Shon and Jim talk with Paul Stringer, Eastern Washington alum and President of Nicklaus Design, about his incredible career which started in the bag room at Glendale Country Club and eventually landed him in an executive role working for one of the biggest names in golf.
Announcer: The Golf Show on 710 ESPN Seattle. Shon Crewe (00:05): Paul Stringer, President of Nicklaus Design, working for the great Jack Nicklaus, joining us now on The Golf Show with Jim Moore and Shon Crewe. Paul, it's a pleasure to have you on with us. Thanks so much. Paul Stringer (00:14): Well, thank you, Shon and Jim, it's a pleasure. Shon Crewe (00:17): Well, I want to start by acknowledging that you have local ties. You're originally from Bellevue, and you played golf at Eastern Washington University. Paul Stringer (00:25): I did. Way back when in my younger years. I graduated from Sammamish High School in Bellevue and went to college at Eastern Washington University and played golf for them for four years. Shon Crewe (00:39): As a young kid at Eastern, did you ever imagine you'd be running one of the most successful golf design companies in the world for one of the greatest players of all time? Paul Stringer (00:47): Absolutely not. You know, I couldn't even have dreamt it to be honest with you, Shon, as a young kid. I picked up the game at age 13, and my first job was working at a course in Bellevue called Glendale Country Club in the bag room, my junior year of high school, and worked a couple of years there and also on the maintenance crew there in the summer my first year of college. So I got a little taste of the golf business, but I'd never thought that it would move in this direction. Jim Moore (01:21): Hey, besides Glendale, Paul, you ever go out to Bellevue Muni, or did you ever play Redmond Golf Course at all? Paul Stringer (01:28): I've played them all. I've played Bellevue Muni. I've played Redmond. I've played around the area. A good friend of mine is the head pro over in Hangman Valley in Spokane, so I played in many courses in Spokane, obviously when I went to school in Cheney. Our home course was basically at Hangman. So got to play around the northwest quite a bit and to be honest, miss some of those courses, but you know, I live in South Florida now, and we have a lot of good golf courses down here. So it's nice to have a change. Shon Crewe (02:03): As President of Nicklaus Design, you obviously oversee it all, but where do you specifically focus your time? What's a day in the life of Paul Stringer? Paul Stringer (02:11): Well, it's kind of interesting how things evolve. When I joined the company in 2003, we were doing a lot of design in the U.S. A lot of domestic market and a little bit in Mexico and some in Europe. And they brought me in to do more international business development and certainly grow our footprint in Asia. So I traveled a lot to Asia to get things done and Japan and China and open up some doors in Korea and Vietnam and some of these other Asian countries that were just emerging at the time. So luckily, when the U.S. started to go down in 2007-2008 with the bubble we had in the economy, we had great progress and strength in some of these Asian countries. So that forced me to actually move to Beijing with my wife in 2012, and we lived there for three years as I traveled around all of Asia just growing the business, and we've got over 30 golf courses now open in China and are going very strong in Vietnam and some of these other countries. So strategically, as a company, our company originally set out to do mainly domestic business but grew larger and larger in the international spectrum, and so it's been very, very successful. Jim Moore (03:36): Paul, what was it like living in Beijing? Paul Stringer (03:39): Very, very different, for a lot of different reasons, but I'll tell you, I wouldn't have changed a thing. We lived in a high rise apartment right in the city. We were not in an ex-pat community but more just with the local community, and we enjoyed it very, very much. And my wife learned Mandarin, and you learn to do business a little differently and certainly do some of the different cultural things, and going to places like the Great Wall were a great way to take in the culture and the experience of living over in China. And having been there, I've traveled to probably more cities than local Chinese have inside China. So it was a fantastic experience, Jim, and one that I'll have a lot of fond memories. Jim Moore (04:28): Oh, I'll bet. Paul Stringer is with us, President of Nicklaus Designs, The Golf Show with Jim Moore and Shon Crewe, 710 ESPN Seattle. What Nicklaus characteristics, Nicklaus course typically do you think of, what's something when someone comes to it and says that's a Jack Nicklaus course? I always think of forgiving fairways, and I always appreciate that, but maybe I'm off on that. What would you say is a characteristic of Jack Nicklaus type courses? Paul Stringer (04:53): Well, you know, Jim, you're not far off because I think Jack's philosophy is to give the person, the golfer, room to hit it off the tee. And so it's a little bit more generous off the tee, but then the strategy is really working from the tee back towards the green with various things like bunkers or hazards or the way the fairways