For golfers, the 19th hole is often a magical place. Whether a mahogany-paneled bar, a flagstone terrace with a sweeping sea view or a handful of Adirondack chairs arrayed around a fire pit, it is where we exchange stories about the rounds we just completed and recount the best – and worst – shots of the day. We settle our bets and make plans for the next time we tee it up together. We might tell a joke or two and share tales about family and upcoming trips and the fortunes of our favorite sports teams. We may even mix in a bit of politics and talk about our work. Whatever the actions or topics of conversation, the 19th hole is where we revel in – and relish – the company of good friends and the camaraderie that is so much a part of golf.
Our hope is that you will find this new department of GGP/Biz, dubbed the 19th Hole, as interesting and enjoyable a place to be. The plan is to recount a discussion with a notable person in golf each month. The conversation largely will focus on his or her interest and involvement in the game, but it can certainly go off in other directions. In fact, we hope it does.
What follows is the first of those 19th Holes, with Charles “Chuck” Schwab, the noted investor, entrepreneur and financial-services executive.
Now 84 and worth an estimated $14 billion according to Forbes magazine, Schwab – who earned a BA and MBA from Stanford University in spite of being seriously dyslexic – pioneered the discount sales of equity securities with his eponymous brokerage firm that today manages some $7.7 trillion worth of assets. The California native has long been a golf fanatic and still carries a single-digit handicap. In addition, Schwab has supported the game on a number of levels, primarily through First Tee, as well as sponsorship of tournaments on the PGA Tour (the Charles Schwab Challenge, which is the latest iteration of the Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas) and PGA Tour Champions (the Charles Schwab Cup Championship is that circuit’s season-ending event). These are his thoughts from a February 2022 conversation with our John Steinbreder:
Growing up in Sacramento, my parents belonged to the Yolo Fliers Club, near the airport. It had a nine-hole course attached to a landing strip, and I remember playing there with my dad and mother a few times when I was 9 or 10 years old.
I didn’t get serious about the game until I was in high school. By that time, we had moved to Santa Barbara, and it was there I became good friends with Al Geiberger. We played together on the golf team and practiced a lot, too. Even then, he had a great golf swing. I also caddied, at the Montecito Country Club in Santa Barbara. I worked hard on my game and got down to a 2 handicap without ever taking a lesson. I was captain of the high school team my senior year, and it was my golf that got me into Stanford. Our team played the Stanford freshman team, and I played pretty well. The Stanford coach noticed me and asked if I had considered Stanford. He asked me to, and sure enough, I got in.
Stanford was a completely different experience for me academically, and I quickly fell behind in my studies. My dad said I was there for one reason, and that was school. So my so-called golf career came to a quick end. I did not realize until much later in my life that a lot of my problems with academics stemmed from dyslexia.
But my passion for the game never left.
My father was a lawyer. A small-town lawyer. He was also the one who introduced me to the concept of stocks and bonds and to reading stock quotes in the daily paper. I was a very economics-oriented kid, very entrepreneurial, and I did everything I could to earn money during the summer months and in the evenings after school. I sold ice cream. I mowed lawns and caddied. I worked on the state fairgrounds and was a roustabout in an oil field. I also worked as a switchman on a railroad.
I grew up in a small town of Woodland, California, outside the state capital of Sacramento. My dad was the district attorney for Yolo County, and my mother a normal housewife. I have a sister who is four years younger. We moved to Santa Barbara when I was 12 and were a family of very modest means. My parents taught us about the value of a good education and living by a good code of conduct. They were very principled people.
At Stanford, I knew what I wanted to do for a living, and that was to go into finance and be a research analyst. So I went right from undergraduate to graduate school. I wanted to be successful in life. Even though reading was difficult for me, I nonetheless read a lot of books about great and successful people to understand how I might become one myself.
It was a clean sport, and entrepreneurial by nature, and played by people who work hard, have disposable income, like and understand the value of investing and appreciate rules and regulations.
Stanford has a wonderful golf course, and I took advantage of it when I could. But I was pursuing other things back then. I married young and became a father young, so I did not play a lot of golf. I did play a lot of tennis, mostly for exercise.
