Reaching the Green: What Golf Means to Prominent Denver Executives

How Colorado leaders perpetuate the tradition of golf and business

The game of golf has helped oil the American economy since the days of John D. Rockefeller. How do leaders in Colorado’s business community perpetuate the tradition? We turned the spotlight on 14 prominent local executives to explore their intimate relationship with the game.

Chairman, Molson Coors Brewing Company and MillerCoors

Handicap: 17.2
Memberships: Private

Favorite golf destination: No favorites. I enjoy every course and can’t think of one I would say, “Sorry I played that one.”

What’s your most memorable golf experience? An eagle on 13 at Augusta National.

How important is golf in your professional life? How has it helped your business?
Golf is social for me. I never carry a cell phone. Someone can come find me if there is an emergency. You learn a lot about people when you play golf with them, and I suspect the business value for me and business associates I get to play with has to do with learning their character and how they approach challenges.

With whom do you most enjoy playing golf?
Anyone, otherwise I wouldn’t play.

Unrelated to golf, professionally and personally, what do you see as your legacy?
Life is short. People shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. I have tried to raise our children to love God, work hard and be good stewards of their riches, whatever they may be.

Brewmaster and Director of Brewery Operations, Breckenridge Brewery

Handicap: 18
Membership: Red Rocks CC

Favorite golf destination:
Ocean Course and Sanctuary Hotel at Kiawah Island

Bucket list courses:
Augusta, St. Andrews, Greenbrier, Pinehurst

Describe your most memorable golf experience(s):
About 13 years ago during the evening men’s group at Red Rocks, a female mountain lion laid by my ball in the old fifth fairway, played with it like a toy and ran off with it. Once she was gone, we hit to the green and found two cubs in the bunker. We didn’t putt out.

How golf has influenced your professional life?
The golf course is my happy place. People get to know me. I’m not a deal maker on the golf course. I form relationships with clients, employees and business partners.

If golf is a litmus test for doing business with someone, what traits do you look for while playing? Honesty, humility, patience and general coolness.

Do you have a regular game?
Some day, when life allows.

With whom do you most enjoy playing golf?
My wife, Terry, my kids and my two best golf buddies, Jeff Kraft and Mike Windemuller.

Do you like to play for money?
Heck yeah. I love getting lucky. It’s the only way I win.

What do you see as your legacy?
My wonderful children—my son, August, has caddied at Cherry Hills for three years—and a brewery that continues to provide for our employees and put smiles on our customer’s faces.

President, Emich VW & Emich Chevrolet

Handicap: 3
Memberships: Lakewood CC, Castle Pines GC, Red Sky GC; The Silverleaf Club and Talking Stick (Arizona)

Favorite Golf Destination:
Pebble Beach

Bucket List Course(s):
Aside from Pine Valley, which is near Subaru headquarters, I haven’t played any of the great courses back east.

How has golf helped your business?
It let me to get to know the top GM, Chrysler and Ford executives personally. The biggest thing is getting four hours when they’re not in business mode, you can see who they are, what they do and don’t do, what they like and don’t like. It lets them learn those things about me, too.

Most memorable golf experience(s):
I have so many but two stick out. One: Playing 18 holes with Arnold Palmer in the pro-am before the 1988 Hertz Bay Hill Classic. It was special; he talked to everyone. It was dark by the time we finished. Two: winning my first Lakewood club championship in 2011, 35 years after joining. I’d been a member longer than many of the guys I beat had been alive.

What’s your legacy?
My son, Fred, has gone into the car business. He’s the fourth generation. That’s very rare.

President and CEO, Rickenbaugh Automotive Group

Handicap: 26
Membership: Rolling Hills CC

Favorite golf destination:
Anywhere with ocean holes.

Bucket list course:
The Blue Monster at Doral

When did you start playing golf?
Ten years ago because I wanted to adopt an athletic hobby with which I could remain active for a long time. I also wanted to participate at meetings and tournaments with my fellow auto dealers, who are predominately male and play golf.

