Volume 6, Issue 4 – April 2016
It is a unique and intimidating challenge to write a tribute to one of my personal heroes who just happens to be one of golf’s all-time greatest writers, George Peper.
Of course, George is much more than a writer, he’s a living and very active legend of the golf editorial business (“content” in 2016 nomenclature) and a person who has had a profound impact on my life, personally and professionally.
George taught me how to play golf and appreciate its depth. I will never be able to repay him for that gift and I won’t even try. On behalf of a generation of golfers, this is my attempt to thank him.
I apologize in advance for the long blog… I guess I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.
Without George, I may have still become the Mayor of Crazy Town (an easy supposition since it’s not an elected office), but perhaps the citizens would have bounced me out of office if not for the learnings I borrowed from the man.
During Masters week, I was honored to attend the Golf Writers Association of America (GWAA) dinner where George was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism from the PGA of America. In my ten consecutive annual trips to Augusta, GA, I never attended the writer’s dinner, but the 2016 edition was an easy “yes” for the RSVP card. This event was my opportunity to stand up and salute the individual who served as the golf mentor I didn’t have in my family. In the absence of the Internet (the horrors!), my golf education showed up in a mailbox once-a-month, courtesy of gifted people named Peper, Tarde and Purcell on top of the magazine mastheads.
Of course I’m one of millions of fortunate souls whose appetite for the game was fed via George’s 25-year body of work at GOLF Magazine and through books he authored covering golf’s history, it’s most meaningful players, events, greatest courses and instruction.
Growing up in White Plains, NY, I played baseball, soccer and rose early for 5:30am ice hockey practices beginning at age 11. Competitive tennis received most of my attention in my teens, and eventually I learned enough about the mechanics of the game to become a tennis pro at two Westchester County country clubs: Wykagyl and Brae Burn.
There were no golf influences in my household during my formative years, though I was told that the family golf passion may have simply skipped a generation. Paternal grandparents Helene and Jerry had been active members at Hillcrest in Los Angeles and I was told that my mom’s mother Elsa occasionally shot in the high 70s in her prime.
My window to the game of golf came courtesy of my friend Steve Monteverdi whose father played. Beginning sometime around 5th grade (in between video game battles on his Atari 2600), we would venture out to the hilly grounds at the North Street School. We ignored a metal sign affixed to the building that included several prohibited activities including “No Golfing.” I don’t think we ever knocked out a window… maybe one at the most.
We’d take a few clubs and balls out to an “elevated tee” on the edge of a hill and take turns creating holes. “Okay…stay left of the big tree and then cut back to the right and finish at the big rock.” We’d alternate the selection of imaginary holes and just play for hours. I was hooked by the experience…though it would be several years before I played on an actual course.
I wanted to learn all the shots. From tennis, I understood how freedom of motion, body positions and kinetics could create certain results. However, as it related to building a repertoire of golf shots (on purpose, not via crappy technique and poor contact), I needed guidance. Grandma Helene came through with a decade of annual subscriptions to GOLF Magazine, and I devoured every article, reading each issue several times. The magazine pages fed my personal beast that was hungry to learn how to hit draws and fades, wedge it close, lob it high, drive it long, spin it back, and rap in some putts. I kept noticing the name “George Peper” in the magazine and on the covers of the books I was buying at Barnes & Noble. Heck, I even put a few bucks in GP’s pockets!
Through my teens and early 20s, I taught myself how to play, experimenting, practicing and internalizing the instruction articles from the magazine to the point where I could shoot in the 80s without ever having taken a live lesson. My early knowledge of the places I wanted to play got to the point where I could rattle off the top 20 courses on GOLF’s list of America’s Greatest Courses including the architect, city (if you can call Ardmore, Southampton and Mamaroneck cities) and the year it opened. Saying I loved the game would be a gross understatement.
My golf dreams included becoming a single-digit handicapper, playing all of the Top 100 in America and the World, developing an encyclopedic knowledge of course design and that was just for starters. George Peper was my guide.
Making a career in golf became an objective of mine beginning around age 22 (1991) and I was highly motivated. More on that story can be found in this MofCT issue, but to cut-to-the-chase, the dream became real after nine years in the New York advertising agency business. In May of 2000 (age 30), I showed up for my first day in the marketing department at GOLF Magazine and was led to my cubicle (with a window out to Park Avenue, baby!). Already on a huge high from making my professional vision a reality (nine years seemed like an eternity), there was a special bonus waiting for me at the end of a row of offices.
As it turned out, the big corner offices were occupied by publishing/sales/accounting “suits.” I mention that label somewhat ironically, since it was one of those Brooks Bros.-clad executives I aspired to be. Note to George: of course I wanted to be an uncommonly good one with a deep respect for the editorial process!
Regardless of the “cats and dogs living together” world of publishers and editors…the point is that every time I walked down the narrow cube-land corridor from my spot on the GOLF Magazine floor at 2 Park Ave., my route walked directly toward the windowed fishbowl office occupied by you-guessed-it… George Peper.
I was really delighted that I was working so closely (by physical proximity and certainly not professional interaction) to somebody who I respected so immensely and introduced me to the finer points of the game to which I was now hoping to dedicate my professional life. Here I was, on my first day in the golf business…a dream come true…and I’m introducing myself to the guy who taught me how to play the game. It was a really cool and moving moment for this golf lunatic.
Years before the GOLF Magazine gig materialized, I had come close to taking a position with LINKS Magazine, but owner/publisher Jack Purcell and I agreed that the position we were discussing was not the right fit for either of us at that moment in time. Needless to say, I was disappointed, since I greatly admired (and still do) Jack and his amazing partner in the business (wife Nancy).
On stage at the GWAA dinner, George’s speech was elegant, eloquent, funny and even sentimental (not a typical Peper trait, according to Jim Frank, George’s long-time deputy). He told some wonderful stories and expressed gratitude to those who he most enjoyed working with. As George admitted his general disgust for his suit-wearing Publisher counterparts over the years, he gave well-deserved glowing praise for the Purcells (under-rated and under-appreciated for their own amazing 25-year body of work), who had graciously invited me to join them at their table for the dinner. George has been the editor of LINKS for several years.
I never actually had the opportunity to shake George’s hand that night. Ten minutes after the well-deserved standing ovation the room gave him, I looked up and he, wife Libby and son Scott were gone.
My personal email to George a few days after (an unfortunate substitute for the handshake and hug I didn’t get the chance to give him) included the following paragraphs:
I was honored to be at the LINKS table with Nancy and Jack on such a special evening. You have helped millions of people get more enjoyment, satisfaction and fulfillment from golf… an immortal professional legacy to go along with your family which I know is cherished above all else.
Of course I personally loved your reference to Herb Graffis (NGF co-Founder and one of George’s own heroes) and your speech touched me through its honesty, humor, humility and your immense love for good people and the game that connects us all.
You have a special place in my personal history in golf, and the golf business… and I admire you more than you could possibly know. It means so much to call you my friend.
The HMCT (aka Greg Nathan, NGF)