are shaped. You know, in the early '80s to the mid-80s, a lot of people thought Jack developed golf courses or designed golf courses the way he played, which was kind of a high fade, and that really wasn't true but people perceived that. And you know, all designers kind of change their philosophy a little bit over time. But the thing that's very unique about Jack and his philosophy since he did the very first design with Pete Dye at Hilton Head in '69 is Jack looks at design from a real strategic way. Whereas, you do have other designers that were never great golfers, but they were, let's say, landscape architects or they came up in a different mode. And Jack came through the approach as being a designer that was a very good player obviously and a legend at the game, and that's what he portrayed in his design. So there isn't really one significant thing that you'd say oh, that's a Nicklaus course because our designs have evolved and changed. But I think you're right in the one thing that he does is kind of give people an opportunity to see what's out in front of them – Jack doesn't like blind holes or blind shots – but given them enough room off the tee and then develop the strategy from there. Shon Crewe (06:38): Well, I had a conversation, and this may be speaking a little bit to your point, but I had a conversation with architect David McLay Kidd who talked about his one regret in designing courses years ago, back when Tiger would've been in his prime. He said he felt like he designed courses that may have been too difficult, more for, say, the elite player and less for the everyday golfer. Have there been changes to how you approach design today, maybe as opposed to say 20 years ago? Paul Stringer (07:01): Well, I think that's a great question, and I do think that through different times of design, a lot of people looked at having really tough golf courses. And one of the things that Jack instilled in all of us that worked for the company is do what the owner or the developer wants you to do. In other words, if it was part of a residential community, which most of the designs in the '70s and '80s and '90s were, it was really the center point of a residential community, make it playable for the masses. You don't want to make it so hard that the average golfer, the beginner, can't play the golf course. But make it something that would be fun, and that somebody would want to come back and play it again,. And when they finish 18, they want to say, "Boy, I'd really like to come back and play here again, that was a lot of fun. It was a great challenge, but it was still very fun to play the golf course." And so we kind of took on that philosophy, looking back at some golf course because owners wanted to have a tournament course or a championship golf course, which you know, we've done a lot of golf courses that have hosted PGA or LPGA or top amateur events on. So you know, one of our orders from the owner was to develop a golf course that would host these tournaments, and so how you design a golf course is really based on what the owner's perception is and what they really want to see in terms of their vision for the property. Shon Crewe (08:32): Paul Stringer, President of Nicklaus Design, is with us on The Golf Show with Jim Moore and Shon Crewe. Well, Paul, you've been working with Jack for over 16 years now. I imagine you've gotten to know him quite well. What's it like to work with Jack Nicklaus? Paul Stringer (08:45): Well, Jack has obviously got a great vision for design and for what he wants to get done on the golf course, and you know, Jack is a legend obviously in the game, and he demands respect, and he gets respect, and deservedly so. And Jack's done a great job instilling with all of the people at Nicklaus Design a sense of pride. His philosophy is basically, look, we want to have a golf course that we're all proud of, not just the owner but all of us. And so you're only as good as your last golf course, so just remember that when you're out there designing golf courses or talking to an owner about developing a golf course. So we've taken that sense of pride on, but Jack's a very, very good family man, obviously with his five kids and 22 grandkids. And he's doing a lot with the Nicklaus Children's Hospital right now, the Foundation, and raising money for the hospitals that are going on. He and Barbara are great ambassadors for the Children's Hospital and, you know, I think his philanthropy and the work that he does in the community is first and foremost in his mind now. And he's just a great ambassador for golf. Jim Moore (10:08): Well, and it's a big weekend too with the Memorial there. I imagine that still has special meaning for him. Paul Stringer (10:16): Absolutely. Both Jack and his son Jack II run the tournament. You know, it's been very successful since the first one in 1976, if you can imagine that, that the tournament's been around that long. But Jack has tweaked the golf course over the time, and it is such a great golf course. And looking at the field this week, you can tell that all the players respect what Jack has done there. They love coming to the tournament, to the golf course. They love the milkshakes in the locker room, and they like having Jack around, so I think everybody likes coming to the tournament, and