How important is golf in your professional life?
Very. If you really want to know what’s going on in your industry, you find out on the golf course, after the meetings.

How has golf helped your business?
It allows me and other employees to promote our business. Also our managers choose a couple of tournaments each year in which we would like to be involved based on the relationships we have with customers and the causes we believe in.

What’s your most memorable golf experience?
The entire summer during which I played with fellow employees consistently. We had so much fun, played a variety of courses and my game greatly improved.

What do you think people learn about you while playing golf?
I love having fun. People can see that I can’t believe I could be so bad at something!

What do you see as your legacy?
I would like others to see that I left a business that is known for honesty, integrity and, most importantly, treating the customer well.

President and CEO, Energy IV LLC

Handicap: 6
Memberships: Cherry Hills CC, Castle Pines GC, The Broadmoor, Whisper Rock (Ariz.), Riviera (Calif.), Champions (Tex.)

Favorite golf destination:
Augusta National

Bucket list course:
Merion GC

Most memorable golf experience?
The one that always gives me chills is from the 1999 Tour Championship at Champions Club in Houston. Payne Stewart was heading there when his plane crashed. In the morning fog, bagpipers marched from the 10th tee to the 10th green in front of the clubhouse. We couldn’t see them, just hear them getting louder as they materialized from the fog.

How has golf influenced your professional life?
More than I ever thought it would. Caddying at The Broadmoor taught me the value of hard work, how to get along with people—the ones you like and don’t like—and what to emulate in successful people. The game gave me a college education through the Evans Scholars program, great friendships and a great foundation for business success.

Do you have a regular game?
No. But in 1995 when I was living in Houston and missing my Colorado buddies, I founded a Ryder Cup-style event called the Energy Cup. It took place eight times all over the country.

Do you like to play for money?
I love it. I’m competitive.

What do you see as your legacy?
As a golfer, I hope I’m viewed as someone who cared about the game and gave back to it. As a businessman, we created a lot of value for shareholders, treated our employees well and gave back to the communities in which we operated.

Chairman, Andrisen Morton

Handicap: 7
Memberships: Cherry Hills CC

Favorite Golf Destinations:
Pine Valley, Oakmont, Cypress Point and Pebble Beach

Bucket List Courses:
Augusta National, Shinnecock, Oak Hill

How important is golf in your professional life?
Very. We deal with very affluent people and most play golf. Our customers become our friends. We’ve gotten to know each other over rounds of golf and have gone to some amazing places.

How has golf helped your business?
Hosting people at Cherry Hills, of course, and playing all over, meeting people and making connections during the four hours we spend together.

What’s your most memorable golf experience?
Caddying for John Elway on the Celebrity Tour in Pittsburgh and getting to play three holes with Ben Crenshaw at TPC Southwind in Memphis.

If golf is a litmus test for doing business with someone, what traits do you see as most important?
If a person’s fun to play golf with, they’ll be fun to do business with. I do look to see if a person thinks he’s better than he is. If he says he’s a six and plays like an 11, what’s he like in business? It’s worse when a supposed 11 plays like a 6.

Do you play for money?
Not as much, but my friends and I play a game where the loser of the hole has to caddy for the other guys until he someone else loses one.

Any fashion advice for the course?
Never dress better than you play.

Managing Partner, Shanahan’s Steakhouse

Handicap: 10
Membership: Highlands Ranch GC

Favorite golf destination:
Arizona Biltmore. I play there with my twin, Jeff, who has cerebral palsy and lives in Phoenix. With only one arm, he hits it 200 yards.

Bucket list course: Pebble Beach

Most memorable golf experience:
Playing Cherry Hills for the first time in 2009. I was an avid Arnold Palmer fan as a kid, and seeing the plaque on the first tee where he drove the green in the 1960 Open was unforgettable. I nailed my drive but still had 100 yards into the green.