One of the things I liked about golf was that I could play and practice on my own time. I did not have to depend on anyone else. And as I became more sophisticated about the game and understanding its rules and regulations, I came to appreciate what a great example it was for a well-lived life.
I did not play a lot of golf after getting my MBA from Stanford in 1961, though, and after I went to work. My first jobs entailed portfolio management and research analysis, and it was the sales people who used to play golf for business. But sometimes I was on the receiving end of invitations to play, and I accepted them when I could. When I played in those days, it was mostly on municipal golf courses. But when I was in my late 40s and early 50s, I was able to join some very nice private clubs, like San Francisco Golf and Cypress Point. They have such exquisite courses and are so enjoyable to play. I also made lifelong friends with the members I met there.
It wasn’t until I was in my late 50s that I started going to the British Isles to play. There was a group of us, nine in all, and we took an annual trip 25 years in a row. It started with the British Isles, but we also went to France, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand. We traveled to a lot of different places as a group and had really good times.
On a couple of occasions, I became involved in building a golf course. The first was the Stock Farm in Montana. We had a ranch there, but there was no real golf to speak of nearby, just a nine-hole muni in a small town. If we wanted something better, we had to drive an hour or so to Missoula. So some of us got together and created the Stock Farm. I ended up being the financier, Tom Fazio designed a great course, and in time the Stock Farm became a very robust club that now has a waiting list.
My other experience in course design was with George Roberts (one of the founders of the global investment company Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts), when we engaged David Kidd to build one at a club we established on the Big Island of Hawaii called Nanea. It turned out to be a fantastic experience, and a really fantastic course and club.
Our involvement with golf as a company goes back 20 or 25 years. Even though I was chiefly a finance guy as we started and built that company, I had to learn about marketing in order to better sell what we were doing. We needed better ways to connect with the public and with our customers, and we concluded that golf was a very good vehicle to do that.
It was a clean sport, and entrepreneurial by nature, and played by people who worked hard, had disposable income, liked and understood the value of investing and appreciated rules and regulations. It seemed like a good fit for reaching individual investors and helping them become successful. We started with the Senior Tour (now the PGA Tour Champions). Then we founded the Schwab Cup, way before the FedEx Cup came into existence on the PGA Tour, so we also had something that ran through the season. Then we moved onto the PGA Tour with the Colonial. We really liked that fit because that was Ben Hogan’s tournament. I was personally a big follower and fan of his in my youth, and being associated with him fit right into my psyche and that of the company. I always admired how hard he worked and how he came back after the accident.
We have also been very active with First Tee, which was introduced to me by my good friend Sandy Tatum 10 or 15 years ago. We were very involved in the restoration of Harding Park (in San Francisco) and also in the establishment of First Tee there. And last year, as the First Tee approached its 25th anniversary, we announced a $25 million grant to provide up to a $1 match for every $2 donated to First Tee Chapters through 2026.
Other than golf, I loved skiing and did that for 50 years. I loved tennis, too. But I did something to my knee and had to give up those sports for golf. I really enjoy hunting, too. Bird hunting. I grew up in a small town where hunting was a big deal, and I have always had a passion for that sport. Duck hunting, quail hunting, red-legged partridge in Spain. I have a great appreciation for nature and what it has to offer. I am very much a conservationist, and I eat everything I kill. As a hunter, I also support a lot of conservation programs that promote the restoring of habitat and increasing populations of wildlife.
I love art, too, especially modern and contemporary art. I served as chairman of San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art and still sit on the board there.
I have been dyslexic my entire life. But I did not figure that out until I was 40, when one of my sons was diagnosed with it. He had every difficulty I had in school. I always had a hard time reading. Fortunately, I found refuge in finance and economics.
My wife, Helen, and I started a private foundation a while back. It supports entrepreneurial organizations and has also invested heavily in supporting research and treatment for dyslexia. The science on something that impacts one out of seven kids across the human race is still so young. And there is still so much to learn.
Photos: Courtesy Charles Schwab
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