Bostic's 'dream job' is to oversee and grow a society of golf enthusiasts who enjoy playing together on the world's top courses. Seriously, what's not to like about that?
The Friars Golf Club is a society of golf enthusiasts that takes trips to some of the world’s most prestigious golf destinations. The membership ranges in ages from 20 to 87, includes men and women, low handicappers and high handicappers, private players and public players. Along with having a passion for golf, making new friends and exploring new experiences, the Friars have one important rule: “no a--holes allowed.” The First Call's Dan O'Neill caught up with Friars Golf Club executive director Don Bostic to talk about the club and his involvement.
The First Call: Don, you have been executive director of the Friars Golf Club now for more than four years. Gotta ask, do you actually golf?
Don Bostic: I learned to play as a kid growing up in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. My dad was an average player. He never broke 90, but he loved the game and loved having a cold beer with friends after a hot Florida round. I remember my dad and uncle cutting down a set of clubs with a saw in our kitchen and slipping grips on the end to make my first set. How I ever got a ball airborne with those clubs is a miracle.
My dad used to take me to play on Saturday mornings on the nine-hole course at Jacksonville University. Those father-son outings almost always ended with a cheeseburger and cherry coke at Cecil’s Bar and Grille in Arlington. Dad always realized what was important. After a while, I was joining my dad and his buddies on Sundays, and learning the role golf has in developing friendships and business relationships. I was never good enough to pursue a playing career, but from a young age, I recognized how golf could connect people.
TFC: So you grew up, went to the University of North Florida, majored in business. How did you wind up working in golf?
DB: A little while after college, I responded to an ad in a newspaper that said, "Golfers wanted, $750-$1,000 a week." I called the number and it was actually the Sea Island [Resort] caddie shack.
They asked me a couple of questions like, ‘What’s a par?’ and ‘What are the four majors?’ I got those right, and I got the job. A couple of weeks later I was caddying for the former president of the USGA, the owner of the Baltimore Ravens and people like that.
I just became addicted. It was a world I didn’t know anything about — five star, high-end, luxury golf. I did that for almost five years. I opened up the caddie program at TPC Sawgrass here in Jacksonville, and even did a couple of summers at Whistling Straits. The company I worked for was CaddieMaster. I didn’t know it at the time, but the president of CaddieMaster was Jeff Renzulli, who I would become acquainted with later as one of our owners at the Friars.
TFC: Jimmy Demaret once said, “Golf took young kids like Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and myself out of the caddie ranks and gave us money and a little bit of fame and let us live in the tall cotton.” Not that you ever became Ben Hogan, but you can relate in a way, yes?
DB: I think caddying is a great job for any young man. I was around a lot of influential people and I saw how they interacted and handled themselves. I just made a lot of great connections, and I kind of rolled that into a career in the resort and hospitality business.
One of my clients kind of created a job for me selling golf groups at The Greenbrier. I moved up there, got a little involved with The Greenbrier Classic. Then I took a job as the director of sales at Pinehurst Resort, which is basically the epicenter of the American golf industry. There, I was able to meet everybody who was anybody in golf, and it’s had a big impact on my professional life.
TFC: How did you hook up with the Friars Golf Club?
DB: The Friars were one of my clients at Pinehurst, and I developed a friendship with Jeff Renzulli, who I mentioned earlier. The Friars have been around since 1994 and I think Jeff took it over in 2012. He built the current structure for it, but Jeff is involved in lots of different businesses and the Friars demanded more and more time and attention. In 2017, Jeff was running seven events and had close to 400 members. He came to me and said, ‘I don’t even know if I can afford you, but I need a full-time employee. This is what the job would look like.’
And I said, ‘OK, so you’re going to pay me to basically be a fraternity club president, tour the world and play golf with my friends — that sounds pretty amazing.’ It has turned out to be slightly more than that, but in essence that’s what it’s been, a dream job.
TFC: What’s the best part of your job?
DB: It’s a lot of organizing and managing personalities. But, it’s not spin, it’s really true, these guys and girls are really fun and interesting. They’re all kinds of people, involved in all kinds of different businesses. The reason I get to know them and interact with them is because they have a passion for golf, so we all speak that language.
It’s a truly interesting group of people and the connection is incredibly rewarding. You bring them together as strangers on a trip — and there’s little bit that goes into that — but the magic is when they become friends and everybody has a great time. That’s what we do.