How important is golf in your professional life?
It’s helped me cultivate more relationships than I can count. I talk about golf on a nightly basis with guests in one way or another. Golf and steakhouses like mine go hand in hand.

What qualities do you look for when playing golf with a potential business contact?
Etiquette. It’s very simple: Some guys help find your ball; some don’t. I always help.

What do you think people learn about you while playing golf?
I don’t have any pretense or ego. I’m thankful for any great shot I hit.

Do you like playing for money?
I do, just not a lot of it. At the end of the day, no one should get hurt.

What do you see as your legacy?
We built philanthropy into our business and marketing plan from day one. My biggest goal is to involve Shanahan’s in our community. We also want to be remembered as a place with great food, service and a special environment for guests—a true escape they looked forward to. Within my means, I aspire to personally contribute to my community as well.

Chairman, CEO and President, TW Telecom inc
Handicap: My putter
Member at: The Country Club at Castle Pines

Favorite golf destination:
The 19th Hole at The Country Club at Castle Pines

When did you start playing golf?
About 10 years ago, when I started to play in our annual tw telecom Charity Invitational to benefit SungateKids, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping abused children. I didn’t want to embarrass myself so we joined a club and I took lessons. We raised more than $375,000 last year and hope to break that this year.

What’s your most memorable golf experience?
During the second round of my life, I got a hole in one on a par 3 in Virginia. I thought it was a sign I could really rule this game. Oh, how wrong I was!

How important is golf in your professional life?
Golf is an “outdoor office” that offers a fresh perspective to any community or business leader. I’ve built new relationships and strengthened old ones on the course.

Is there an advantage to being a woman executive who plays golf?
Absolutely—I get to hit from the forward tees!

What do you think people learn about you while playing golf?
I’m competitive, play by the rules, don’t take my score too seriously and have fun.

What do you see as your legacy?
Someone who played all the shots in her golf bag.

President & CEO, The Broadmoor

Handicap: Having three great golf courses and being too darn busy to play any of them.
Memberships: The Broadmoor

Bucket List Courses:
The Old Course in St. Andrews and Turnberry.

When did you start playing golf?
After the Detroit Tigers released me—I made it to Double A as a pitcher—and got a job in the bag room at The Greenbrier.

What’s your most memorable golf experience?
I could say it was hosting three major tournaments in my 22 years at The Broadmoor or the cockeyed bets I’d lose to Sam Snead at The Greenbrier. But honestly, my most memorable experience was the one time I beat Gilbert Patrick, my next-door neighbor growing up after he’d become a PGA pro. I nipped him by a stroke.

How important is golf in your professional life?
When I was at The Greenbrier, I was playing with Ted Kleisner, who eventually became president of the Greenbrier, and he had a hole in one. He attributed it to the luck of playing with me, so I had to be in his foursome at all times. It certainly didn’t hurt when it came time for promotions and performance evaluations.

How has it helped your business?
The Broadmoor hosts associations and corporations and allows industry peers to meet, develop relationships and put customers, sellers and buyers together. There’s the intra-company aspect to it as well. Corporate outings are a way for people coming up in a company to have exposure with their seniors, supervisors and managers.

Chancellor, University of Colorado-Denver

Handicap: 13
Memberships: Castle Pines Golf Club, Denver CC, Glen Arbor GC (New York)

Favorite golf destinations:
Cypress Point, Royal Dornoch

Bucket list course:
Whistling Straits

How important is golf in your professional life?
When I was group publisher at Time Inc., golf was part of the DNA. There’s no other sport like it for business. I’ve played with senior CEOs of Fortune 100 companies and really gotten to know them. You built a sense of trust. You weren’t bribing anyone. You were creating a bond that makes it easier to do business.

How has golf helped your business?
The business I’m in now, golf isn’t part of the culture. I play mostly for pleasure, but I also get out with people who are important to the university, to Denver or Colorado.

