ORLANDO, FLORIDA | As far as careers go in the golf industry, Dan Baker has had one of the most eclectic journeys in golf that I have seen. He has been an agent for pro golfers, overseen two Walker Cup matches, a PGA Tour event for several years and two Ryder Cups.
He is the proverbial cat with nine lives.
Baker grew up in Newtown, Connecticut, and was introduced to the game as a caddie. He met and became a lifetime friend of fellow Newtown native Joe LaCava, best known as caddie to Fred Couples and Tiger Woods. Baker’s most memorable moment as a looper? “One day, a player shanked one into my shin. I fell down with two bags on my shoulders, and LaCava fell down laughing.”
From there, it was off to Wake Forest University, where he tried to walk on to the men’s golf team. “That was like trying to walk on to the number one-ranked University of Connecticut men’s basketball team today,” he said. “It wasn’t going to happen.”
Baker contemplated law school after graduating in 1988 and even sat for the dreaded LSAT exam, but he thought better of it and gravitated back toward his first love, golf.
Baker became a member of the PGA of America and was an assistant professional at various golf clubs until 1992, when he started his own business managing charitable golf tournaments and PGA Tour pro-ams. On a whim, he reached out to Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, New York, suspecting that the club might need help staging the 1997 Walker Cup. He signed on as tournament and marketing director and represented the club to the USGA. So well did he do that the next American host club, Ocean Forest in Sea Island, Georgia, hired him in a similar capacity for the 2001 match. In both assignments, he was responsible for all logistics, event sponsorship, working with challenging local government officials and coordinating onsite activities with vendors. Behind-the-scenes stuff, to be sure, but critical to event management.
His next gig was on the biggest stage of all in golf: the Ryder Cup. He served as tournament director for the famous 1999 match at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. The United States won the match in an epic comeback on the final day as Baker’s learning curve grew significantly.
“I learned so much during those two years,” he told me. “That was the best and worst week of my life, all rolled into one. America won, but I wound up splitting my head open in a golf cart accident on Sunday night after the miraculous comeback.”
From there, he “settled down” a bit and ran the PGA Tour’s Greater Hartford Open from 2001 through 2004. He managed a $15 million operating budget while overseeing a staff of 13 as he learned the intricacies of the PGA Tour and the various television networks.
Then, he detoured into agency work at Octagon in player representation and event management. A chance encounter with PGA of America executives at the 2007 PGA Show here led him to a new job as director of business development for the association.
Though his job portfolio is broad, his primary responsibility, which became his love, was the PGA Show. He has overseen the annual winter industry gathering, which attracts nearly 40,000 club professionals, manufacturing representatives and others to central Florida, for the past 17 years.
His biggest challenge in the lives he has led in golf? Dealing with COVID-19 while running the PGA Show. The 2020 edition took place in January, just as rumblings about something strange brewing in Asia. By mid-March, virtually all of the sports world shut down, with the PGA Tour going dark until mid-June.
There would be no 2021 PGA Show. With the world still in recovery mode, Baker and his team created a virtual show in 2021. The following year registered improvement, but the show still was only a shadow of its usual buoyancy. Last year, there was continued improvement as the notion of what economic observers called “revenge travel” had set in around the globe, the 2023 PGA Show took on the spirit of a class reunion, with attendees desperately wanting to catch up, shake some hands, enjoy a pint and reminisce about the challenges of the COVID period.
“(Dan Baker) has shepherded the show through ups and downs in the game, a worldwide pandemic and its current boom. Every time others thought it might be losing some relevance, he worked with our partners at Reed Exhibitions to make it a reimagined, better version of itself.” – Seth Waugh
After 24 consecutive years of involvement with the PGA Show, Baker, a 57-year-old resident of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, has found that it’s time for this cat to move on to his next life. This week marks his final year of overseeing the annual industry gathering. He knows not where it may be, but he knows it is time. He is fortunate to go out on a high: The 2024 PGA Show is shaping up this week to be the best by any measure in the past 20 years.
Baker is revered by colleagues new and old within the hallways of the PGA of America.
“We will sorely miss Dan, his love of the PGA Show and the PGA of America golf professional, as well as his creativity and infectious optimism,” PGA CEO Seth Waugh said. “He has shepherded the show through ups and downs in the game, a worldwide pandemic and its current boom. Every time others thought it might be losing some relevance, he worked with our partners at Reed Exhibitions to make it a reimagined, better version of itself. He has consistently innovated, notably the recent addition of the Global Leadership Summit.
“Dan is beloved by vendors, colleagues and fellow PGA of America members and respected by all. We thank him for all his invaluable contributions over the years. He will be missed.”
Baker’s replacement has not been disclosed.
It has been said many times that it is the people who make the golf industry what it is. Baker is one of those really interesting characters who populate this business.
I, like many, will be interested to see where this cat finds his next lair.
© 2024 Global Golf Post LLC
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