TFC: I’m old enough to remember the Friars Club for celebrity roasts of people like Milton Berle and Don Rickles. Does the Friars Golf Club also have televised roasts?
DB: Ha-ha. No, there is no affiliation there. Obviously, I watched all of those old videos and those guys are legends, but there’s no connection. We do have a lighthearted sense about us. We kind of eschew formality, although we go to a lot of fancy places, and we play by the rules. We have roasted members before, on the first tee, and we certainly have fun with it. But we aren’t associated with that Friars Club in New York in any way.
TFC: How many members are in the club and how many trips do you make?
DB: We are just over 730 members now, and growing. We have members in 40 states and 10 countries, but they are predominantly domestic. We have close to 40 trips planned for 2022. But the golf business is booming and the demand for more access is increasing all the time. A lot of our multi-day trips are tied with dinners, experiences and hotel rooms. And with those events, we’re going to resorts like Pinehurst or Sand Valley or Bandon Dunes.
But the growing segment of our market is one- or two-day events at private clubs. These are clubs that the public wouldn't have access to, but we have access due to our members having memberships at those clubs.
That’s pretty cool, and it appeals to our younger members. In many cases, our younger members are still building careers and families. They can’t make the commitment for a four-day trip to, say, Pebble Beach. But they can make it to a major metropolitan event at a pace like Medinah or Plainfield. So that appeals to them. We try to provide both experiences here.
TFC: What does a membership cost?
DB: Obviously, the trips have costs. But the initiation fee is $750 and our annual dues are $150 a year, so it’s fairly nominal. I would venture to say there are 10 to 12 similar companies, and we mostly all come at it from slightly different angles. But I feel confident in saying we definitely do more in terms of the trips and experiences we provide, so I would say we’re the best value.
TFC: Is it competitive?
DB: There are a couple of societies that are all about competition, that strive to pair it down to who the best golfer is. But that’s not what we’re about and it’s never going to be what we are about. We’re inclusive — young and old, high-handicap, low-handicap, male, female. You have to be able to mix with everybody and it’s just for the love of the game of golf.
We do run competitions from event to event. And we do our best to run them well, as close to USGA rules as possible. But we don’t play out of bounds, and we allow mulligans on the first tee, so I think the USGA would frown upon that. But the games are nominal, $20 buy-ins. We would never want to make someone feel uncomfortable or make someone get mad about missing a putt. That’s not what it’s about.
We’re not trying to identify who the best golfers are because frankly, we already know who the best golfers are.
TFC: Do you have relationships with any professional players?
DB: Yes, but "sponsorship" would be the wrong nomenclature. We’ve got 12 Friars Young Pros that are members. These are young players on the mini tours — Korn Ferry, Sunshine, Canadian Tour, Futures. For instance, right now we have two guys on the Korn Ferry Tour, including Brandon Matthews (currently fourth on the Korn Ferry money list).
We support them, they’re a part of the club, part of our culture. You know, life’s hard for them. They’re very talented, but they’re chasing their dreams of playing on the PGA or LPGA tours, and it’s tough. So they can use our network. It may be as simple as a place to stay in Phoenix or a place to practice at a members club. Hopefully, they become friends and develop a relationship with some of our members
On the other side, our members are golf fanatics and they have someone they can play with at an event, become friends with them, see their talent and have someone to root for. What’s more, over the years, a lot of these young players have moved on and our members have been able to help them start professional careers in other walks of life. So things like that are invaluable.
TFC: Finally Don, I would be remiss not to ask about the "no a--hole" policy. Have you ever had to bring the hammer down?
DB: Yes, that has happened. But in my four years, it’s happened maybe two or three times. I mean, it’s important. It’s literally our only rule, so it’s kind of all-encompassing and a little self-policing, if that makes sense.
Really, what it’s about is we might put together a trip for 32 people, or something like that. Now, a lot of those members may know each other, but the majority could be relative strangers. If you’re bringing together a group of strangers and you have somebody who takes themselves too seriously, acts like a boor or like a bull in a china shop, that could ruin the experience for eight or 10 members and we might not ever see them again.
We can’t allow that. So that’s what the rule is really all about. At the end of the day, it’s kind of funny, obviously, but it’s also important.