What’s your most memorable golf experience?
Most of them are misadventures. For example, we started on No. 10 at Cypress and I topped my drive off the front tee marker and it went straight down the middle of the fairway. Another was being part of a group in Ireland with Dan Quayle, who made a practice swing without looking and missed my head by a quarter-inch.

If golf is a litmus test for doing business with someone, what traits are most important?
How they handle adversity, because golf throws a lot of that at you.

And what do they learn about you?
I try not to take it too seriously; I know when a course is too much for my game.

CEO, Polk Corporate Travel Management

Handicap: Zero
Memberships: Colorado GC; The Colony, Bonita Springs, FL

Favorite golf destination:
Monterey, California

Bucket list course:
Augusta National. I have been to the Masters tournament and was like a small child in a very large candy store. I would love to stay in one of the cabins for several days and play the golf course and the par 3 until I could not play anymore.

When did you start playing golf?
I hardly remember not playing golf.

Does being a golfer give you an advantage with customers?
Definitely. It helps me make our current customers and prospective customers comfortable on the golf course. We have won new customers and strengthened longstanding relationships because of golf and the four hours we spend together.

What’s the most underrated golf destination?
The Broadmoor is one of the best resorts in the world and it is one hour south of Denver.

What’s your most memorable golf experience?
I qualified for and played in the 2007 United States Senior Open at Whistling Straits. It was extremely exciting to hit balls next to Hale Irwin, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Watson and many others.

With whom do you most enjoy playing golf?
My brother, my sons and numerous very good golf buddies!

Chairman and CEO, El Pomar Foundation
Member at: The Broadmoor GC

Favorite Golf Destinations:
Augusta National, El Dorado CC (Calif.), Castle Pines GC

Bucket list course:
Scotland—the whole country

Started in golf:
Age 8 or 9. It’s amazing I’m not any better having played this long. Shooting my age will probably evade me.

How important is golf in your professional life?
In my travels as President of the United States Olympic Committee and on the International Olympic Committee, I found golf was right up there with soccer as sport played throughout the world. It formed a common bond and was a great way to start communication.

What qualities in golf translate to business and vice versa?
Golf is like business in that you have to maintain discipline. You have to monitor yourself and admit where you’re wrong. Your job is to admit an infraction only you may be aware you made.

How does it relate to your work now?
Golf provides an opportunity for people to support worthy causes by playing in charity events. El Pomar provides millions in grants and programs to enhance, encourage, and promote the wellbeing of Coloradans. We sponsor golf tournaments with that purpose. Members of our team and I try to play in as many as our schedules allow.

The Tavern Hospitality Group

Handicap: 11
Membership: Cherry Creek CC

Favorite golf destination:

Bucket list course:
Augusta National

When did you start playing golf?
Eight years ago.

What do you like most about it?
Nobody ever really masters it.

What’s your most memorable golf experience?
Calling David Duval—whose number I somehow had—from Adare Manor, where a photo of him with the Claret Jug was hanging in the clubhouse.

What’s the importance of golf in your professional life?
I’ve gotten to spend four hours with people I’d never even get to have a drink with. You form a different bond at the end of 18 holes than you do over lunch.

If golf is a litmus test for doing business with someone?
Yes. Golf is a great indicator of moral makeup. I pick up on the hero handicap mentality of the guy who takes six-foot gimmes; and of the bagger who “manages” his handicap.

And what traits do people see in you?
I’m a fair guy, don’t take myself too seriously, and love the pressure of competition.

With whom do you most enjoy playing golf?
My regular Saturday morning fivesome. I really look forward to 18 holes of s**t-talking.

What’s your legacy?
I firmly believe you can’t take it with you. I enjoy life as I go. I love to share and have fun with others. On a personal note, I can’t wait to walk nine holes with my son when he’s old enough. I want to align his values with those of golf.

Colorado AvidGolfer is the state’s leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it. It publishes eight issues annually and proudly delivers daily content via www.coloradoavidgolfer.comJon Rizzi is the founding editor and co-owner of this regional golf-related media company producing magazines, web content, tournaments, events and the Golf Passport.