we're really looking forward to having a good field and a good tournament this week. Shon Crewe (10:59): And to think that this tournament was a dream of his, and here we are now 43 years later, it's incredible to see the popularity of it. What is it about this tournament that makes it such a favorite for both the fans and the players? Paul Stringer (11:11): Well I think when they come to Columbus and specifically, Dublin where the tournament's held, it takes on kind of a community in terms of the golf course, Nationwide as the sponsorship, Jack and Barbara and the family, and I think people just feel the sense of community, number one. And number two, it's such a good golf course, from a strategic standpoint, from a conditioning standpoint. The staff there at Muirfield Village do a tremendous job, and it's a very well run tournament. The local community gets behind it, obviously with Nationwide being the title sponsor, they do a terrific job. So every year, Jack's always taken on the position that they want to do something special for the players and the players always feel welcome, and it doesn't matter who's in the field, that they always leave there feeling really good about the tournament. So you know, you look through the winners over the past 43 years, and the winners have all kind of varied, but it's been a great, great tournament to host for the PGA Tour. Jim Moore (12:20): Paul, do you think that he hopes that he keeps his record of 18 major championships, or do you think he doesn't mind if Tiger Woods is able to get to 19? Paul Stringer (12:30): Well, you know, that's a great question and, you know, in talking with him, and I think his feeling is that records are made to be broken, and if Tiger does, then that's terrific. If he doesn't, then, you know, he thinks maybe one day, somebody will. But you know, it's held up this long. You know, I think for most of us, we think that it'll probably last. That's such a terrific accomplishment and such a big record that that's a tough one to break, even if you're Tiger. Jim Moore (13:05): Paul, this is the last question from me, and it's personal, and it's selfish on my part, I hope you bear with me, but I met Mr. Nicklaus one time up at, I think it was at Chateau Whistler, the lodge there, and of course, he designed Nicklaus North, a fantastic course there at Whistler. I sure enjoyed playing that. And I happened to have my Golden Retriever with me at the time, and he came over, and he was petting my dog, and I thought wow, that's cool, Jack Nicklaus petted my dog. And come to find out, he's really into Golden Retrievers. Is that still the case? Paul Stringer (13:38): He is, although he has a dog that isn't a Golden Retriever, but Jack and Barbara have always had dogs, and they love dogs, so I'm sure that's probably why he took an interest there. But you know, Jack and his family have always had pets and very big on family, and so I think when they travel around, and they see a dog like that, or in this case, yours, I think that's kind of a nice thing for him to do or see when he's off. And you mentioned Nicklaus North. We have our licensee meeting up there this summer in July, which I'll attend, and we have our different apparel licensees for the Nicklaus Apparel that will come there and do their buying for the next year. So we'll get to play a little golf there and interact with all our licensees, so it's kind of interesting you mentioned that, but a chance for me to get back to the northwest and hopefully play the course and spend some time there. Shon Crewe (14:38): Well, and for those of us that are looking for an excuse to get out of the Pacific Northwest for the nine months out of the year it's raining, you're probably the best person to ask. What Nicklaus courses do you recommend are a good little golf getaway for us? Paul Stringer (14:52): Well, I tell you, I just got back with my wife from Baha Mar down in the Bahamas, which was terrific. And it's a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course down there with some nice hotels and casino, and it was just a great getaway, so if you haven't been down there, that would be great, and there's several in the Florida region. And you know, where I lived for the last 20 years before I lived in Florida was in Scottsdale, Arizona and absolutely love Scottsdale, so I think any of those would be terrific for you, Shon, to escape the rain. And having been a former northwesterner, I empathize and sympathize with you. It's beautiful, and it's lush and green, but there's a reason why it's green, and all the rain during the winter drove me to live down in the desert, so I moved from the northwest down to Scottsdale and loved it down there until I moved to Florida to work for Jack. Shon Crewe (15:53): Well, we appreciate your time today. Thank you so much, Paul. Paul Stringer (15:57): Well thank you, Shon, Jim, it's been a pleasure and look forward to talking to you in the future and enjoy the tournament. Jim Moore (16:04): Our thanks to Paul Stringer for joining us here on The Golf Show with Jim Moore and Shon Crewe, 710 ESPN Seattle.
Nicklaus Design, founded by Jack Nicklaus, has more than 400 championship courses throughout 45 countries around the globe. For more on Nicklaus Design, visit http://www.nicklaus.com/design.