Seth Waugh is stepping down after six years leading the PGA of America

Seth Waugh is leaving the PGA of America after six years as CEO, a period marked by a sharp increase in golf participation and PGA membership and the move of its headquarters from Florida to a massive complex in Texas.

Waugh was the CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas when he joined the PGA of America board as an independent director and was subsequently hired to lead its more than 30,000 members in 2018.

His contract was up for renewal on June 30 and Waugh decided not to renew.

“It feels like the right time, not just personally but professionally,” Waugh said. “In six years we’ve achieved so much. The game has never been better. Participation is at an all-time high. It’s growing in all the ways we hoped it would.

“The fastest growth is women and people of color. We’re trying to make the game look like the rest of the world, and maybe make the world behave more like our game.”

Waugh will remain with the PGA of America in a senior advisory role. He will be at the British Open and the Paris Olympics and plans to compete in the Ryder Cup at Bethpage Black next year.

The PGA of America said it has begun a search for a CEO, including candidates from inside and outside the association. Kerry Haigh, the chief championships officer and a key figure since 1989, will become interim CEO but will not be a candidate.

“We are grateful for Seth’s leadership and all he has accomplished for our members, our game, the company and our people,” said John Lindert, president of the PGA of America. “He expertly guided us through incredibly challenging times and was always a great partner. We are fortunate to be able to call on him in the future for his always helpful advice and counsel.”

Waugh’s involvement in golf goes back longer than his time with the PGA of America. He was behind bringing a PGA Tour event to the TPC Boston in 2003 – PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was the first tournament director of the Deutsche Bank Championship – and was a major voice in the business and golf worlds along the way.

“Seth’s voice on important issues has been steady and clear as the golf world has experienced unprecedented change during his tenure,” said Masters Chairman Fred Ridley.

One of his main goals when he became CEO was to support the professionals who spend long hours teaching the game. That includes a deferred compensation pension plan for PGA of America members.

“The first time in 110 years that someone realized that. I borrowed from my own background to help with that,” Waugh said. “But our member satisfaction is at an unprecedented high level.”

He said the average salary for a professional has surpassed $100,000 for the first time, and membership has surpassed 30,000, another benchmark.

Waugh has been hinting since April that he was nearing the end. He signed on for a four-year term as CEO — he likened four years to a term in college or as president — and felt that would be enough time to make changes. He agreed to another two years in 2022 after golf survived the COVID-19 pandemic with participation spikes.

Most striking to Waugh was the age of the players.

“We’re not announcing victory by any means, but the biggest statistic is that 48% of all golfers are under the age of 35,” he said. “That’s generational growth, people from 25 playing until they’re 75, as opposed to playing from 65 to 75. It’s such a big change.

“You realize this generation wants to do things with a purpose, and golf has a purpose,” he said. “You are a teacher, a coach, and you are on a mission to make lives better. The whole premise of why I took this job was that I felt like I would never have the opportunity to impact more lives.”

After his administrative duties at the Olympic Games, he had no immediate plans.

“I have often said that golf is one of the great engines of good on earth,” he said. “I am perhaps the greatest beneficiary of all time of that good and I would like to thank the members, my colleagues, all the various board members, past presidents, our extraordinary partners, my colleagues at all other golf organizations, and everyone who plays and loves our beautiful sport , thank you for all the support and friendship during this journey.

“What a gift that has been.”

AP Golf: