JUPITER, FLORIDA | With two swift slashes of a practice swing, Allen Peake strides into his setup position and stares down the treacherous par-3 17th at Dye Preserve Golf Club.
Golf invites internal stresses of all kinds, but this situation has a rare burden. Peake’s scramble partner at the National Senior-Junior team event, fellow Mercer University alum Justin Connelly, deposited his tee ball into the middle of the lake and is counting on his 59-year-old ally to at least find dry land as they look to finish the event in good spirits.
With a wide shoulder turn, Peake slings the club back like an Olympic hammer thrower and then transitions down into a smooth cut across the ball, finishing into a high, Arnold Palmer-esque follow-through. There is a bail-out area left of the green far from the hole cut a handful of paces from the water’s edge, but Peake’s approach sails right over the flag. A couple of minutes later, he gently coaxes a left-to-right 12-foot birdie putt down the hill, the ball falling into the darkness on its last revolution.
“I guess I just needed a little bit of pressure on me,” Peake says with a warm Southern cadence.
“I really had a conversation with my wife, Betsy, where we said here is an opportunity to finally go get it. I’ve always wanted to find out how good I could be. To her credit, she said, ‘Go for it, take advantage of this short window.’ ” – Allen Peake
Pressure is nothing foreign to the born-and-raised Macon, Georgia, resident for a variety of reasons.
In golf, Peake is undoubtedly the busiest man in the senior amateur game having played 105 tournaments throughout all regions of the country since the beginning of 2018. During the past three years, there have even been scenarios where Peake has played 12 tournament rounds in the span of nine days when you include one-day, 36-hole events.
There have been a few victories during his senior golf adventure – he defeated highly ranked senior stalwart Ken Kinkopf to win the 2019 Golfweek Senior National Match Play – but Peake has become better known as a consistent top-10 performer with a penchant for getting himself into contention. When he isn’t traveling to tournaments, Peake is grinding on his game from 100 yards and in, searching to eliminate that one extra stroke per round that often separates him from the likes of Gene Elliott, Doug Hanzel, Brady Exber, Mike McCoy and the other elites of senior amateur golf. At the Senior-Junior – Peake’s first crack at the tournament that pairs elite mid-amateurs with the best senior amateurs in the game – his partnership with Connelly led to a tie for 15th out of 38 teams.
“We are a perfect match because my strength is short game and Allen is by far the best driver of the ball I have ever seen,” Connelly said. “Pretty much every hole, you know exactly where he is going to be off the tee.”
Until this recent stretch, Peake hasn’t been able to immerse himself in the game this deeply. Life as a restaurant owner and politician, two of the most pressure-packed callings around, in addition to being a father of three and grandfather of six, didn’t allow it. That was until 2017 when he sold his business and decided against reelection so he could pursue amateur golf full-time.
“I really had a conversation with my wife, Betsy, where we said here is an opportunity to finally go get it,” Peake said. “I’ve always wanted to find out how good I could be. To her credit, she said, ‘Go for it, take advantage of this short window,’ because in senior golf you only have a few years where you can really be competitive.”
Peake tried to walk-on to the golf team at Auburn University in the late ’70s and didn’t make it, which put golf to the side as he went on to graduate from Mercer and develop into the CEO of RMS Family Restaurants, a company that owned 130 locations of the chains Shoney’s, Captain D’s, Popeyes and Fazoli’s. When the company was sold in 2000, Peake became a Cheddar’s franchisee with business partner Mike Chumbley. The first restaurant in Warner Robins, Georgia, immediately took off. That eventually led to 11 Cheddar’s and 12 Captain D’s locations throughout the state.
“We just had slow, disciplined growth and it was a great concept,” Peake said. “We were really fortunate to come across it at the right time. … Mike took care of the day-to-day operation side and I was on the financial side, but when there was a new location opening up that would require a lot of attention, I would be there for those four to six weeks of getting it started.”
In the early 2000s, Peake rediscovered his amateur golf fire with the sole focus of qualifying for a U.S. Mid-Amateur. But when he did so in 2005, the desire left. Rather than continuing to play, Peake expanded his career from restaurant franchisee to serving as a Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives, enjoying a 12-year stint that included the passion project of legalizing the possession of medical cannabis oil to treat eight diagnoses, including pediatric epilepsy. Peake had never held any sort of office before getting elected, becoming an unlikely political figure in the state.
“I hung on for a few more years than I thought I would because I was trying to get that across the finish line,” Peake said of the legislation that passed in 2015. “It was fun to be in politics and have something that I really cared deeply about other than budget or education, which are all important things, but this was something that was saving people’s lives.
“But I’m so glad to be done with politics and out on the golf course instead, especially with everything that has gone on the last couple of years.”
After Darden Restaurants – operators of Olive Garden, The Capital Grille and several other chains – unexpectedly bought the business from Peake and Chumbley in 2017, Peake began designing plans for his amateur golf comeback. With his political career ending a year later, the door opened for him to play as much as he could.
Rusty Strawn, his four-ball partner for the past 25 years, has admired Peake’s development as he invests countless hours to improve his game. Strawn jokes that Peake has an insatiable love of competition to the point that practice rounds with friends usually turn into money games as Peake would sooner walk off the first tee than play without anything on the line.
But the real attribute that separates Peake as a person and a golfer is his love of people.
“He really represents what golf is all about,” Strawn said. “He’s never met a stranger, and that’s something that has made him successful not only in the game but also in the restaurant business and in politics.
“As he gets more and more comfortable playing senior golf, I think he is closing in on a breakthrough. I think it’s closer than he thinks it is.”
Craig Hurlbert, a top senior amateur who won five times a year ago, is a close friend of Peake’s and can attest to his character.
“The way I describe him is that Allen is interested and that makes him interesting,” Hurlbert said. “This past year, I won a tournament in California and he had teed off far earlier than I had. But he waited around until I came down the last hole so he could congratulate me. That’s just an Allen Peake thing, that’s something he would do.”
Now that Peake has gotten into a rhythm of playing more senior amateur golf than anyone, his aspiration is to qualify for a U.S. Senior Amateur. He is 0-for-3 to this point but has solicited the advice of Elliott, Kinkopf and others who have had periods of domination in the last few years.
“I may be on the downside of that short window in senior golf, but I have to learn how to win and figure out that next step,” Peake said. “In order to catch some of these guys, I’m going to play as many events as I can and put myself in as many situations as I can. Maybe a year or two more is all I’ve got.
“Even though I’ve played so many tournaments, I still get nervous and fired up. It’s been a real joy trying to figure out just how good I can get.”
All photos: Courtesy Allen Peake
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