf programs that we were working with back then, ask
our help in identifying the best junior golfers and what tournaments
they might be playing in. Obviously, given the limited number
of junior tournaments that college coaches could then attend,
it was important that these coaches know which tournaments were
going to have the strongest fields.
At the same time, junior golfers and parents were asking us,
as well as the PGA home professionals that we were servicing,
which tournaments they should enter in order that they receive
college coach exposure and visibility. The organization and
formalization of junior golf, a reality that we take for granted
today, did not exist back then.
The AJGA, led by Digger Smith, Mike Bentley, and Puggy Blackmon,
understood that junior golf needed schedule management assistance
and a consistency to tournament golf administration. That explains
why we made that first call back in 1981. It helps explain why
we got involved. I know because I made the call.
We knew that over time, if done right, the American Junior Golf
Association and the tournaments that it conducted, would eventually
attract the best players. And for us to be associated with an
organization that identified with and was dedicated to the best
junior golfers in the game, this Association was sufficient
a return on any investment that we would make.
Stephen Hamblin arrived in 1984 and, as we all know, that was
a watershed event in this organization’s history. Stephen
likes to joke that in the mid-to-late 1980s we would steal a
few minutes at the PGA Merchandise Show, he would tell me what
he needed and I would say that was fine with us. And that was
how complicated the relationship was.
The fact was it was that simple because both organizations understood
the direction that competitive junior golf needed to go. Understanding
the mission and purpose of the AJGA was not rocket science.
You either got it or you did not; you either agreed with the
mission and purpose statement or you did not; you were either
committed or you were not.
During the 1980s we continued to provide product support, we
watched the growth, we observed the adoption of a national sponsor
and we continued to input where and when asked, respecting our
role as just one of the short list of sponsors at the time.
The next watershed chapter involving Titleist and the AJGA occurred
at the 1988 Masters. Now anyone who has ever worked in the golf
industry understands it’s a seasonal business. Revenue
streams tend to consolidate in the spring and summer months,
while operational expenses tend to be straight-line, 12-month
What Stephen and the AJGA were constantly facing was how to
retain and afford the 12-month positions to be truly a national
organization while dealing with the reality that membership
and tournament revenue only accrued when the sun was shining
and tournaments were being conducted. This is where a national
sponsor could mitigate the situation.
We were a golf company. It was easy for us to understand firsthand
the challenges of being a seasonal business. At this chance
meeting in 1988, Stephen indicated that Coca-Cola had just informed
him that they were stepping away from their national sponsorship
commitment. The loss of a national sponsor could have a significant
impact upon the organization’s ability to remain fully
operational during the upcoming October through March winter
Sometimes, as I frequently say, the right thing to do is simply
to do the right thing. It did not take long for us to consider
and accept Stephen’s invitation, or should I say challenge,
that we become the national sponsor of the AJGA.
The thrust of the national sponsorship was to commit to a level,
which, at the time, represented funding for all the necessary
and sufficient 12-month positions. The idea was to provide the
needed financial stability so that the most important 12-month
positions were wholly funded, so that the organization could
function as a national organization 12 months of the year and
retain the good people that the AJGA had been able to attract.
It was also agreed that, while we would be the national sponsor,
the role would be as much background as foreground, because
the support of competitive junior golf should not be –
should not be – exclusive to anyone. If junior golfers
were going to use our product, it would be as much a byproduct
of the relationship that we would establish with the player,
the parent and their coach.
It’s been that way for the past 17 years, and we’ve
been very consistent in our application and behavior as national
sponsor. We would like to think that our involvement as national
sponsor and the resulting financial stability that we brought
to the party has had something to do with the growth and the
efficiency of the AJGA.
We feel strongly that the growth and the efficiency of the AJGA
has had much to do with the success that many AJGA alumni have
had at the professional level. But more importantly, we feel
there is ample evidence that substantiates that the growth of
college golf in this country is a direct byproduct of the growth
and success of college golf’s number one feeder train:
The fact is, there exists a very strong, symbiotic relationship
between the AJGA, its mission and purpose, and that of NCAA
men’s and women’s college golf. Today, there are
in excess of 200 men’s and over 150 women’s college
golf programs. And in the year 2005, the total amount of all
golf scholarship monies that were distributed to players associated
with these above-mentioned college golf programs exceeded $30
million. That’s $30 million in the year 2005.
Over 2,500 one-time junior golfers are playing NCAA men’s
and women’s college golf and participating in the distribution
of this $30 million in scholarship opportunity. We know the
number is accurate; we’ve done the research.
And a good portion of these dollars are awarded to players who
prepared for college golf via participation in the AJGA. For
many, the AJGA has become the Princeton Educational Testing
Service of competitive junior golf. This is the primary mission
and purpose of the AJGA.
Next September, a new class will enter college, and another
six-to-seven hundred individuals will receive full or partial
scholarships as a result of their performance in AJGA events.
This is part of the responsibility of developing golf’s
next generation. And as someone who does get exposure to every
golf organization in the world, trust me when I tell you that
no one does it better than the AJGA.
This past fall, Stephen Hamblin celebrated his 50th birthday,
and it reinforced the reality with me that none of us was getting
any younger. And I thought of an individual who has been here
since event one, an individual who has captained the ship through
the rapids of financial frailty, an individual that I previously
described as an exemplary visionary, benefactor and patron saint
And I thought of our national sponsorship, and I thought of
what a fitting and appropriate gesture it would be to tear up
what was in place and submit to Stephen and the Board for approval
a proposal that would give the AJGA long-term financial stability
and give to this organization’s number one caretaker the
comfort in knowing he was there at the creation and before he
was done, he saw to it that this organization’s financial
stability would never be an issue for this generation or for
those that would follow.
Thus tonight, I am pleased to announce that Titleist has entered
into a new 10-year, eight-figure commitment as national sponsor
of the AJGA because we could think of no better way to thank
the man for whom this evening is named. Digger, on behalf of
every junior golfer, every parent, every sponsor, every tournament
chairman, every volunteer and I know every member of the AJGA
family, we thank you.
Sometimes, the right thing to do is to do the right thing, and
in this case this was the right thing to do very much because
of you. Thank you, Digger.